Along with the words ‘Black Lives Matter’, ‘unprecedented’ and ‘PPE’, ‘sustainability’ has become another term ingrained into our daily vocab for quite some time now.
In 2019, the word was crowned as the eco buzzword of the year after a huge shift in public awareness of the negative impact that single use plastic has on our ecosystem. You only have to think back to that devastating scene in the BBC’s Blue Planet II, to remember the floating plastic islands spotted engulfing the ocean and its sea creatures. Thankfully, fast forward a year or two and the hype around taking better care of our planet hasn’t died down.
Instead of sustainability being just another tick box for fashion retailers, it’s become a necessity. According to the most recent stats from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the fashion industry produces 92 million tonnes of waste per year, whilst consuming 79 trillion litres of water. Shocking, right?
The IPCC has also estimated that the same industry is accountable for 8-10% of global CO2 emissions in addition to contributing around 190,000 tonnes per year of oceanic primary microplastic pollution. The same report concludes that in a year, the fashion industry is responsible for producing 92 million tonnes of textile waste – much of which ends up in landfill.
READ MORE: How Fast Fashion Is Destroying Our Planet
So, at the risk of stating the obvious, something must be done. And many fashion retailers are already taking it upon themselves to change their ways. Which is where fashion technology comes in. Described as the "production of clothing by implementing multiple fields together, such as product design, science, medicine and technology", this force for good is helping to make the fashion industry a more sustainable place. From robots that sew and cut fabric to AI algorithms that predict style trends, fashion tech is automating, revolutionising and reducing waste consumption.
In fact, global initiative Fashion for Good estimates that these automated robots (also known as sewbots) can help lower emissions by around 10%, because they are reducing material waste. These ‘sewbots’ differ from one version to the other, but essentially, they work by using a highly calibrated machine vision to watch and analyse fabric. They can detect distortions and robotically adjust the fabric. Many sewbots cut, sew and quality inspect. It’s been said that they can have a higher accuracy than the human eye ‘tracking exact needle placement to within half a millimetre of accuracy’.
Another game changer to add to the fashion industry’s arsenal is the use of artificial intelligence (AI). AI is helping the retail world predict, plan and improve product availability. It can be used to reduce errors in trend predictions and forecast trends more accurately. This in turn allows brands to understand consumer patterns and predict their own production levels rather than over produce and manufacture more stock than what is needed.
Thirdly, and perhaps one of the most popular ways in which fashion technology has evolved the industry, is the creation of alternative textiles. Cotton has been used to create clothes for more than 7,000 years, but it requires a whole host of fertilisers and gallons of water. Meanwhile, synthetic fibres such as nylon and polyester are non-biodegradable and dyeing fabrics pollutes rivers and wastes water.
So, in a bid to help mitigate these effects, brands are exploring alternative fibres to design entire lines crafted with sustainable materials at their core. For example, scarves have been made from orange fibres, outfits have been manufactured from protein inspired by spider-web DNA and mushroom fibres have been used as a leather substitute. It finally seems like we have found a way to get rid of those floating plastic bottle islands. Instead of making their way to sea, they have been re-used, revamped and recycled to make shoes, jumpers and T-shirts.
So, yes, the rapid evolution of fashion technology is changing the way in which we wear, package and live fashion and long may it continue. Fashion shouldn’t cost the earth, and these tried and tested more sustainable technologies are proving that it doesn’t have to.
Written by Rebecca Shepherd
Follow Rebecca on Instagram