Sustainable Innovation in Fashion & Textile

Sustainable Innovation in Fashion & Textile

Sustainable Innovation in Fashion & Textile 2000 1000 Ingrid Willems

Impact of fashion & apparel industry on planet and well-being

The fashion and apparel industry has an often-underestimated impact on the development of our planet. This $2.5 trillion-dollar industry is the second highest user of water worldwide, producing 20% of global water waste. 10% of the global carbon emissions are emitted by the apparel industry. Cotton farming is responsible for 24% of insecticides and 11% of pesticides. 85% of textiles are sent to landfills, i.e. 21 billion tons a year.

While the impact of the fashion industry is already significant today, it is likely to increase even further. The average consumer is purchasing 60% more clothing compared to 2000, but each garment is kept half as long. By 2030, there will be 5.4 billion people in the global middle class, up from 3 billion in 2015. This will lead to an increased demand for clothes that define middle-income lifestyles.

Sustainability of wearable technology

The emerging wearable tech market is booming. In a worst-case scenario, wearable technologies will amplify impacts on the environment, human health, and societies.

  • Wearable technologies could lead to increasing energy consumption, consumption of scarce resources and generating large streams of hard-to-recycle electronic waste.
  • Small e-waste items could end-up in normal household waste. Problematic substances could end-up in the environment polluting water, soil, and air.
  • Plenty of data privacy and security issues related to the rise of wearable technologies that should not be undermined.

Market Evolution

According to EURATEX annual report, Europe counted in 2018 171.000 textile and clothing manufacturers, employing 1,66 million people, generating 178b EUR turnover. 96% are small companies, 3% medium sized companies and only 1% are large corporates. The overall textile and clothing industry in Europe is shrinking in terms of number of companies with ca. 1% year on year.

Fashion brands are driving the next evolution of the wearable market. Currently one in five adults wears a smart watch or fitness band and by 2020, the wearable tech market is expected to be worth 30 billion euros globally.

Technology is no stranger to fashion. Wearable tech is increasingly claiming its place in fashion. Fashion and technology both act as extensions of oneself. It’s a promising way for brands to enter a new market and reach new, connected and digitally native customers.

The wearables market is early stage, the evolution of this market is unpredictable, recent innovations and changing lifestyle have a direct impact on the adoption of wearable technology.

Sustainable wearable technology

Over the last couple of years, the focus on sustainability in the textile and clothing industry has significantly raised. The UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for 2030 are broadly adopted to identify the moral and existential threats that we have to meet head-on.

Sustainability has many facets, from selecting more sustainable fabrics over increasing energy efficiency and the use of renewable energy in technological processes up to extending the longevity of clothes. Designers, Startups as well as established companies are in need of an up-to-date repository of relevant technology providers in wearables, fashion tech and smart textiles.

For technology providers, the challenge is making processes as smooth and unobtrusive as possible to empower fashion brands to design wearables that first and foremost look like high-end accessories. Consumers of wearable tech seek the minimal and seamless.

Developing sustainable wearables requires multi-disciplinary thinking, combining the many aspects of fashion and textile design and manufacturing with the challenges of technology, sustainability and data privacy. Although fashion has always been tactile and user centric, wearables add a new layer of user experience and interactivity. For small as well as large companies it is challenging to build dedicated multi-disciplinary teams. Access to experts and collaboration is key to success.

Landscape of sustainable wearables

Companies in the textile and fashion industry have a complex and fragmented value chain and each step is influenced by specific SDGs with regard to the use of resources (energy, water, sustainable consumption). To score higher within the SDGs, it is mandatory to use an ecosystem approach, to counter unpredictable circumstances with many collaborating stakeholders. An ecosystem approach provides the right governance model to offer flexibility and speed, while enabling collaboration to meet urgent sustainability goals.

Interesting resources related to sustainable Fashion & Textile

A wide range of content and service providers has been emerging providing reports, articles, white papers on sustainability. Often the content is offered for free.

  • Fibre2Fashion provides reports, articles, white papers
  • Common Objective offeres playbooks, case studies, tools, checklists and guides for sustainable supply chains. CO is curating the content to ensure premium content.
  • Sustainable apparel coalition offers latest trends on fashion sustainability
  • Sustainable Fashion Alliance offers reports and trends on sustainability challenges
  • Ellen MacArthur foundation offers free trends reports on circular Fashion
  • Close-The-Loop is an online platform developed by Flanders DC and Circular Flanders guides fashion entrepreneurs through the basics of circular approaches.
  • Unfashionable is the UN Alliance for Sustainable Fashion, an initiative of UN agencies and allied organizations designed to contribute to the Sustainable Development Goals through coordinated action in the fashion sector.

A few actors invested in a Sustainability Index and fact-based certification methodologies

  • Common Objective profiles and ranks business profiles, based on 3 factors: quality product/services, environmental impact, how to maximise benefits for people
  • Sustainable apparel coalition developed the Higg Index to measure a product’s sustainability score and to rank businesses according to the Higg index
  • Ellen MacArthur foundation has developed a circularity indicator to score circular economy performance

Data-driven service providers offer a workflow to audit companies and provide expert advice tailored to their specific needs

  • Common Objective uses a survey at registration to collect insights about goals in return for relevant information and connections with people and organizations
  • Sustainable Fashion Alliance offers strategy sessions for members
  • Sustainable apparel coalition conducts a sustainability assessment to address inefficiencies through training, reports, webinars, in-person meetings, consultative groups and work streams

Last but not least, a few actors are focusing on sustainable wearable technology

  • WEAR Sustain is an expert community focusing on sustainability in the emerging segment of wearables, e-textiles and smart fashion
  • Women in Wearables is a community of female tech entrepreneurs in the fields of wearable technology
  • FashNerd promotes the adoption of sustainable Fashion Technology

The above list is not exhaustive. Please let us know who is missing according to you.

Tap into collective intelligence

We created a business landscape for the tech textile environment. We mapped the key players as a basis to continuously monitor what happens in this rapidly evolving space We encourage you to explore the industry landscapes online, to download the report and to provide us with your feedback.

We invite you to contribute to building collective intelligence to allow the industry to achieve the challenging sustainability goals. Reach out to us and tell us more about your company, initiatives as well as relevant resources.

Subscribe to our newsfeed or stay tuned on Twitter and LinkedIn (hashtag #Sustainability Happens) in order to be informed as soon as we release a new report.

About WCD

We Connect Data helps organisations navigate today’s fast changing and thus less predictable business environment. Access to (f)actual information leads to smarter business decisions. We therefore encourage organisations to systematically collect data, to establish data-driven business processes and to embrace collaborative platforms.