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Can technology provide the key to sustainability in the fashion industry?

By now, we are all aware of the unsustainability of the fashion industry. In fact, it is the second largest polluter in the world, second only to the oil industry. The production of clothes leads to a multitude of issues such as the dumping of untreated wastewater from factories into bodies of water, contributing 10% of the world’s carbon emissions, soil degradation and rainforest destruction. The fashion industry also consumes vast amounts of water to grow fabrics, dye and process clothes.

For context, up to 20,000 litres of water are needed to produce one kilogram of cotton! And this is all during the production phase of new garments. Another major issue is the accumulation of clothing waste which most often bypasses correct recycling and goes straight to incineration or landfill. And synthetic fibres, loved by fast fashion companies to make their clothes as cheap as possible, are particularly harmful as they are non-biodegradable.

So where do we go from here? With the constant supply and demand for clothes, spearheaded by fast fashion companies, the fashion industry needs an overhaul.
In recent years, there have been more and more discussions about shifting the linear (and fundamentally unsustainable) economic model of perpetual growth towards a circular model of consumption, which keeps products and materials in a loop by using deadstock fabrics (like at Pantee!) or re-using discarded garments.

Shifting towards a circular system will require improving the supply chain, production, and consumption. So, to reduce waste and the impact of the fashion industry, could it be that new and evolving technology could help us achieve this goal? Start-ups and technological developments have been looking at potential solutions, and this article will examine how technology is helping consumers rethink their shopping habits, and helping companies cut down on waste.

Changing habits

The fashion industry has captured our attention and convinced us that we need to be constantly keeping up with trends. But what if real style actually came from curating a wardrobe that can be modulated and re-invented over and over again?

Technology is leading the movement towards “smart wardrobes,” which can help people be more conscious of their consumption. With the help of an app like Whering, you can track and visualise your clothes. This helps you contextualise what you own, and which pieces you may (or may not) need to have a wardrobe that truly works for you.

Wishlist platforms such as Pinterest or the Nate app are also great tools that help you reflect on your next purchases as they can help you figure out your personal style. We’ve all bought a slightly more “experimental” piece in the hopes that it will push us out of our comfort zone but which sadly ends up gathering dust in your wardrobe.

Anabel Maldonaldo once said that “self-knowledge is the antidote to mindless consumption.” And if we’re being completely honest with ourselves, the essence of our personal style is unlikely to have changed drastically over a long period of time, so understanding the styles and aesthetics you naturally gravitate to is key to buying less and buying better. 

Tackling waste

An important step towards reducing overconsumption is curbing the use of raw materials. Heuritech is a French start-up that uses artificial intelligence to forecast trends by teaching algorithms to analyse images from social media. This tool can predict trends by recognising product details, from colours to sleeve shapes, that are emerging and gaining traction. Heuritech works with bigger brands like Adidas or Wrangler to help them tailor their production more accurately to future demand and cut unnecessary waste.

Meanwhile, the second-hand market is booming with companies like thredUP, Depop, Vinted, Vestiaire Collective and Ebay helping millions of users re-home their unwanted possessions or find their next favourite pre-loved items. By purchasing within the circular economy, consumers can opt out from purchasing new items and therefore reducing their own carbon footprint on the environment.

As for transparency in supply chains, the Israeli start-up SMX uses blockchain technology to by placing a chemical marker into the molecular matter of raw materials to trace its journey. This allows companies to understand how their materials are sourced and transferred and to be held accountable for the production of their garments.

With the help of technology, all hope is not lost but there is still a long way to go before we achieve a circular economy model. And (full disclaimer) this is only a brief overview of the potential of technological tools to bring more sustainability in the fashion industry. So… what do you think?

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This article was written for Pantee by Whering, the digital wardrobe app that helps you track your clothes and plan outfits in advance. Our Dress Me function also suggests outfits for when you’re feeling uninspired and we suggest sustainable shopping options to fill your wardrobe gaps. Follow us on Instagram and find out more at whering.co.uk!

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