The days when it was enough to have models walking on a catwalk made of moss to demonstrate sustainability and environmental awareness are definitely over. Such staging guarantees beautiful pictures, but consumers demand more. Generation Z openly rejects what is ideologically questionable and more and more representatives of the other generations are attaching increasing importance to sustainability.
In theory, this pressure has reached most companies in the fashion industry. They see transparency – from production to delivery and recycling – as an important new brand value. According to a study by the management consultancy McKinsey, more than half of the fashion industry’s global purchasing directors consider sustainability to be one of their most important business strategies. And the goals that some companies set for themselves are quite ambitious. So far, however, few of these plans have made it into practice. Why is this happening?
Transparency – from the sheep to the shop
Of course, implementing an efficient concept for more sustainability requires some thought. It is necessary to find a balance between being transparent to stakeholders and consumers and not being too open to the competition. But no company is alone in this dilemma and there is an increasing availability of technological solutions to drive sustainability along supply chains. Why now of all times? There are two main reasons: the state of the art and affordability. The "new" technologies such as blockchain, IoT and AI are now at a stage of development that more than justifies their use and they have already passed the practical test, having first been matured in the food industry. One example IBM Food Trust has been in operation since 2017, improving transparency and accountability throughout the food supply chain.
Examples can now also be found in the fashion industry. The "Textile Trust" platform, developed by the textile company KAYA&KATO together with IBM, their partner Cotonea and the support of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development BMZ, enables customers, manufacturers, suppliers and partners to trace the origin and processing of a garment at every stage of production and distribution. This ensures complete transparency and traceability from the raw material to the finished end product.
The Italian luxury textile manufacturer Piacenza is also committed to transparency from the sheep to the shop. It uses a blockchain solution to track the entire process of fabric production, from the receipt of the raw material to the sale. The ability to track every part of the process allows all parties involved to document the different steps of design and manufacturing and prevents waste in production, among other things.
Generation Z joins in
Young consumers in particular demand sustainable practices and the transparency to prove it. So why not involve them in the development processes? The British luxury label Burberry also followed this thought and sent its technology experts to the IBM Extreme Blue internship programme to work with the participants on the development of a mobile app for product tracking. The students developed the prototype "Voyage", which allows consumers to track the production route and life cycle of a garment by scanning a label or entering a product code.
The next generations are also the target of the educational platform Fashion Values developed by the Centre for Sustainable Fashion at the London College of Fashion, part of University of Arts London. This collaboration with Kering, IBM and Vogue Business aims to connect the next generation on a global scale, with courses and content to develop sustainability literacy, stimulate innovation and generate new fashion products and services.
Ultimately, the future of sustainability and transparency in fashion will be assured. However, the fashion industry must set the course for this in the present, because those who remain "old-fashioned" on this topic today will have lost their buyers tomorrow.
Christian Schultze-Wolters, IBM DACH