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Digitalizing Fashion for Sustainability

After a refreshing brainstorming on a digital solution project (soon more on that) to initially stop sample and production wast/oversupply as well as bringing more value added, customized jeans to market at speed; it was great to be at the packed-out room at SupplyCompass launch event at Techspace in London. Using digital solutions for sustainable fashion objectives and seeing the link will define future success for the brands as well as the supply chain. The amazing panelists Carol Hilsum of Farfetch, Remo Gettini of Depop, Farah Cohen of Everpress and Flora Davidson of SupplyCompass and moderator Brooke Roberts-Islam shared their expertise and thoughts and the Q&A part presented how engaged the audience was.

As Gus Bartholomew – the co-founder of SupplyCompass has summarized; the 2000s has witnesses the emergence of digitalization and in the 2010s Instagram became the dictating authority on trends as consumers transformed into decision makers, putting more pressure on the supply chain for customized products at speed. The Rana Plaza disaster in 2013 became a landmark and much needed efforts on traceability and accountability came into practice. The 2020s fueled by innovation and further recognition of the environmental and social impacts of fashion and the connection to climate crisis defines a time for disruption. Digital Fashion is already happening ( although the resistance to change was referred by multiple panelists) and is moving to scale with design and supply chain integration via technology and although it may not be a panacea for sustainability, it sure is an accelerator.

“Fashion trend is driven by guesswork and intuition months before something is sold in a store”. This could have been true maybe 5 years ago however this notion is changing fast as fashion tech companies come on board and scale their innovation.

Remo Gettini of Depop has replied to the question why the industry was slow in embracing digital solutions by saying that in fashion the designer has been at the core of the universe for a long while and the designers mostly have a physical understanding of how things operate. Buying clothes is an emotional act and the emotions have traditionally been triggered by physical experiences. As digital experiences get translated into emotions digitalization of fashion will become common use. Remo has emphasized that in 5 years fashion will be a totally different landscape where the ability to understand and use data as well as the formation of platforms will shape how consumers, brands as well as the supply chain will interact.

Depop uses the data in 2 folds. Looking inside and using necessary tools and measurements to understand their customers and then looking outside to implement this data. The way Depop is expanding their business is giving opportunity to tens and thousands of independent designers to fulfill their dreams and operating on a community-based platform which is growing exponentially and with the use of innovation the platform transforms into an ecosystem. Remo points out that all fashion sampling will be digital in few years to come and that is where then the fashion sustainability could be enhanced as just like music fashion will become binary, eliminating excesses.

Farfetch is worth 7 billion usd and is revolutionizing fashion industry as it connects shoppers with more than 980 brands through a single internet storefront. Farfetch has focused on story-telling and personalization and have often referred to how Netflix offers the connection between the customer and the retailer. Fast fashion has a problem of overproduction as designers, merchandisers and buyers take guesses at trends and this creates a non-match between supply and demand. That is where digital fashion becomes handy. In 2018 Farfetch has launched Dream Assembly; a fashion and retail tech accelerator where start-ups like Good on You and EON have been incubated. Change of Paradigm; one of the 44 start-ups on the platform enables the full potential of 3D across multiple channels and they are aiming to be the bridge connecting digitals, natives and brands. Carol Hilsum has pointed out that the fashion industry is not transforming to digital on its own and this is also why Farfetch has invested in educational programs as well as build an accelerator.

Flora Davidson of SupplyCompass says that when referring to fashion, we should consider the design element and not only the product. SupplyCompass is a sourcing platform empowering fashion brands to deliver sustainable collections effortlessly and offer connection to a trusted, audited network of trusted manufacturers with offices in London, and India. Flora and Gus have lived in India for 2 years to build the business and have visited their suppliers before digitizing their business plan. SupplyCompass provides a design to delivery solution and delivers 1 million sustainable products for global brands.

Flora expands to say that they look at the entire supply chain and work on humanizing it with the commitment of brands as well as the manufacturers. This is the only way to transform a supply chain into a value chain. There is no room for uninspiring solutions says Flora: pointing out to the creativity aspect of fashion.

Based in East London, Everpress is a global marketplace supporting local/grassroots brands and works with real designs by real artists for real people; digitally. The platform`s aim is to make better things with no risk and no waste; putting an end to deadstock. The highlights of the panel reflected:

1. Digital design to be accelerated by fashion technology start-ups.

2. Direct to Consumer brands gaining more power.

3. Increasing consumer demand for fast fashion to become sustainable.

4. Connected consumers in a fashion ecosystem.

In 2018 I have worked on the first digital denim garment project for Soorty and we teamed up the Fabricant based in Amsterdam to present the Cradle to Cradle Gold Certified denim fabrics of Soorty. We did not make an actual sample and worked out the details of the garment digitally after many meetings on how best we could present an innovative, sustainable solution in an interesting way. It has worked out and the hypnotic digital garment attracted attention and empowered Soorty`s Cradle to Cradle development event without actually making a sample. We are informed often that a truck load of clothes ends up in landfill every second and we really have to think in detail why this is happening so that we can develop the needed solutions.

Design, manufacturing, the way we market and purchase for our clothes are in disruption and it is not a matter of whether the supply chain will embrace digital solutions or not but the possibility that companies who do not will suffer in the very near future.



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