Will tech fix fashion’s environmental problems?
Environmental sustainability is more important than ever to customers, but the fashion industry is notorious for its wasteful supply chain and other practices unpopular with the environmentally conscious. In a session at the 2018 National Retail Federation Big Show in New York City, three fashion startups detailed different steps they’re taking to solve fashion’s environmental problem.
Ben Alun-Jones, co-founder and creative director of Unmade, said that conservatively, 10 percent of products each season go unsold and end up in landfills. Unmade’s business model is designed, at least in part, to address this problem.
Unmade is a platform through which fashion brands can enable e-commerce customers to customize the clothing they order within the parameters the brand specifies. The company claims to be able to facilitate the manufacture of highly-customized and individualized orders at the same speed and cost as mass-produced ones.
“We looked at the way that the fashion industry was working and, having come from different industries where we were making electronics or different products, you have a very responsive supply chain and this didn’t exist in fashion,” Mr. Alun-Jones said. “When we saw an industrial knitting machine … [we thought] this is everything you need to get started, but no one in the fashion industry seemed to be looking at it the same way we were.”
House of Fluff is a new fashion brand focused on sustainability. CEO and Creative Director Kym Canter said that the company uses only recycled plastics, makes everything at a fair trade factory in NYC and turns factory floor scraps into plush characters called “Scrappies.”
The brand recently opened a zero-waste pop-up store with all products made from materials salvaged in upstate New York, such as discarded car mufflers.
And biotech/fashion company Modern Meadow is bringing “bioleather” to market for the first time in 2018 after years of development. Bioleather is created by growing living collagen cells in a lab, synthesizing and texturing them into a product with qualities similar to leather (along with its own unique aesthetic qualities). CCO Suzanne Lee saw this innovation as beneficial both for animal welfare and preventing waste.
“We only grow what we need; we only form that into the shape of the product that you want,” Ms. Lee said.
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Will shoppers be attracted to the types of solutions discussed in the article at a high enough rate to significantly reduce fashion’s environmental impact? Which of these approaches is most promising, both in terms of effectiveness in waste reduction at scale and in its chances for widespread adoption?