New technologies will make the fashion industry more sustainable

25 November 2021

Photo: Pixabay/Pexels

Fast fashion is destroying the planet, and the facts speak for themselves. The fashion industry is responsible for 10% of annual global carbon emissions and 20% of worldwide wastewater treatment.

Although less than 1% of clothing is recycled into new garments, brands continue to ramp up design and production. If the industry keeps chugging along at this same rate, the Earth and its inhabitants will surely run out of resources or bury themselves in textile waste — whichever comes first.

Luckily, today’s consumers are starting to demand change. Shoppers are tired of excessive waste and greenwashing and want honesty and slow, sustainable fashion.

Subsequently, many clothing brands are turning to technology for help. In 2022, some innovations could make fashion more sustainable — and boost customer satisfaction.

1. Virtual models

If you’re into fashion, you’re likely familiar with Fashion Week. This iconic event is held twice a year in the big four fashion capitals of New York, London, Milan and Paris. Here, editors, buyers and models gather to showcase the latest trends and newest collections.

Unfortunately, these shows generate tons of material waste‚ not to mention 37% of global annual carbon emissions.

Some designers are using virtual models to showcase their creations and curb waste. Many of these avatars have their own social media accounts and a significant online following, allowing designers a wider reach than if they were to participate in physical fashion shows.

Because the CGI models wear clothes that haven’t actually been manufactured, they help reduce textile waste and effectively conserve resources like water and energy.

2. Digital Sampling

Digital sampling has also reduced fabric waste, especially during the pandemic. As retailers closed their doors and dressing rooms became unavailable, many shoppers resorted to buying pieces online.

A few years ago, this would have entailed size charts, inaccurate measurements and billions of returns. Now, however, consumers can use digital sampling, a technology that allows you to try on clothes virtually, just as you would in a store.

This innovative solution has lowered production costs for hundreds of major retailers and designers. More importantly, it’s reduced the need to create physical samples, thereby saving time, energy and resources while simultaneously decreasing — and even eliminating — waste.

3. Machine learning

Fashion brands are constantly reshaping their approach to product design by predicting what customers will want to wear next. How do they know which upcoming trend will pique public interest?

Two words: machine learning.

This technology collects data directly from consumers to determine what’s hot and what’s not. It then uses the information to forecast demand, spot trends and help brands make better business decisions.

The more data these systems glean, the smarter artificial intelligence becomes, allowing brands to manage inventory and satisfy customers without overstocking or overproducing.

Machine learning also incorporates algorithms and big data to adopt more efficient manufacturing and distribution processes. Ultimately, this tech saves time, money and precious resources like water and energy.

4. Alternative textiles

Are consumers actually interested in sustainable apparel? Well, if they weren’t, there wouldn’t be so many alternative textiles to choose from. Nearly 60% of those between ages 18 and 21 care whether marketers offer environmentally friendly products, which means green fabrics are in high demand these days.

In response, hundreds of brands have begun implementing materials like vegan pineapple leather, linen from flax plant fibers, and natural fibers like lyocell and hemp.

Conscious designers also use cork, bamboo and even seaweed to make ethical clothes. Many of these items are also biodegradable, so they’ll quickly decompose if they do end up in a landfill or marine environment.

5. Returns technology

Returns in the U.S. alone generate 15 million tons of carbon emission and 5 billion pounds of landfill waste every year. By dealing more efficiently with the returns process, the fashion industry might get more use out of secondhand garments and minimize waste.

Luckily, return technology has already made this possible for hundreds of brands. This innovation uses cloud-based software and algorithms to divert returns from landfills and back to stock, refurbishment centers and charitable organizations.

Artificial intelligence may also aid in reducing return rates. Consumers send items back for various reasons, including poor fit and slow delivery times. With the help of AI, brands can implement customer database segmentation to determine exactly why and what shoppers are returning.

This tech will uncover patterns, behaviors and consumer characteristics to help retailers make smarter choices regarding advertising, quality control and product presentation.

The future of sustainability in fashion

As long as consumers keep demanding sustainable fashion, the industry will rise to meet and exceed their expectations. The future of fashion will undoubtedly focus on eco-friendliness, from design to distribution.

Upcoming innovations like mobile body scanning will allow consumers to purchase clothes that fit their exact body type and physical proportions, reducing returns and associated waste.

Machine learning will grow smarter, and big data will improve analytics so brands can better predict trends in design and demand. Alternative fabrics will become comfier, more durable and more sustainable, and new, natural materials will replace synthetic fibers.

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