Creatives & Changemakers

New technologies with the potential to create a more sustainable and ethical fashion industry

Caroline Wendt
March 13, 2023

How can AR and VR change the consumers experience when they try on clothes; and how can we all benefit from IoT in our clothes? What new technology can drive sustainable change in the fashion industry? On March 22, there is an opportunity to listen to a discussion about the sustainable transformation of the fashion industry at “Sveriges Innovationsriksdag”, which is organized by Ideon. Several international players from the area where fashion, technology, innovation and sustainability intersect will visit the event in Lund. One of them is Muchaneta ten Napel, who is, among many other things, the founder and CEO of Shape Innovate, assistant professor at London College Fashion and writer for her own platform and senior contributor to the Interline. We asked her a few questions about technology changing the fashion industry and here are her answers!

What new technology do you see most promising for driving sustainable change in the fashion industry?

- Several emerging technologies show great promise for driving sustainable change in the fashion industry, especially when combined with sustainable business practices and consumer education. In my opinion, the ones that show potential to drive real change in the fashion industry and promote a more sustainable future include nanotechnology. This type of technology can be used to create advanced materials with unique properties, such as more durable, waterproof fabrics or even self-cleaning. Why is this important? Well, it can reduce the need for harmful chemical treatments and extend the lifespan of garments.

- Then there is the concept of circular design. This approach uses textile technologies intending to minimise waste and create a closed-loop system where materials are continuously reused and recycled. Companies that are leading in this space are Renewcell and Infinited Fiber. Another exciting technology that is showing great promise for driving sustainable change in the fashion industry is blockchain technology. It enables greater transparency in the fashion supply chain, allowing consumers to track the origin and production of their clothes and ensuring that they are ethically and sustainably produced.

What new technologies will affect the consumer experience of fashion?

- Today's consumers demand more than just a product; they want an experience. The good news is that several technologies have the potential to revolutionise the way consumers shop for fashion by creating a more personalised, sustainable, and engaging experience. Some of these exciting technologies include AR and VR technologies. They can enable consumers to try on clothes and accessories virtually, see how they would look on them, and even customise designs according to their preferences. This technology can enhance the shopping experience by allowing customers to see how garments look and fit without having to physically try them on, reducing the need for in-store visits and returns. For example, Dior used augmented reality to allow consumers to try on sunglasses using their smartphones. They did this by using a filter on Instagram, which allowed users to add DiorSoLight sunglasses onto their faces in the image. Immersive technologies prove that they can offer practical benefits to consumers and enable luxury brands to appeal to a new customer base. Another one is AI technology. It lets customers analyse their purchase history, browsing behaviour, and preferences. Also, retailers can use this data to suggest products the customer is more likely to buy, offer personalised styling advice, and create a more engaging and efficient shopping experience.

What new technologies are the industry exploring to provide unique experiences or increase efficiency?

- Compared to other industries, the fashion industry doesn't explore or invest in new technology enough. This is a shame because new technologies have the potential to provide unique experiences for consumers and increase efficiency for brands. The technologies improving efficiency and sustainability in the industry include robotics and automation, which can help increase efficiency in the manufacturing and supply chain processes, reducing costs and improving the speed and accuracy of production.

- Another type of technology that isn't explored enough in the fashion industry is 5G technology. It promises faster data transfer speeds, improved connectivity, and lower latency, enabling more immersive and engaging consumer experiences, such as real-time product customisation and virtual try-on.

- Lastly, we cannot talk about the industry exploring to provide unique experiences or increase efficiency without mentioning the Internet of Things. Also known as IoT, the Internet of Things can enable connected devices to communicate with each other, creating a more seamless and personalised shopping experience. For example, smart mirrors in dressing rooms can suggest matching accessories based on the clothes the customer is trying on, or RFID tags can help retailers track inventory in real time.

How about intelligent and smart clothes where the technology is in the clothes? What use can we have from them? When will intelligent clothes be available in regular stores?

- Garments incorporated with electronic components, sensors, and other technologies are what we call smart clothes. They are usually designed to monitor health and fitness and can provide realtime environmental data. Currently, intelligent clothes are gaining momentum in various circumstances. These include health and fitness, where the clothes monitor a wearer's vital signs, such as heart rate, respiration rate, and temperature, to track their health and fitness levels. Safety and Security, where the smart clothes are usually incorporated with sensors that detect environmental hazards, such as gas leaks or radiation, and alert the wearer to potential danger. There is a growing market for smart clothes incorporated with sensors that enable augmented reality experiences, such as projecting information onto the fabric or responding to touch and movement.

- Personally, I am excited about garments that monitor the environment. Imagine wearing a smart garment with sensors that measure air quality, temperature, humidity, and other environmental factors! When it comes to the availability of smart clothes, they are already available on the market, but the thing is that they are not yet widely available in everyday stores. That being said, high street brand Uniqlo has been selling garments with technology for a while now. Their most popular line is Uniqlo's HeatTech line. Also, it is worth noting that a lot of experimenting is taking place. Most famously is Levi's and Google's collaboration on an intelligent denim jacket, which incorporated touch-sensitive controls and Bluetooth connectivity. As the industry moves forward, I am confident that as technology improves and becomes more affordable, we most likely see more smart clothes go mainstream.

You are visiting the Swedish "Innovationsriksdagen" in Lund later this month. What are you going to speak about?

- The fashion industry is undergoing a transformation, and it is a paradigm shift full of possibilities. As a person working in the fashion innovation space, now is an exciting time for the industry. I fully support the metamorphosis that is driving innovation in the fashion industry. How can one not be excited to see designers and brands embracing new technologies and business models to create a more sustainable and ethical future? I think that one of the most exciting possibilities of this paradigm shift is the potential for new technologies to create a more sustainable and ethical fashion industry. Therefore, I am excited to have been invited to participate in a panel discussion on the climate and green transition. I look forward to discussing the challenges, opportunities and solutions impacting all parts of the fashion and textile value chain with Lisa Lang, Fredrik Timour, Jennie Rosen and Klas Hjort at this year's Sveriges Innovationsriksdag taking place on 22nd March 2023, on the main stage at 16:15.

The Interline


Shape Innovate


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