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Scientists, Designers And Activists Collaborate To Tackle Fashion’s Biggest Problem

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As the first World Economic Forum summit of this decade in Davos approaches, several announcements and launches are taking place to define the direction of sustainability across industries, with a notable focus on fashion. The upcoming Study Hall – Climate Positivity At Scale conference in New York (and live-streamed online) later this month will bring together eminent environmental scientists, chemists, fashion designers and activists to push the sustainability conversation beyond incremental and marketing-driven initiatives towards a decade of “listening to the scientists,” as urged by activist Greta Thunberg. The Study Hall Conference will use the UN Decade of Action to begin writing a new chapter in fashion history, where science is its closest collaborator.

Fashion and science have historically had a tricky relationship. Fashion reinvents itself perpetually and is heavily influenced by art, politics and popular culture, dancing to the beat of ephemerality, fleeting trends, and creative whims. Science employs a rigor and methodology that demands an entirely different and resolutely rational approach. The environmental situation we find ourselves in today demands that the two sectors harness the power of each other to fulfill our collective climate goals.

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Climate Change and Fashion

I spoke to Robin E. Bell, the ground-breaking Geophysicist and environmental scientist based at LDEO, Columbia University, who has been correlating antarctic ice sheet changes over the past three decades with projected climate change and agreed to speak at the conference for two reasons. One is practical and action-oriented, she told me, with the very top line message being “the planet is changing and we are the cause of it.” The second is her belief that the fashion industry can take an intellectual and emotional lead by being part of the climate conversation. She also urges collaboration, saying “it’s very clear that we have to build partnerships across all industries so we have the knowledge to look at this [climate change] as a system.”

This is where the fashion industry has struggled. Sustainable transformation in the context of the industry’s total environmental impact (from design to end-of-life) has been difficult to diagnose and evaluate. Without capturing the critical data and applying appropriate analysis any transformation strategy is a guess—educated or otherwise. This is where listening to the scientists (and digitizing the supply chain to ensure all required data is collected) comes in.

On the topic of the supply chain, Bell will urge fashion companies to assess the use of energy and the amount of CO2 generated, (and therefore the contribution to increased global temperatures) in their supply chain. The subsequent actions of the industry should be “looked at in relation to the CO2 budget,” she stated. Underpinning this is a shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources.

The concept that people think we are doomed—we are not. We are fortunate as a species to be able to see what we are doing. We, as a species, can look at the planet as a whole. We can see how this global system works. We haven’t done that yet because we haven’t gotten awareness of the problem.

Robin E. Bell, professor, Columbia University Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory

What’s striking about the conversation with Bell is that she is utterly optimistic and warns again a fatalistic attitude to climate change. Knowing the facts, I asked why. “We have a lot of resources on the planet— solar, wind, nuclear. The application of this knowledge and the will to do so is missing,” was her response. How can the fashion industry help catalyze action toward renewable energy? “Fashion conveys the sense that our planet is a beautiful home in a way that other industries can’t. Fashion can be a platform for the voice of science,” she believes. She makes the point that it is far more difficult to communicate what we cannot see, like carbon emissions. If the message of science can be delivered by fashion that is a powerful partnership.

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The fashion industry is powerful because everyone sees fashion, it is a way to communicate.

Robin E. Bell, professor, Columbia University Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory

Fashion Storytelling

A fashion brand with a voice it isn’t afraid to use is Noah Clothing. Co-founded by Estelle Bailey-Babenzien (interior designer) and Brendon Babenzien (ex-Design Director at Supreme) and based in NY, the brand shares global environmental news interwoven with fashion product images and photos of their community—devotees of the skate, music and fashion scenes.

We present a lot of terrifying facts to our customers, but in the middle of that we are a brand that talks about skateboarding.

Brendon Babenzien, co-founder, Noah Clothing

If fashion is synonymous with culture and lifestyle, then the decisions each of us make about what we wear says something about your beliefs and values. Noah Clothing’s values are rooted in a commitment that puts morals ahead of profits. “We will not grow if it means making a decision we are not proud of. If the conversation becomes about paying people less, that’s not appropriate,” said Brendon Babenzien. This no doubt draws admiration, dedication, and trust from fans of the brand, which is why when Noah Clothing speaks, their community listen.

