An eco-conscious journey: Utilizing technology to drive fashion sustainability


COP27, United Nations’ climate change conference, concluded in November last year. The summit saw fashion industry leaders taking the ‘Canopy Pledge’ which is joint commitment to purchase over half a million tons of low-carbon, low-footprint alternatives for clothing and packaging to help reduce global emissions. While the presence of fashion-focused discussions at COP27 is a positive development, it’s undeniable that without radical action, the impact of climate change is only set to intensify in the coming years.

Extreme and unpredictable weather events are becoming increasingly common, and the subsequent loss of biodiversity, land degradation and food scarcity affect millions and cost governments, citizens and businesses billions every year. In addition to the climate change-related humanitarian crisis at hand, these extreme events also have knock-on effects for fashion’s supply chain. Earlier this year, the strong monsoon rains that ravaged Pakistan wiped out nearly 40% of its annual crop yield.

Fashion, and its long supply chains and energy-exhaustive production, makes it the planet’s third-largest polluter, contributing to about 10% of global carbon emissions. Now, it’s time for fashion to reckon with the damage it’s done to the planet.

Shifting attitudes within Fashion

As a result of new and emerging technology, and consumer demand for more environmentally friendly products and practices, the concept of fast fashion is starting to evolve into a more sustainable and circular-fashion model. The attitudes within the Fashion sector are shifting and brands are becoming more eco-conscious. For organizations to pave the way toward a truly sustainable future, adequate technological solutions need to be implemented, in order for efforts to no longer fall short.

Many conversations are centered around the importance of each division of the supply chain upholding accountability for their manufacturing, material sourcing, and purchase points. However, the true solution does not solely lie within the supply chain, but rather in the overall value chain a brand offers. The fashion industry is continually evolving, and as clothing trends emerge, they are just as quickly deemed out-of-season and discarded.

Technology innovation is key

Innovative technology can be the answer to creating a more sustainable circular-fashion model. Utilizing acquired data and analyzing it, is critical to monitor the market and identify emerging opportunities, to make sound and conscious operational decisions. Software to analyze the life cycles of materials and products, and consequently, measure a brand’s carbon footprint, are essential to moving towards a circular economy. RFID technology for inventory tracking and management as well as supply chain management and AI for trend forecasting aids to reduce the over-production of items. Adopting a virtual reality fitting room allows customers to try on outfits before they purchase them and in turn, reduces the carbon footprint created by the reverse supply chain.

Embracing the circular model

Scientists, international organizations, governments, and civil society all agree that to prevent the worst irreparable effects of climate change, the entire fashion sector needs to act with determination, starting today. To reduce product waste, various brands within the industry are embracing the circular model, shifting from the take-make-waste linear system to a more restorative one, that is designed to reduce waste, repurpose materials, and keep products in use for as long as possible. Leading retailers have joined forces to create the Make Fashion Circular initiative, which aims to evolve the fashion sector to a circular operating model, by keeping clothes in use, incorporating more renewable materials, and recycling old garments into new items.

Renewable materials and alternative textiles are a way for the industry to look at reducing waste and pollution. Natural fibers are resource-intensive, one cotton shirt requires 713 gallons of water – approximately what a single person would drink in two and a half years. Other synthetic textiles take very long to degrade and they contain harmful chemicals that are released into the environment. The British brand Ananas Anam uses technology to turn pineapple leaves into a leather textile called Piñatex. All materials used in this process are environmentally safe and bio-degradable.

An eco-conscious journey

Consumers are becoming increasingly more conscious of how and where the items they purchase are made and what impact their production has on the environment. According to a McKinsey report, 67% of consumers consider sustainable materials to be a factor in purchasing a fashion item. The demand for brands to be more transparent about their processes and materials is accelerating. With the implementation of blockchain technology, consumers will be able to scan a garment’s label and view a digital history of the item’s journey as well as the items used to create it and the process followed to source the materials.

Efforts to create a more transparent supply chain and reverse supply chain could provide accountability, build trust between brands and their customers, and appeal to consumers who want proof that the retailers they are choosing to support are deploying environmentally friendly processes.

On the other hand, consumers too must change their approach to fashion, and rethink of clothing not as just as a consumable but as an investment. This includes making purchasing decisions based on needs and not whims, considering re-using and repairing clothing to keep them out of the landfill, and opting for sustainable brands.

The drive for fashion sustainability

While the fashion sector has a long journey to becoming sustainable, the industry is gradually laying the foundation needed for a greener, cleaner, and less wasteful future. The adoption of technology is a functional way for brands to pivot towards an environmentally conscious approach to operating. In the pursuit of Net Zero, traceability within the value chain needs to be established to see which part of the operation falls short. Organizations within the supply chain have a duty to offer transparency with their proceedings and acquire environmental data that can be automated, stored, and verified. With this in mind, it is clear that data and the analysis thereof are key to sustaining an eco-conscious journey.

Written by:

Robert McKee,
SVP of Global Strategic Alliances, Fortude