Sustainable Fashion Innovations: Critical Analysis

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As part of the exam for the course Innovation Today, we had the assignment to write an Innovation Report where we describe five innovative and inspiring cases within a chosen theme. My chosen theme for the innovation report is ‘sustainability within the fashion industry’. First of all, I am a keen lover of fashion, second of all I am also very passionate about social innovation, and through the use of social innovation creating in impact in society. Nowadays, in 2018, there are many societal challenges we are facing in the future.

One of those challenges is reshaping the current apparel industry, the second most polluting industry after the oil industry. The fashion industry deals with a growing problem of clothing waste. In the United States, in about 20 years, the amount of apparel discarded on a yearly basis has doubled from 7 million tons to 14 million tons. By 2030, when the global population will grow by 16 %, research has estimated that clothing consumption will grow 65 %. As fashion and apparel is part of everyone’s lives, the environmental footprint of the industry is immense.

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Therefore, it is essential that the fashion industry reshapes itself and thus creates a cleaner future. An industry worth 3,000 billion dollars globally, employing around 300 million people along the value chain, has a considerable power to attain sustainable change.

In order to attain sustainable change, we need innovative thinking and a shift of paradigm from all stakeholders in the industry. On the basis of sustainable fashion innovations, the industry is transforming and changing, towards a more sustainable fashion landscape. Through the creation and implementation of sustainable fashion innovations we can work to tackle many issues the industry is facing today. On the basis of sustainable innovations, we can counteract the effects of fast and cheap fashion consumption, we can protect animal rights, we can defend fair wages and working conditions, we can cut down on water waste, we can develop eco-friendly fabrics and thus make a change in the world we live today.

Case 1: Reverse Resources – Europe

Reverse Resources is an Estonian start-up founded by Ann Ruller. The company developed a software platform for the clothing industry’s recycling process. On the basis of a digital platform Reverse Resources creates a worldwide online marketplace, where surplus textiles are sold. Every textile manufacturer has to deal with material that is eventually no longer used, while this material would be very useful for designers. By developing software that tracks how much material is superfluously produced, designers can be linked to textile manufacturers.

The software provided by Reverse Resources makes it possible for apparel manufacturers to map leftover fabrics in a traceable way during the whole life cycle. Once the leftover fabrics are traced and mapped, they become resources that can be reintroduced into the supply chain, and that way no new fabrics have to be used.

Every year, more than 80 billion garments are produced worldwide, however 15 % of all textile materials go to waste from production at the other side of the planet. According to research the amount of production leftovers is underreported and therefore underestimated by the apparel industry. Most of the leftovers get downcycled, burnt or thrown away.

Photo of an official dumping site in Bangladesh

In 2016, the company won the Global Change Award, the Award is an innovation challenge organized by H&M Foundation, aiming to make fashion more circular and sustainable. Reverse Resources is currently running a pilot project with 4 major factories in Bangladesh and China producing for some major brands in Europe.

The case of Reverse Resources shows us that if the industry wants to work towards a mainstream circular economic system, it mainly depends on supply chain transparency and big data resources that can identify where used material are around the world at any time, so that businesses can buy them up to recycle or upcycle them for new products.

The current fashion and textile industry will be able to reshape itself through the combination and implementation of technology, sustainability and innovation. As the case shows us that the interaction of collaborations, new technologies and sustainability leads to applied innovations.

In my opinion Reverse Resources is a game changing idea that can take the fashion industry from linear to circular, offering a sustainable, closed-loop solution and thus helping to protect our planet.

Case 2: Good On You – Australia

Good on You is a smartphone application that provides ethical ratings for more than 2000 fashion brands. Thus, the application makes checking a brand for its impact on people, the planet and animals easier and more transparent. By providing ethical brand ratings, the consumers have been given the power to make choices that match their values, and that are less harmful for the environment than non-ethical brands.

The choices that consumers make in stores have a major impact on the environment, the planet and the employment conditions of employees, therefore it is necessary to create more transparency and information for the consumers by the help of information technology. By use of the application Good on You consumers can also put pressure on companies to make more sustainable products.

For the ratings on Good on You, the developers based themselves on the information that is accessible to everyone. Such as reports from NGOs or independent certificates that they receive. The most reliable information about how a fashion brand performs on an issue comes from certification schemes like Fair Trade, OEKO-TEX and the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS). The main criteria for ratings are people, the environment and animals. The possible categories are ‘Great’, ‘Good’, ‘It’s a Start’, ‘Not Good Enough’ and ‘We avoid’. By collecting information on hundreds of sustainable brands, the app allows the consumers to discover new and more ethical brands.

The application was founded by Sandra Capponi in Australia in late 2015. After the launch, the app was already downloaded 35 000 times in Australia and New Zealand. In 2017, the Good for You app launched in the United States and Canada, and expanded to Europa in 2018. Nowadays, more than 175 000 people have downloaded the app, with a community of sustainable and ethical fashion consumers growing each week.

The company is always adding more brands and improving on features like personalization or encouraging brands to do better. This last feature makes it possible for the consumer to congratulate on brands that or doing well or to encourage other brands to improve on the sustainable criteria that matter for the consumer.

The story and the idea of the application started in April 2013, when the Rana Plaza Factory in Bangladesh collapsed, as a result 1134 garment workers died. This happening showed the world how many consequences the cheap, fast fashion industry has on the lives of the people who made our clothes and on the planet. So, the founders of Good for You started talking to people who wanted to make better fashion choices but had the issue of not knowing where to get the right information. That’s when the founders started to develop and build tools to bring this information together in one place where people could easily find and consult this information.

Collapse of the Rana Plaza Factory in Bangladesh in 2013

This sustainable innovation shows us that with technology the fashion industry can work towards a more energetic, transparent and sustainable ecosystem instead of an industry with uncertainty, miscommunication and misdirection. Let’s embrace mindful consumption and circular economy principles to change the fashion industry and evolve to a sustainable and fair value chain.


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