Brendon Babenzien reflects on the business values he saw as a kid growing up in the ’80s. “It was all about ROI, what Wall Street is saying, the money value. But if you make people sick in the process it is a failure,” he said.

If you have to factor in human suffering everything changes—you’re not going to make as much money. We need a complete and total value shift about how we talk about things.

Brendon Babenzien, co-founder, Noah Clothing

Noah Clothing will contribute to a discussion at the conference on why fashion isn’t sustainable, presenting open and honest viewpoints about why sustainability is often talked about, but rarely achieved in a measurable, verifiable way. When asked about sustainability initiatives within his brand, he points to heavy reliance on textile mills and suppliers to guide them on sustainable materials. However, without the ability to assess the relative merits of one textile versus another, he says they have chosen to opt for the highest quality virgin and recycled materials to ensure the longest possible lifespan of their garments.

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Quantifying Sustainable Materials

A chemist tackling the lack of verifiable material sustainability data hampering companies like Noah Clothing is the CEO of Bolt Threads, Dan Widmaier. He has overseen the growth of Bolt Threads from a three-person material science startup in 2009 to a biomaterials and fabrics company with over 125 staff that has raised over 215 million dollars in investment. Since inception, Bolt has worked on the principle that nature is making extraordinary protein-based fibers that, if they could be made synthetically, would require far less planetary resources. A win for the planet, and a win for those wanting to take advantage of the billions of years of evolutionary refinement that nature has distilled in those natural fibers. Following nature’s blueprint and introducing lab-based efficiencies has led to Bolt Threads developing their Microsilk (synthetic spider silk) and Mylo products (a mycelium-based leather alternative) in small batches to test via designer collaborations.

Bolt Threads are very aware of the power of fashion to tell the story of science and have worked with Stella McCartney and adidas to release small ranges of sportswear knitted from Microsilk yarns. At the conference, Widmaier will discuss the role and methodology of Life Cycle Analysis, which is the current best practice tool (but far from perfect, he told me) for assessing the total environmental impact of a material or product—information that would be highly useful for fashion brands, including Noah Clothing, who do not create their own textiles.

We don’t sense and experience CO2 increase, we see the climate change effects—hurricanes, wildfires…  As carbon goes up, we need to make materials that stop contributing to that.

Dan Widmaier, CEO, Bolt Threads

It is evident that a symbiotic relationship between fashion and science is evolving, along with a moral imperative for the fashion industry, as a global leader in visual storytelling, to present a version of the planet we want to live on, to counter the current doom and gloom view of climate change. The Climate Positivity At Scale Conference is bringing this unique array of speakers together to foster a new fashion and science debate and instigate new collaborations. Other speakers at the conference, which is free to attend, include actress and advocate Yara Shahidi, Creative Director of Timberland, Christopher Raeburn and the fashion designer Mara Hoffman. Sustainability and regenerative farming experts from G-Star Raw and Hudson Carbon will also be amongst the speakers.

 

 

Celine Semaan, Founder of Slow Factory Foundation, a non-profit design lab and sustainable literacy initiative based in New York, established the Study Hall summit series in 2018. Reflecting on the purpose of the upcoming conference she said “fashion has only had a platonic relationship with science so far. What Study Hall is aiming to do is infuse the industry with important knowledge to accelerate the actions needed to achieve a reduction of 30% of carbon emissions by 2030, leading up to zero carbon emissions by 2050.” This feat is surely only achievable by bringing together science-based facts and the powerful voice of fashion. The Climate Positivity At Scale Conference is set to start a new chapter in the partnership that will facilitate this action.

Follow me on Twitter or LinkedIn. Check out my website.

