How can Digital Fashion Design help us to be more sustainable?

What comes to mind when you think of digital fashion? AR filters? Straight to avatar clothes? Skins for games? Digital fashion is all of this and more and could also help us towards a fairer and more sustainable fashion system. And we are not only talking about the production phase, the reduction of waste in samples, etc. Sustainable practices can be adopted by digital fashion designers to ensure a better production process from creation to consumer.

A key approach for a brand to consider its sustainable impact is through the use of the Sustainable Development Goals. Developed by the United Nations, the Sustainable Development Goals or SDGs are a blueprint for people, planet and prosperity. The intention is to provide greater transparency and accountability. There are 17 goals with the overarching goal of eradicating poverty, caring for and protecting the environment, and ensuring prosperity for all.

To discuss how the SDGs can make the fashion system more sustainable, we invited five experts in digital fashion and sustainable business to share their thoughts, plans and projects. All five have different backgrounds, but a common goal: a sustainable planet.

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This article is a collaboration between The Digital Fashion Group Academy and FashionUnited, written by Dr. Lívia Pinent, Professor of Digital Research at The Digital Fashion Group Academy.

What are the SDGs, the Sustainable Development Goals, for the fashion industry?

“Every time I give a talk on the SDGs, it seems like the stats get worse,” says Merunisha Moonilal, academic, consultant and Digital Professor for Circularity at TDFG Academy. Among the 17 global goals, the UN has specifically designated the fashion industry to adopt four main goals, which are:

  • SDG 4: Quality education. Ensure inclusive and equitable education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.
  • SDG 9: Industry, innovation and infrastructure. Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation.
  • SDG 12: Responsible consumption and production. Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns.
  • SDG 13: Climate action. Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts.
  • Moonilal explains, for example, that SDG 4 is about providing inclusive education at all levels. For fashion, this means eradicating the early gender divide, where statistically more boys than girls attend school, yet fashion supply or value chains are 80% female. While SDG 9 aims to ensure that as technology advances rapidly, we ensure that human labor is not replaced by automation. Moreover, it does not deprive workers of their rights, but rather trains them for more skilled positions, thus allowing future generations to work with these technologies.

    “Human rights abuses are unfortunately rampant in garment manufacturing. Gender, class and racial diversity issues in leadership positions are ever-present, not to mention the toxic destruction of our environment and our lives. natural resources. However, the garment and textile industry is nonetheless a fundamental economic backbone of our global economy, and it is essential that fashion as a whole embraces the SDGs on its own. Mainstreaming the SDGs is d ‘great relevance in order to change the linear supply chain to a circular supply chain,’ says Moonilal.

    What is the Circular Fashion System?

    “The circular fashion system is basically where waste is avoided. And we’re getting there by trying to use resources that already exist, so we don’t have to use up virgin resources or not produce at all,” says Alexia Planas Lee, Founding Partner and Head of Impact Design and Innovation at Circular Fashion Summit by Lablaco.

    The circularity specialist also explains that “there are three stages of clothing where improvement can take place: materials, process and consumption. In the case of digital fashion, we see how it helps in terms of materials with material selection. There are companies that do great renderings of materials, so you don’t have to ship those samples anymore. Samples that end up in waste for every brand or designer that wants to work with them .

    “Technologies like IoT (Internet of Things) allow us to trace the journey of garments, end to end. This allows consumers to be able to learn the whole journey of that garment and the brand to be able to follow it. For example, we launched an IoT rental system with H&M a few months ago in their Berlin store. This allowed them to track their products at a consumption level. It also digitizes and promotes rental to stay in the know” , says Planas Lee.

    The potential of digital fashion for a sustainable system

    For Evelyn Mora, CEO and co-founder of Digital Village, we still think too small as an industry when it comes to the potential of digital fashion in achieving a sustainable system: “We have to think about it on a large scale. , how digital fashion can really impact physical fashion. I don’t believe that the physical fashion industry, which is worth 800 billion US dollars, can be replaced by digital fashion. But I think that , in terms of consumption and our relationship to clothes, the way we express ourselves, that can be influenced by digital fashion.”

    And she adds, “The fashion industry is about selling dreams and identities. It’s so much more than clothes. And I don’t think any fashion brand has elevated it and uses digital in a globally impactful way, which changes our physical consumption”. habits.” To achieve this, Mora believes there is a lot of work to be done by brands and fashion companies, the supply chain needs to be involved, transparency needs to be enforced through NFT traceability, and we also need to ensure that everyone who works for the industry is paid fairly.

    “It’s a fact that digital fashion hasn’t created significant impact and results to make fashion more sustainable. Will it happen? Of course. It’s an overview, a task long term that we are going through,” concludes Mora.

    For Olga Chernysheva, Director of Sustainability at DRESSX, digital fashion is already impacting the way products are made and consumed. She takes an example from a project in partnership between DRESSX and Farfetch, on reducing the carbon footprint thanks to on-demand production: “Before talking about how digital fashion can be replaced by physical fashion , for everyday consumption, we worked with the brand. We created a digital-only capsule collection and we did all the marketing digitally. The influencers were digitally dressed, nothing was produced. And right after the campaign, Farfetch collected the orders and the physical garments were produced on demand. For the 40 garments created for this capsule collection, we saved 2.5 tons of carbon footprint.”

    To get a sense of scale, the carbon footprint of a digital garment is only 3% of a traditionally made cotton t-shirt. This carbon footprint calculation is based on a study published in 2020 by DRESSX, and the methodology is published on their website. There is also a study published by Evelyn Mora for Digital Village in August 2020 on the carbon emissions of digital fashion and its impact on sustainability with some counterpoints that contribute to the relevance and complexity of the theme.

    Sustainability as an empathic process for the designer

    For Roei Derhi, founder and creative director of Placebo Digital Fashion House, “fashion is about identity. And when we talk about SDGs, when we talk about sustainability, a lot of people talk about its real impact on the environment. For us, sustainability, At Placebo, is how we define humans in the 21st century. What kind of humans we want to be. Sustainability is empathy, that’s how the world gets so small and we create empathy without any physical borders between countries and the whole outcome of the SDGs: gender equality, being empathetic towards others”.

    “Digital fashion has actually exploded not because it’s a new way of thinking about fashion or about sustainability. I think people are looking for escapism. People are looking for a definition of themselves , and fashion is about identity,” says Derhi. And as designers, we need to be accountable to ourselves, our consumers, and our society about how you’re going to deliver that escape. The creative design process should start from an empathetic perspective and include social and environmental sustainability concerns.

    We all know that the fashion industry is still far from achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. But different initiatives can achieve a more sustainable system. Environmental policies, circular economy, digital design, digitization of the production process, recycling, repair and reuse, consumer awareness, etc. There is no simple solution or brilliant solution. It’s teamwork and everyone has to play their part.

    This article is based on the “Digital Design & Sustainable Futures: The Goals” webinar hosted by The Digital Fashion Group Academy. You can watch a preview of the discussion below and the full webinar on the TDFGA website.

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    Joseph E. Golightly