Who benefits from Fashion’s Digital Transformation?

Image: Lewis Hine, Library of Congress

Fashion Industry norms are changing. Consumers demand sustainable fashion. They also want more creative choices. New fashion technology is being developed to meet these changes. We’d like to believe that these changes are beneficial to everyone from designers to workers to consumers. But history has shown that technology is never value-neutral. It has enormous affects on who we are as humans. It impacts our ability to support ourselves and can threaten our environment through unintended consequences.

We’ll have to ask some hard questions to determine if a new fashion technology will contribute to achieving positive change in the industry. These aren’t new questions for technology applications in general. They’re just new to the fashion industry. The fashion industry has historically considered itself accountable only for providing the products that consumers want, not for how they’re providing those products.

Fortunately, the following questions are fairly simple. But taken as a whole they illuminate the complexity of technological change within the fashion industry.

Who will benefit? Are benefits available to everyone, the manufacturers, the designers, the consumers, the textile workers, the 1%?

How will it benefit? Does it prevent unintended harm to the environment? Does it reduce waste? Does it increase profitability and lower business risk? Does it improve conditions for the workers? Does it enable the industry to meet increasing customer demand for ecofashion, mass customization and more artistic creative fashion?

Does it respect ecological value? Does the system have unintended negative consequences to the environment? Does the system reduce waste by reducing overproduction, toxic chemical byproducts, water usage, cutting-floor fabric waste? Does it regard sustainability as essential to the market value of the product? Does it regard ecological considerations as essential to preserving the future of the fashion industry?

Does it respect human value? Does the system have unintended negative consequences to workers? Does the system increase the discardability of humans, or does it regard skilled human input as essential to the market value of the product? Does the system enable assigning value to design and manufacturing labor? usage of labor and resources? Does it consider human values as essential to preserving the future of the fashion industry?

Does it protect data privacy? Do consumers have full access to their own data? Can consumers decide who may access it? Can industry participants share customer data under the guidance of the consumer? And how does it protect data privacy of textile suppliers and workers? Is the technology using data to artificially restrict access to consumers, resources, manufacturers, and products or is it using data to enable better, more democratic access to a wider market?

Fashion is entering a phase of disruption and transformation. New fashion technology might correct the excesses and flaws of the current fashion industry, but not necessarily. We need to be open in our discussion to be sure that new technologies provide maximum impact to the industry and ensure global access of benefits to all stakeholders.

The Fashion Freedom Initiative wishes to promote the widespread adoption of tools designed for small businesses and independent designs. It is our belief that technology which supports small fashion businesses also enables large businesses to be agile enough to meet changing global market requirements.

We believe that the benefits of change in the fashion industry should flow down to the individual artists, artisans, workers, and consumers. Easy access to new technology which provides these benefits is a primary concern.

To accomplish this, new technology should acknowledge that human skills currently contribute the major portion of the value of fashion. New technology should enable maximum collaboration between designers, manufacturers, and consumers.

New technologies need to support the value of the human within the machine. Current economic business analysis which assumes that labor is expendable is causing a loss of skills required to support the fashion industry. This analysis style which negates the value of human skills has caused economic disaster throughout the world in vulnerable communities which support fashion production. This type analysis is ultimately self-destructive to the industry. The value we place on fashion labor must be acknowledged within any new system of inter-related technologies that we develop.

To achieve this end, we must recognize that the invisible hand is OUR hand. We must develop systems so that there isn’t one system imposed upon everyone, which is our current situation with fashion software systems. The new system must be composed of multiple tools which are customizable and interrelated, and interoperable. In this manner, the needs of everyone can be met.

It will take some time before the fashion industry morphs from its current chrysalis: a monolithic, black-box of large unapproachable businesses, into the beautiful butterfly of agile, constantly reorganizing small creative manufacturers, designers, consumers, online fashion platforms, and backend blockchain APIs.

Fashion can become this beautiful industrial butterfly. The level of effort and collaboration required is completely worth it to preserve our humanity and our planet.

If you’d like to contribute to the conversation about technology development for the fashion industry, please contact the Fashion Freedom Initiative at hello@fashionfreedom.eu or at Fabricatorz at info@fabricatorz.org. We’d love to hear from you.

Open source digital pattern design software. Eliminating child labor and waste through local collaborative garment manufacturing. https://FashionFreedom.eu

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store