Digitalization and its role to sustainable fashion

Digitalization has dominated most of the industrial sectors nowadays, further accentuated by COVID-19 pandemic. Fashion industry is now undergoing a rapid, transformative period spearheaded by an increasing digitalization in its processes, expanding to all fashion sectors: design, production, supply and retail chain.

Apart from the unquestionable benefits of digitalization in the optimization of resources, digital processes go hand in hand with sustainability: from introducing software tools to fashion design in order to reduce waste by making prototyping less material-intensive to creating virtual showrooms and from expanding e-commerce platforms enabling rentals and returns of fashion products to influencing consumer behavior towards more sustainable brands.

Digital innovation reinforces sustainability through many ways and at various levels:

Blockchain technologies, IoT and AI-driven algorithms allow the consumers to track the whole supply chain of a clothing item back to the raw material (sourcing) that was used for its production, thus creating a unique “digital certificate” which serves as a proof of its authenticity and sustainable production standards as well as the company’s transparency about its operation. An example of such technologies already in use are the encrypted tags that are scanned to provide information about the supply chain of a fashion company.

The use of IoT and AI-driven algorithms are not only advantageous for the consumers but also for the retailers as they can be informed about the consumers’ preferences and plan their sales more efficiently. Once again, the more credible forecasting in consumers’ behaviour has many benefits as it can lead to the optimization of energy used for the production of fashion items and the reduction of waste. Furthermore, automation of warehouses, including inventory-checking robots or drone delivery, contributes to streamlining logistics and inventory management.

AR/VR and 3D applications constitute the latest trend on what is called as “digital fashion”: clients are able to attend virtual showrooms and try on their preferred make-up, jewellery, shoes and bags before making a purchase. On the other hand, virtual showrooms mean less business travels (and, as a result, less carbon emissions), less waste and a significant shortening in the organization and delivery of sampling/fashion shows.

The introduction of e-commerce platforms is the epitome of sustainability in fashion as they facilitate resales, rentals and returns of the garments, profoundly resulting in a reduction of waste and change of consumers’ attitudes, prolonging the lifecycle of the garments. Another trend that becomes more and more popular is the introduction of 3D printers in the fashion production, with some companies paving the way for the formulation of a new niche market.

Last but not least, AI innovation in the years to come, can contribute to making the systems more efficient; from reducing the water needed for cotton crops to introducing smarter stock management or increasing the quality of fabrics and deploying artificial intelligence in consumption models, AI can offer long-term solutions to bolster circular economy.