Opinion: Tech adoption brings circularity to fashion industry

3 min read

Technology is paving the way for a sustainable future in fashion industry, says Christopher Baird, senior manager inventive shopping, Capgemini Invent.

The fashion industry contributes more to climate change than several international industries combined and is responsible for around 20 per cent of the world’s industrial water pollution. With sustainability issues becoming more of a critical focus, the industry has no choice but to take immediate action to reduce carbon emissions and waste from brands and respond to consumers who demand more environmental accountability.

According to the Pulse of The Fashion Industry report, 92 million tons of textile waste is created globally each year. By 2030, the world’s population is expected to throw away more than 134 million tonnes of textiles per year, however, it is believed 95 per cent of these textiles could be reused and recycled.

Why it’s time to start planning for the circular economy

With these alarming figures in mind fashion retailers have no choice but to take steps towards enforcing more sustainable and ethical practices. Adopting various forms of technology to improve simple solutions within the industry and strategically reevaluating the design process has a critical role to play in terms of accelerating the industry’s shift to a circular economy.

Providing platforms for a preloved marketplace

There was a time when used clothing was known as ‘unfashionable’. Today the resale of preloved garments is booming as consumers turn to online platforms for a way to look good without hurting their bank accounts and the planet.

European app, Vinted, started their journey in 2008 on a mission to make second-hand first choice. This month, the company raised $303m from investors and confirmed their audience now reaches 45 million, valuing the retailer at an astonishing $4.5bn.

While these tech enabled apps are taking off and many independent online retailers have been successful in granting garments a new lease on life, major retailers have had to play catch up. ASDA recently introduced a second-hand clothing line into 50 of their stores. As more initiatives like this introduce streamlining into the second hand market, AI turnkey solutions such as Capgemini’s ‘Circle’ solution can help streamline large scale preloved offerings by using AI to identify an article’s brand, condition, and value, so the garment can be collected, labelled and resold more efficiently, providing brands with a sustainable and time-light alternative to the rubbish bin.

Shifting mindsets

This shift to circular can only work if consumers play their part, and technology can also play a significant role in helping to educate and shift mindsets which is critical to reducing waste. Creative awareness drives such as H&M’s One/Second/Suit campaign, which offers 24 hour free suit rental for people taking job interviews, or the partnership between Maisie Williams and Animal Crossing to promote sustainability are fundamentally underpinned by technology geared towards Gen-Z and Millennials, who are a critical audience to shift the future of fashion retail.

It’s not only consumers that need to change the way they think, retailers should also consider how they can augment future shopping experiences to include more sustainable and purposeful shopping options. The future hybrid store will need to bring together the seamless digital experience but with a touch of nostalgia, and CornerShop in London provides retailers looking to experiment with ways to do this in a live test lab environment.

Thinking beyond textiles

The problem is much bigger than just 92 million tons of textile waste, overall more than 100 billion tons of resources flow into the economy every year with more than 60 per cent ending up as waste or greenhouse gas emissions. Beyond the shift to sustainable threads and driving greater awareness, retailers must also think about other ways to make more with less.

The shift towards circular supply chains is a logical first step and advanced technologies such as blockchain and AI have a key role to play in terms of streamlining production processes and eliminating waste across the board. As the spotlight falls on using more recycled, reusable and biodegradable materials brands will need to ensure that the issue is addressed at source.

The “how sustainability is fundamentally changing consumer preferences” from Capgemini found that 66 per cent of organisations say their supply chain strategy will change significantly in the next three years and time will tell which models will prove effective for the long term. Customers are not only demanding more sustainable products, but also increased levels of personalisation and with the rise of Intelligent Industry, companies may look to technology solutions that underpin smaller and more efficient batch sizes and late-stage assembly for customisation.

Fast forward from fast fashion

The ongoing and rapid adoption of technology solutions to temper fashion waste is encouraging, but more needs to be done, and fast. Used in the right way, tech solutions can amplify already existing efforts to help fast track the process. It will require a 3600 approach ranging from traceability, to adapting product offerings to changing the way people think about fashion. What’s most important is that we continue to make gains on the progress already being made.

Christopher Baird, senior manager inventive shopping, Capgemini Invent