The fashion industry is responsible for 20% of global water waste and 10% of carbon emissions. So-called ‘fast fashion’ is a big contributor to waste, as many consumers still opt for quantity over quality when buying clothes, only to wear them once, then toss them in the bin.
The good news is that there’s a new type of fashion consumer on the rise - one who expects higher sustainable standards within the industry.
Ethical consumers are placing increasing pressure on the fashion manufacturers and retailers to rethink how they manufacture, advertise, sell and recycle clothing. Many fashion brands are harnessing the power of technology to create more sustainable fashion options. In addition, technology is paving the way to a more seamless and personalised shopping experience online.
As we keep a keen eye on technological advancements across all industries, we’re particularly interested to explore how technology could revolutionise the fashion industry for the benefit of consumers and the planet.
Here’s what we know so far…
Reusability through preloved purchasing
Technology is a key enabler because it provides a seamless shopping experience for users that, in some cases, surpasses the hassle of physical shopping. Online payment portals like Apple Pay/Android Pay and Paypal are more secure and usable than ever, so digital consumers have peace of mind that their e-commerce purchases are as safe as, perhaps even safer than, shopping on the high street.
Of course, the biggest winner of online preloved shopping is the planet. About three fifths of all clothing produced end up in landfill within a few years, so reusing clothing is a big step towards minimising waste. Preloved shopping is also reducing the demand for fast fashion, because shoppers can afford to buy better quality clothing upfront, knowing they’ll be able to sell it once they’re done with it.
These consumers are helping fuel the demand for durable, quality clothing by extending its shelf life and value after wear.
Trend forecasting and personalisation
Data will be a driving force in the future of the fashion industry by unlocking opportunities to personalise shopping experiences and make accurate predictions on future trends and shopping habits.
Machine learning is one of the biggest developments in data technology at the moment. It automates the process of scanning vast quantities of data and identifying common themes and patterns. This can then be used for forecasting trends and making predictions based on common behavioural patterns.
Machine learning will also support a more personalised shopping experience for e-commerce customers. Online fashion retailers can collect data about their consumers’ shopping habits, sizing, preferences and eco-credentials, then apply automation to provide a personalised experience for each individual.
There’s already an entire fashion industry at play in the Metaverse. Fashion designers are selling one-off pieces with eye-watering price tags, despite the fact that those pieces will never be worn in the ‘real’ world.
Whilst these AR experiences are designed for avatars in the Metaverse, there are more common examples of AR and AI in the fashion industry for real people.
The most obvious examples are virtual sampling and digital fitting rooms:
1. Virtual sampling
When a designer creates a new product, they’ll often invest in multiple samples of their evolving design until they get the final version just right. Unfortunately, each sample needs to be manufactured, using energy, materials and water to create the latest sample of the new garment. By the time the final version is approved and ready to be mass manufactured, there may be a heap of physical samples that will never be sold or worn, and may simply end up in landfill.
Virtual sampling provides a more sustainable alternative, by allowing designers to hone and refine their samples digitally, and even superimpose them onto models thanks to AR technology. With pinpoint accuracy of measurements, materials and styles, the designer can evolve their creations, without having to manufacture multiple physical samples or use real models.
Best of all, they can test their samples with the market and get instant feedback from a digital test group, meaning they’ll save time through the process too.
2. Digital fitting rooms
Many fashion brands are already using AR technology to help consumers find the perfect style and fit for their next fashion purchase. An example is virtual size guides, which are available on many high street retail websites already.
The user inputs data about their sizing preferences and fit for other brands they use, then a simple algorithm calculates the perfect fit based on their data. By asking questions about body type and preferences, the algorithm can select a personalised fit, rather than a literal one size fits all. Using AR technology, consumers can even ‘try on’ their potential purchases online, either by uploading a full body photo or by creating an avatar that matches their measurements.
The beauty of digital fitting rooms and automated size guides is that they make it more likely for a consumer to find what they want, so there’s less chance of them returning the item when it arrives.
Returns are a big issue in the fashion industry and contribute to its giant carbon footprint. So the more that can be done to ensure consumers are happy with their purchase, and less likely to return it, the better.
3D printing uses computer-aided design to create three-dimensional objects. It’s often referred to as ‘additive manufacturing’ and incorporates materials like plastic, composites or bio-materials, layered to create a real end product.
Until recently, 3D printing in fashion was used primarily for conceptual design and artistic expression. As it’s evolved, fashion designers have realised the potential of using 3D printing to create bespoke and standout prototypes that can be turned into wearable garments.
A designer can add intricate detail and explore a multitude of textures and materials, without having to invest in the physical products to bring their vision to life. 3D printing also allows for using more eco-friendly materials. For example, Adidas created a 3D printed midsole for one of its sneakers, made with recycled plastic found in the ocean.
With this in mind, 3D printing could help revolutionise the design and manufacturing process to make it more sustainable.
What do we know?
At Digital Detox, we are a human-led, sustainable design and development agency. We work with businesses of all sizes, across multiple industries, applying best in class design and development practices to help achieve their goals.
If you’d like to find out more about what we do, or you’re looking for a technology partner to help drive your business forward, get in touch!