I am a sustainability and fashion tech journalist, innovator and public speaker with several years of experience working across this growing sector. I am also Director of the innovation agency BRIA, where we create materials-tech collaborations and sustainability innovations with brands from both the fashion and technology sectors, directly combining my knowledge of the latest developments in fashion tech with my cross-discipline approach to developing new materials. As one of few specialists with career experience of working in the fields of both science and design, as well as previously running a fashion brand, I use my expertise to write about the new emerging sector of fashion tech, along with the advances which will drive sustainability in the fashion industry. I have written for a number of publications, including HuffPost and my own platform, Techstyler, and have been invited to speak about fashion tech at numerous conferences and events, including delivering a TED talk.

Source: Scientists, Designers And Activists Collaborate To Tackle Fashion’s Biggest Problem

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Is Digitization The Savior Of The Fashion Industry?

Digital Fashion

Digital transformation of fashion design and manufacturing is viewed as both an opportunity and a threat, depending on who you ask. The perceived threats include job security, creativity, and loss of the “human touch” in fashion design and garment-making. The opportunities span time and cost savings, vast and swift sustainability gains (including removing textile waste and reducing the need for dyeing, water use and the carbon emissions generated by physical sampling) and the ability to manufacture small quantities of products profitably.

Other creative industries, such as gaming and film, have adopted digital tools and subsequently platforms that link design, the beating heart of all the products created for human consumption, with every other person and process necessary to bring that design to life (whether that be on a screen or in physical form). It follows that these industries have therefore provided a blueprint for the digitization of fashion—or have they?

To put this debate into the current context, the sustainability pressures facing the fashion industry point to digital transformation being necessary, rather than optional. The rising cost of raw materials as the planet’s resources dwindle, the carbon and financial costs of manual garment sampling and shipping back and forth from manufacturers in Asia to Europe and the U.S., and the switch from two seasons per year to monthly (or weekly) product launches to keep up with social media trends, mean that the only way to meet global consumer demand is to digitize and streamline manual processes. Indeed, the question seems to be how can the industry progress in a manner that is sustainable, ethical and profitable without digitalization?

To draw parallels and find out what fashion can learn from the gaming and film industries, I spoke to Remo Gettini, a serial innovator who is ex-Dreamworks, and DWA NOVA, and now the CTO of the human-centric app-based community of 16 million buyers and sellers of fashion, Depop. What is holding fashion back? Why has digital transformation been so slow? What steps should the industry take to transform expensive, slow, manual, unethical, unfair and unsustainable practices into processes fit for today’s consumers, who want a paradox of constant newness (often personalized) within the planetary bounds?

As CTO at DWA NOVA, Gettini worked with brands ranging from Tommy Hilfiger to Nike and Burberry to navigate the digital landscape and define and implement digital solutions for product design, development and merchandising. “The fashion industry has the opportunity to increase its creativity way beyond what it can currently imagine,” says Gettini. What it lacks is access to human-centric technologies fit for the creative nuances and ephemerality of fashion design. “How do you express the value of a Burberry scarf in a 3D render?” asked Gettini. This is a tough question and one that is being asked by fashion brands, too.

Why has 3D digital design fallen so far short for fashion, I asked? The answer, according to Gettini, having spent decades orchestrating digital transformation as a solutions architect, technical director, and CTO, is that digital design has been borne out of engineering and is based on CAD/CAM solutions, which are “not creative or intuitive in a way that empowers designers.” His view is that the solutions on the market right now, CLO3D (one of the newest CAD solutions for fashion) included, are driven by technical specifications that still do not bridge the gap between creative design and product creation.

The width of this gap is astonishing if you think about the current turnover of styles and speed of fashion, paired with dwindling order volumes as e-commerce has ushered in a shorter shelf-life for styles that are driven by fleeting Instagram trends. This is a phenomenon Depop knows only too well as they provide a seamless platform that integrates social-media trends, e-commerce, and online communities.

The second barrier, he believes, is that solutions providers approach fashion like it was any other industry. They present the same tools to fashion as they do to automotive, aerospace and architecture. “This just won’t work with fashion,” he says. “Fashion needs a platform that plugs creative design into the supply chain painlessly and without designers having to change the way they work. This is fundamental. Designers should not be asked to drop their manual design and illustration techniques in favor of a mouse and keyboard.” To Gettini’s mind, this is where digital transformation “falls at the first hurdle.” So what is the solution?

