Fashion finds itself at an environmental crossroads. The $2.4 trillion industry is a notorious polluter, accounting for 26.4 trillion gallons of water and 98 million tons of oil used each year during manufacturing and production. This, coupled with the vast amounts of clothing that are purposefully destroyed or thrown into landfills, makes fashion especially problematic for climate-change initiatives. Despite this, the industry is increasingly turning to technology to solve its problems. Many brands have committed to reducing their overall carbon footprint. Here are some examples of how technology is leading the way, according to a comprehensive report from CB Insights.
For clothing, textiles lay the foundation for environmental impact. Natural fibers like cotton consume a large amount of water during growth, while traditional manmade fabrics fail to breakdown in the environment. In face of this, new companies are forming to create new fabrics using alternative natural resources, like fruit rinds, leaves, eucalyptus fibers, and more. Startups in this arena include Ananas Anam, All Birds, and Orange Fiber.
Another way new technology plans to attack the environmental cost of textiles is through regenerative farming. This practice focuses on restoring the soil depleted by fertilizers and pesticides in industrial farming. Often, this can be achieved through crop rotation to enrich and prevent erosion, as well as composting and replacing toxic chemicals with more environmentally friendly alternatives. Luxury giant Kering, already committed to cutting its footprint, has led the way in implementing these practices in its supply chain.
Moving beyond the manufacturing cycle, another waste-reducing initiative involves increasing the lifespan of clothing already produced. This may mean using recycled fibers, establishing businesses that use technology to bring consignment shopping to new customers, and launching platforms dedicated to helping consumers recycle the clothing they already own. Coupled with an increase in awareness regarding the importance of reducing waste in fashion consumption, customers now have a choice in the fashion decisions they make and are prioritizing environmental causes.
For now, many of these initiatives remain in the realm of luxury designers or small-batch collections, because of the costs associated with environmental management. As these costs decline or as consumer appetite for eco-alternatives rises, however, fashion will only increase its efforts to cut down on waste. The battle to bring fashion into a more sustainable industry will continue, and the industry has a long journey ahead of it. It requires investment in R&D, disruptive startups, and—perhaps most challenging of all—patience, but these efforts are essential to continuing fashion’s relevance and success for future business growth.