There have been a lot of pivotal points in history lately. From the COVID pandemic – now into its second year – to military action in Europe, the fashion industry has had to adjust to operating under extreme conditions. But while those tragedies have been strong catalysts for the speed of change, they have also exposed an axiom that predates them both: that fashion has been on an unsustainable trajectory for a while, and a fashion reset is overdue.
That can be taken literally – fashion is a prime polluter – but “unsustainable” runs deeper than its environmental meaning, too. To an outside observer, fashion seems to be in good health, with some of its biggest names declaring record profits at the close of 2021. But behind the scenes, the way the industry operates has been in a “downward spiral” for some time, with success often coming from a shotgun approach – flooding the market with volume and variety, at high velocity – that creates a self-perpetuating cycle of overproduction and waste.
There are ways for fashion to escape this spiral and to rearchitect its approach everywhere from flipping the design-to-production flow around, to pursuing entirely new commercial and creative models that have no physical output at all.
One thing these routes all have in common: they require fashion to be willing to push the reset button, rather than rebounding to the same shape it had in 2019.
What does resetting mean? And how can every brand reset in a way that’s both realistic, for its level of technological maturity, and consistent with their brand identity? A multi-disciplinary team of independent researchers set out to ask precisely that question, and to document fashion at a critical point in its digital transformation.
With support from The Interline, their full findings are now available, free to download and share. Or for more information on the key findings from Fashion Reset 2022, read on.
- A complex combination of technological advancements, social change, textile innovation, and low-cost mass production has created a fashion industry predicated on constant growth and unsustainable volume.
- Self-regulation has largely been unsuccessful; while some individual brands have taken radical action, the fashion industry as a whole remains a major contributor to global emissions, and more clothing is reaching landfill than ever. External accountability is the only logical next step, with ethical consumption acting as a simultaneous driver for change.
- Brands are already experimenting with new business models, from fast fashion to luxury, to extend the life of their products – through more durable materials, repair programmes, and resale through the secondary market.
- Biodegradable materials and on-demand production offer further opportunities to slash the industry’s legacy of waste, but both require careful planning and new technology partnerships to accomplish.
- Viable replacements for synthetic materials are approaching commercialisation, but questions remain around their scalability.
- Digital technologies – especially when combined – are opening the door to small-batch, in-country production and a new age of personalisation and made-to-measure.
- The final shape of the Metaverse, and the long-term viability of NFTs, remains unclear, but there is little question that brands must be digitally ambitious (and digitally present) or risk sliding into irrelevance.
- Across all these challenges and opportunities, technology is a consistent anchor – offering the clearest pathway to reimagining and rearchitecting processes up and downstream.
About the authors:
Anna is a fashion sustainability enthusiast and strategist, with a background in retail, luxury, and technology. She recently finished her Masters of Arts in Design Management, writing a thesis on the role circular design practices can play in fashion today to build regenerative systems and reduce waste. Her latest focus is in the material space. Understanding how new innovations in fibre creation can shape production and waste practices.
Julia is an ex-management consultant and INSEAD MBA graduate with passion for finding, studying, and raising awareness about the latest innovations in fashion sustainability. She has helped several brands with marketing, business development, product management, and market expansion strategies and implementation. She also lately joined a sustainable, Toronto-based eyewear brand as a co-founder.
Irina is a Creative Director specialising in visual production, creative strategy, brand positioning development, innovations and creative leadership with an emphasis on sustainability. Her mission is to help premium fashion and beauty brands to communicate their vision and values through sustainable work that we can all be proud of. Her holistic mission is to create experiences that make consumer’s lives meaningful and robust.
Rahul Verma is a Digital Fashion Design Consultant, and Founder of NOFORM, a Digital Fashion Lab, based in Bengaluru, India. He received B.A. in Fashion Design from the National Institute of Fashion Technology, New Delhi in 2008, and an M.A. in Fashion Design Technology Womenswear from the London College of Fashion in 2012. In his career thus far, Rahul has worked as a Designer, Technical Illustrator, Professor of Fashion, and 3D Design Consultant. His current area of research and study is the use of digital and 3D technology in textiles & fashion to design smartly and sustainably.