Reflecting on the strategy of digital transformation at Dreamworks, he explained that they gave designers a tablet and pen so that whatever they drew was digitized—the action was the same, but the options for color, texture, and effects were greater. They expanded the designers’ toolkit, rather than changing it. This unleashed their creativity and the rest of the digital solutions were built around translating these digital sketches into products that could be manufactured via CAD/CAM solutions, seamlessly.

He stressed throughout our conversation that the technology “needs to disappear” and leave only the impression that the work is easier, better and more creative. “Human-centricity is the key to digital success.” In fact, at Depop, the users never talk about the app. They talk about “the experience, the friends they make, the communities they join, the clothes they buy—never the technology,” says Gettini.

What else would Gettini do to fast-track digital transformation in fashion? From a C-level perspective, he would hire new talent graduating from fashion colleges with 3D design skills and an appetite for creative digital design in place of traditional methods of fashion design. He would place these new recruits with the current crop of designers and task them with developing the next collections collaboratively, to leverage both approaches. Fundamental here is the integration of digital design in the actual design and development of products, rather than as an isolated “project.” “

There is no point running a separate pilot to dip your toe in—digital-native designers need to be introduced into the process as part of the business, not as an experiment,” he says. This triggers memories of views shared with me by digital designers working in siloed departments at global brands, who express frustration that digital solutions are adopted within their departments, but do not influence or integrate with other departments, or the supply chain. The very “project” approach that Gettini warns against is a common approach, it seems.

So what does the digitization of fashion design mean for the future of Depop? Depop currently has 16 million buyers and sellers of fashion on its app (the tip of the iceberg, according to Gettini), and in all likelihood, they have the next generation of fashion designers on their platform, too. What would happen if the Depop community could create and share digital fashion designs for crowd-vetting, that are connected to digital manufacturing facilities allowing production on demand, to the quantity determined by the seller (and demanded by the Depop community)—a kind of “Unity for fashion,” as Gettini calls it? This is something that Depop is currently looking into as a possible evolution of their fashion platform. This example further illustrates how 3D digital design has the power to provide fashion-on-demand in a more sustainable manner than the current model of overproduction and inevitable deadstock creation.

During a recent conversation with Kees Jacobs, head of insights and data, global sector consumer products and retail at consultancy firm Capgemini, he explained that in the past decade, digital fashion solutions have been prioritized in consumer-facing domains (website, mobile, in-store experiences) where tech solutions can increase customer engagement and facilitate customer services. On the subject of 3D digital design adoption, his experience has demonstrated that “the urgency to do this is less. The top line (for digital solutions) is retail.”

He went on to state that “we see a big shift happening with digital twins of consumer and products and where the two meet.” Regarding the top two investments fashion retailers should make that promise good ROI, the first was data analytics solutions, and the second area was “consumer engagement and the digital avatar (to allow) the use of CGI to be able to have digital experiences around the products.” Who should retailers look to for these solutions, I asked? Capgemini is working with large players (including Microsoft) and a number of smaller, highly specialized startups to deliver on digital avatars, products, and experiences.

It seems that a potential future direction for the fashion industry is implementing digitized fashion illustration at the first stage of design to connect to 3D CAD/CAM software and equipment for on-demand manufacturing, then eventually the digital product presentation tools at the consumer end. Of course, this is dependent on 3D design tools being adopted by designers and brands, which still proves to be a challenge, based on the views of Gettini and a number of designers I have spoken to at global brands. The challenge is largely due to the technical nature of the interfaces currently on offer to fashion designers via 3D design software.

In addition, the preference for hand-drawing and painstaking manual design techniques still dominates amongst senior designers and creative directors (for whom the design and development processes are often structured to accommodate). Indeed, 3D digital design is still notably absent from the curriculums of top fashion colleges, with many 3D digital designers being self-taught (or from a gaming or film background). The fashion design students I have spoken to who are exploring 3D digital design are learning from online tutorials and forums in place of being taught formally at university. If a “Unity for fashion” does emerge, a new generation of fashion designers who buck the tradition of a fashion college education may yet define, and design, the fashion of our future.

