"Sustainable development" has become a buzzword in the present times due to the emergence of various social & environmental concerns. Increasing pollution from vehicles and industrial units, deforestation, excessive use of chemicals, plastic, metals and other non-biodegradable material, expanding landfill sites are leaving devastating impacts on the environment. Extensive use of natural resources and superfluous production & use of man-made articles along with tremendous waste generation is adversely effecting the environment. This has intensified the need to minimize the environmental damages and make the earth a better place to live not only for the present generations but also for the future generations to come.


To "Sustain" means "to maintain" or "to up hold". Sustainability is a wide-ranging term. It's important dimensions are


Environmental Sustainability - Environmental sustainability is the ability to maintain the valued qualities of the physical environment. It refers to preservation of the environment & natural resources.


Social Sustainability - Social sustainability is one important aspect of sustainable development. Social sustainability encompasses human rights, labor rights, and corporate governance. For a society to be functional & sustainable, the basic needs of the members must be met.


Economic Sustainability - Economic sustainability is about achieving economic growth along with ensuring the improvement in quality of life and the environment.


The Sustainability concern is applicable to all areas of human activity such as computing, design, manufacture, architecture, transportation, agriculture, to name a few.


The term "Sustainability" is being discussed for almost a decade now but its explicit and all-round intervention in the field of Fashion is a recent one. Its relevance in the Fashion industry is because of the highly unsustainable nature of this industry. Fashion Industry is one of the most polluting industries in the world. It is the second largest water-consumer of all the industries of the world. Trends like global operations, fast fashion, increasing disposable incomes, increasing consumerism are intensifying the social & environmental concerns with respect to the fashion industry. An interesting area of research is to emancipate the role of technology integration in the fashion industry and its contribution in the emergence of an ethical and green fashion value-chain.


Some pertinent researches and distinctive initiatives in this field have enabled the evolution of specialized disciplines with a focus to understand, evaluate and reduce the carbon footprints of human activities and aim towards environmental & social well-being. A few of the emerging disciplines include Sustainable Design, Sustainable Architecture, Sustainable Fashion, Sustainable Tourism, Sustainable Agriculture and so on. This article gives an overview of sustainability concerns in the fashion industry and the technology intervention to address these concerns.


There are some of the very useful resources which give an insight into the concept of Sustainable Fashion and its gradual entry into the fashion mainstream. Janet Hethorn and Connie Ulasewicz in their book "Sustainable Fashion: Why Now?" discuss the various issues and practices related to Sustainable Fashion. Kate Fletcher promoter of "Slow Fashion" in her book 'Sustainable Fashion and Textiles Design Journeys" writes about ecologically sustainable fashion and textiles."Green Technology, Strategy and leadership for clean and sustainable communities" [3] discusses strategies for green and clean living. Eco Textile News [4] gives an insight into the latest developments in the field of environmental & social sustainability. The website Business Green [8] informs about Fashion industry signing up to green makeover. Sustainable Style Foundation [7] talks about "look fabulous live well, do good". London College of Fashion launched the Centre for Sustainable Fashion (CSF) in 2008 to function as a globally connected catalyst for change moving towards a sustainable fashion economy.


Information technology today has become the keystone in an organization's quest for growth in a rapidly changing and complex environment characterized by intense competition, global impacts, uncertainties and fast-changing business models. Computer technology plays an important role in the strengthening and reinforcing the sustainability efforts and is specifically directed to the contribution of computer technology for bringing in social & environmental sustainability in the Fashion industry. It contributes significantly towards giving a greener face to the fashion value-chain. The computer technology, policies & practices with an orientation towards environmental, social and economic sustainability is known as Green Technology (greentech) or environmental technology (envirotech). Widespread application of greentech or envirotech in the Fashion industry is an important dimension of Sustainable development. Because of its role as a tool for sustainable development, green technology is also known as sustainable technology.

Some of the major areas where sustainable technology has been deployed.

 

Technology Related To Material Used

 

  • Technology for weaving, printing, dyeing and finishing of yarn & fabric
  • Technology for Non-toxic processing and treatments of fiber
  • Testing of Fabric for contaminants
  • Technology for Stain-free and wrinkle-free fabric


Technology Related To Design

 

  • Computer-aided design of apparel
  • Automatic manipulation of fabric
  • Colour inventory management


Technology Related To Processes / Software Modules

 

  • Enterprise Resource Planning
  • Electronic Data Interchange
  • Product Life Cycle Management
  • Supply chain management


Technology Related To Manufacturing

 

  • Operating facilities with alternative or renewable sources of energy such as landfill gas, wind, solar, low-impact hydroelectric facilities etc.
  • Technology for reducing harmful emission
  • Technology for Chemical-free processes
  • Body-scanning for made-to-measure, ready-to-wear, Seamless apparel technology, custom-fit, Made-to-order, Mass-customization,
  • Quality control & assurance
  • Robotics
  • Automated on-line fabric inspection
  • Sewing machines and embroidery technology


Technology Related To Distribution, Transportation And Retail Of Fashion Articles

 

  • Use of RFID for effective tracking & securing of fashion products and establishing a green supply-chain.
  • IT Planning for enhanced efficiency of processes and improved supply-chain responsiveness.
  • Minimal or eco-friendly packaging using recycled and eco-friendly material.
  • e-commerce, e-retailing, on-line shopping


Consumer-Use Technology

 

  • Smart textile, smart garment
  • Less frequent laundry
  • Fewer but multi-utility garments
  • Garments with extended life-span
  • Innovative clothing


Post-Consumer Technology Related To Disposal, Recycling And Reuse

 

  • Zero-waste through implementing "Closed Loop" waste-management techniques.
  • Fiber-to-fiber recycling
  • Refurbished or recycled fiber and fabric

 

The intervention of green technology in the fashion industry is bringing forth various aspects such as Green material, Green design, green manufacturing, green transportation, green retail, green post-consumer management and so on. These concepts have relevance to various key areas in the fashion value chain where eco-friendly technology and alternate solutions can replace the conventional methods. The coming years are going to witness integration of green technology in various stages from fibre to fabric, from raw material to the finished fashion article covering the farming, sourcing, designing, manufacturing aspects and from Manufacturer to retailer and finally to the consumer covering the warehousing, ordering, transportation, retailing, consuming and post-consumer management.


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About the Author:

The author is Assistant Professor at Department of Fashion Management Studies, National Institute of Fashion Technology