Happy New Year, industry trailblazers! To help you kickstart what feels like the longest month of the year, we’re doing a series of articles highlighting key brands, technologies and changing consumer behaviours to watch in 2018. Enjoy Part One.
Being honest and transparent in business is not exactly new. The poster children of this movement in the fashion industry are undoubtedly US-based Everlane, and the Swedish brand Honest By, founded in 2010 and 2012, respectively. Both companies aim to expose exactly what goes on into the production of the clothes thy sell – from design processes, to the fabrics they’re made in, the cost of fabrics, labour, and even the mark-up they put on the final product.
Such 100% transparency policy may sound scary to many fashion brands, but we will see it manifested even more in 2018. As consumers become more informed than ever before, brands (fashion and beyond), will come to realise transparency around processes, pricing and provenance will move from a nice to need to have business practice for their businesses to be successful. Technology company Label Insight recently reported on the correlation between transparent business operations and ROI, stating that 39% of the people it surveyed said they would switch to a new brand if it offered complete transparency, 56% said they’d be loyal for life if a brand is transparent and 73% said they’d be willing to pay more for a product that offers complete transparency.
The push for transparency means brands can no longer hide their unethical practices behind closed doors while portraying a good image to the outside world. If they do, consumers will easily call them out. Take H&M, for example. In 2016, the brand’s Autumn campaign, Lady, which portrayed diverse set of women, was dubbed as nothing more than a clever PR stunt, and not really something the company cares about. “H&M’s ‘Lady’ campaign is hypocritical, not empowering. This is the same company who pulled plus sized clothes from their stores and used child refugee labour,’ declared Saskia Bamber in a piece for babe magazine.
Transparency will manifest itself most by paving the way for a more sustainable fashion future. As consumers become more conscious, they will demand for increased ethical practices. In 2017, sustainability wasn’t a buzz term reserved for hippy brands and customers. It became serious business, drawing attention of fashion heavyweights as well as budding ambitious startups.
We saw Stella McCartney – the environmentally friendly warrior in the industry – team up with Dame Ellen MacArthur to create a new plan for a waste-free circular textiles economy. The report promoted consignment shopping and urged consumers to get as much use as possible from the garments they own.
McCartney also joined forces with biotech startup Bolt Threads, which speacialise in genetically engineered sustainable materials, such as spider silk. The partnership resulted in a radiant gold dress made from Bolt Thread’s spiderless silk, currently at exhibit at the New York Museum of Modern Art. McCartney isn’t the only one doing this. Earlier in the year, H&M worked with Bionic Yarn to create dresses made from tiny pieces of plastic from waterways and shorelines.
There’s also investment flowing around for businesses with a mission to find solutions that make fashion more sustainable. In May, Miroslava Duma launched Future Tech Lab (previously Fashion Tech Lab), to invest in new fabric technologies, wearable tech, and brands that will reduce fashion’s carbon footprint. And projects like WEAR Sustainaim to get creative and technologists working together to shift the development of the wearables and e-textile landscape towards a more sustainable and ethical approach. In 2018, we expect to see even more initiatives like these.
Ah, blockchain. The technology you’ve heard everyone talking about, but still not sure what it means. In a few words, blockchain is a distributed ledger with synchronised copies of product DNA held by computers all over the globe. There is no master copy and all copies are created equal. Every transaction that occurs is recorded and every participating computer has a copy of it.
So, how is that related to fashion? Well, by using blockchain brands can show customers the authenticity of their products as well tell the story behind each item they produce.
In 2017, designer Martine Jarlgaard partnered with blockchain startup Provenance to track the journey of raw material through the supply chain for a garmet from her latest collection, aiding the global movement to increase transparency in the fashion industry. Registering raw material on the blockchain via the Provenance app, the startup tracked sustainable alpaca fleece from shearing in the farm, through to spinning, knitting, and finishing in Martine Jarlgaard’s London studio – creating a digital history of the garments’s journey.
Legacy outdoor retailer L.L.Bean also recently announced it will be exploring applications of blockchain to get better product insights about customer use. By incorporating “smart fabrics” from tech company LOOMIA, L.L.Bean will aim to solve a fundamental problem in fashion: that once merchandise leaves the store, brands have relatively little data (if any) around how that product is actually being used. What if a jacket that is meant for extremely cold weather is only worn when it’s over 40 degrees? What if boots meant for everyday use are only worn once every few months?
Integrating LOOMIA’s flexible circuitry into products such as L.L.Bean’s outerwear and boots, and then using blockchain to share this data back with the brand will offer L.L.Bean this kind of priceless insight. This will allowing the company to use that data and create even better quality products that more accurately aligns with consumer habits (don’t worry, all data is shared only with user consent). Expect more such collaborations in the coming 12 months.