Follow me on Twitter or LinkedIn. Check out my website.

I am a sustainability and fashion tech journalist, innovator and public speaker with several years of experience working across this growing sector. I am also Director of the innovation agency BRIA, where we create materials-tech collaborations and sustainability innovations with brands from both the fashion and technology sectors, directly combining my knowledge of the latest developments in fashion tech with my cross-discipline approach to developing new materials. As one of few specialists with career experience of working in the fields of both science and design, as well as previously running a fashion brand, I use my expertise to write about the new emerging sector of fashion tech, along with the advances which will drive sustainability in the fashion industry. I have written for a number of publications, including HuffPost and my own platform, Techstyler, and have been invited to speak about fashion tech at numerous conferences and events, including delivering a TED talk.

Source: Is Digitization The Savior Of The Fashion Industry?

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Nike Has Taken a Page Out of the Tech Industry’s Playbook. Here’s Why You Should, Too

Over the last several years, the technology industry has continued to double down on subscription models. And now, Nike seems to be learning a thing or two.

Starting this week, Nike will begin offering a subscription service for kids who want to stay stylish throughout the year. The service will offer three pricing tiers of $20, $30, and $50 per month. The cheapest option in the Nike Adventure Club will let kids get new sneakers every three months. The middle tier will allow for sneaker upgrades every two months and the most expensive option will allow for upgrades every month.

If the program, which is only available to children between the ages of two and 10, sounds familiar, it’s because the technology industry has turned subscription models into an exceedingly profitable business model.

Nowadays, it’s nearly impossible to find a prominent technology company that isn’t charging subscription-based access to something. Amazon does it with Prime, Apple does it with iCloud and Apple Music, Google does it with G Suite, and Netflix gives you access to its entertainment library for a monthly fee.

The reason subscriptions have become so popular is consumers and businesses find it, in some ways, more appealing. Instead of plunking down hundreds or thousands of dollars on a new solution and with a limited budget, companies are instead offering nominal monthly fees. Consumers and businesses then pay those fees each month, feeling as though the $10-a-month charge for Apple Music, for instance, is a small price to pay.

Companies, meanwhile, love the subscription models. Sure, they’re not getting so much upfront, but they’re getting a little bit each month. And as long as consumers or businesses stick with them, they can make far more over the years than they might in a traditional business model.

If we’re to assume that kids get a new pair of sneakers every year or every other year to accommodate their growth, even for an expensive $100 pair of sneakers, we can safely assume that they’ll pay no more than $200 of a two-year period for new sneakers.

With the Nike Adventure Club, however, even the cheapest option will cost consumers $240 per year. At its most expensive, it’ll cost $600 per year.

Looking solely at the numbers, it wouldn’t make much sense at all for folks to sign on to Nike Adventure Club. But consider that kids could get a new pair of sneakers each month, and Nike ostensibly believes that at least some folks might go for it.

That’s perhaps a lesson any business owner can learn. The fact is, consumers and businesses have become conditioned to pay monthly for the services or products they want. They do it with everything from CRM platforms to smartphones. And they seemingly do it without caring too much how it’ll affect their bottom lines.

Is there, then, an opportunity for you, the business owner, to do the same? Perhaps it’s time to consider it. Whether you provide a software solution or sell through the retail channel, there are clearly ways for subscriptions to work. And although you might take a short-term revenue hit by changing your business model, over the long term, there’s clear value in sticking to subscriptions.

After all, if it’s good enough for Apple, Amazon, Google, Microsoft (which has totally transformed its business with subscriptions, mind you), and now Nike, why shouldn’t it work for you?

By: Don ReisingerTechnology and business writer

 

Source: Nike Has Taken a Page Out of the Tech Industry’s Playbook. Here’s Why You Should, Too | Inc.com

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