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Clothing worth 40 million US dollars ends up as 'deadstock' in the warehouses of the fashion industry. Big companies like Burberry and H&M hit the headlines last year for the incineration of over-produced clothing. In Germany alone, consumers have around 2 billion shirts and trousers in their wardrobes they don’t wear and throw away after three years at the latest. According to estimation by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), 16 million tons of textiles went into the rubbish bins of US households in 2015. Only 15 per cent of this amount was recycled. There is too much clothing that is not worn and too much waste that cannot be used.
The latest 'The Pulse of the Fashion Industry' report, which is published yearly by the Global Fashion Agenda, Boston Consulting Group and the Sustainable Apparel Coalition, makes it quite clear in what kind of mess the industry is in. It shows that the more the industry grows the more it harms the environment. The report also shows where solutions can be found – in the fourth industrial revolution. New information and communication techniques are changing society and the world of production and work. For the first time ever, digitalisation allows mankind to democratise information and communication. The specific use of mass data – also known as 'big data' – can help separate economic growth and resource depletion. Bid data is already being used to make design and production more sustainable. The tool of the new era is artificial intelligence (AI).
“Stop guessing what you can calculate,” said Arti Zeighami, global head of Advanced Analytics and AI at H&M. He states that big data can help those who create fashion to make decisions that are more intelligent. The Swedish fashion retailer has access to information from 900 transactions a year.
“With the use of data, we can make sure our customers get what they want,” said Christopher Wylie, a Cambridge Analytica whistleblower. Today, he is working together with H&M on how to make sure that the right amount of the right products is at the right place at the right time. The aim is to find a solution to the present problem of over-production, to reduce warehousing and transport. According to H&M, the use of AI helped the company reduce its carbon dioxide emissions by 10 per cent.
IBM and the DTech Lab of the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) did research for Tommy Hilfiger on how AI can chance retail. In April this year, they announced they would continue AI research that includes exact trend forecasts and better market insights, changed product design and improved supply chains. Michael Ferraro, director of DTech Lab, confirms that decision making has improved in all areas, from design to sale, and states that countless amounts of data will change the way of thinking and show how it will influence many aspects throughout the fashion supply chain.
Combined with two other technologies of the fourth industrial revolution, AI takes another step closer to the idea of creating the perfect piece of clothing. 3D scanning and the virtual visualisation of the finished product can cut down on long transport journeys and save resources.
In May last year, the 'Digital Textile Micro Factory' of leading clothing and textile producing trade show Texprocess, demonstrated that this is already happening. Exhibitors at the trade show also pointed out with 'Impact 4.0' how forward-thinking digital innovations can become reality in the industry now. The products presented by US software and hardware group Gerber Technology exemplified how digitalisation can be practicably applied to existing processes of the textile supply chain and what the possibilities are for increasing efficiency and doing less harm to the environment. For example, new pattern scanners can not only speed up the process of designing, refining and producing, but can at the same time globalise workflows that use less resources.
“The Internet of Things is among the most powerful enabling technologies for circular economy. It is also one of the most transformative technologies facing retail,” said Natasha Franck, founder and CEO of Fashiontech startup Eon. Eon's Connect Global Fashion Initiative is working together with market leaders like H&M Group, Target, PVH and Microsoft to create transparency during the product’s entire life cycle. Clothing items have a 'digital passport' that gathers the information needed to make it reusable. The goal is to establish a global standard for the identification and management of products that lives up to the principles of circularity. The solution manifests in the 'CircularID', the term 'Circular Connectivity' and the 'End-to-End Visibility' concept are born.
RFID fibres and digital twins – the industry is striving to make circularity real on a large scale and in this attempt is confronted with two challenges in particular: identification at the product’s end-of-life and isolated data management. Pioneers are offering first solutions.
At last year’s May edition of Techtextil, the leading international trade show for technical textiles and non-woven fabrics, Amann Group presented 'Smart Yarn'. This special yarn acts as an RFID antenna and transmits data to a software allowing information to be embedded in the physical product. Companies like Eon, Lukso and Provenance are working on a way to create a digital twin for every product that is added to blockchain. Information like origin and authenticity, material content and dyeing procedures are uploaded into the Cloud. “When we create open infrastructures and an open source mentality, we are up to a good start,” said Marjorie Hernandez, founder and CEO of Lukso, during the panel discussion 'Responsible Digitalisation' at the Fashionsustain conference in July this year, which was part of trade show Neonyt.
According to the 'The Pulse of the Fashion Industry' report (2019), the fashion industry’s sustainability efforts were down by one-third last year. “We need fashion tech to actually power this sustainable revolution,” said Franck. The key to the reuse of original material and the maximisation of its economic value is to standardise product data and communication between all players involved. “Like everything in nature, products in the fashion industry should have circular lifecycle. By leveraging the Internet of Things and Digital Identity to power intelligence, communication and transparency, it’s possible to unlock a global circular future,” said project partner Shelley Bransten, corporate vice president of retail and consumer goods industries at Microsoft Corp.
The new tools of the new era can empower the industry to create clothes that are loved and actually worn. Intelligently tailor-made dresses and shirts will last longer. Consumers will now own their clothing. And even when trends change and new clothing items are created, the fashion industry no longer has to waste resources.
Fibre2Fashion News Desk (PC)
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