How digital fashion is making physical fashion more sustainable

Fashion industry experts reveal how digital technologies are already being used to lower the fashion industry's environmental footprint and are forging a path towards more sustainable production.

Shemona Safaya November 28 2023

The intersection of technology and sustainability has sparked a revolution. We are all too familiar with the challenges facing the fashion industry, like excessive stock, overconsumption, and unsustainable production practices.

However, a new wave of digital fashion is showing promise in addressing these issues and leading the way towards a more sustainable future.

A recent panel discussion held at the Digital Fashion Summit hosted by New Codes in London set the stage for exploring how digital fashion can go hand-in-hand with sustainability.

Digital fashion's eco potential

Louise Laing, founder of the disruptive eco-fashion marketplace PhygitalTwin, shares that using digital garments for producing physical fashion on-demand is a sustainable option with zero waste creation. Her idea was born after she stumbled upon an article posing the question, "Can digital fashion be our eco-saviour?"

Although, she is quick to point that digital fashion on its own cannot be a knight in shining armour. She adds: "It can help. But if fashion brands don't stop overconsumption, and start reacting to the customer trends then we are still in the same cycle."

She mentions how a few companies have become "digital only" but this does not change the cycle of sustainability.

Laing explains how the industry can use digital fashion as a touchpoint for several different interactions. First and foremost, she says the digital asset can be used to test the market to see if it is going to sell before a collection is launched. This, she says, can also be done by using the garments as digital assets to turn into a wearable for gaming.

"We can interact in these virtual worlds and see if people like what we are wearing. I mean, ten million children change their garments in Roblox every day. We can turn this digital asset into a way to test the market, like try before you buy? Which reduces returns by 35% and increases conversion by 250%," adds Laing.

The main concern in the midst of everything is the associated cost with digital fashion, remarks Laing. A plausible solution to this she believes is building "unique technology" that is more automated.

From digital to physical: realising sustainability

Jessica Evans, a digital fashion designer and founder of Isadoska, emphasises the need to consider the environmental impact of digital technologies. She calls it an "invisible problem and an easy one to forget about."

She explains that she undertook a project to measure the amount of energy used during the production of digital fashion and how long it would take to offset that amount of carbon.

According to Evans, stats like this are important. She says: "Understanding what that impact is, and how we work with these new digital solutions is really important. Especially, if we are going to have lots of seamless integration and lots of new types of technologies coming up, understanding these invisible impacts is something that companies need to consider how to offset, or use renewable energy, or look at different solutions for that."

It all comes down to thinking about it and asking those questions sooner rather than later, she says.

However, Laing believes digital fashion technologies can be used to be more sustainable. But she adds that unless the supply chain is sorted and made efficient, such as with the production of garments on demand, we will still face the same issues that exist and have existed within the fashion industry.

In fact, she says: "What's really, really important for me when we talk about sustainability is the ability to react to consumer demands in real time. Because the future is the customer, the customer is a new creator. And I think if brands don't change the way that they act in their supply chain they will be left behind."

Visualising the carbon impact

Evans is of the view that visualisation is a really important aspect. It comes down to numbers and data she says, and they are the "backbone" of the fashion industry.

She explains: "If we can take those numbers and actually make it tangible you know, if I say okay, it's created 100,000 tonnes of carbon, I have no idea what that looks like. That is incredibly hard to visualise for anybody. If you can say that spending an hour on software relates to the same amount of carbon that would have a volume of a bag of flour, that's slightly more tangible."

Evans has created an app that integrates immersive technologies like AR to visualise the carbon impact of digital fashion. Her AR app engages users, providing a visual narrative of carbon footprints and encouraging brands to proactively address their environmental impact.

Her idea is to raise awareness among consumers and inform brands so that they potentially reach out to carbon experts and those working within sustainability and understand how to mitigate their carbon footprint in the supply chain. Evans says just having this conversation around visualisation is a key starting point.

Revolutionising fashion for tangible change

It seems the fashion industry is on the brink of a revolutionary transformation with digital fashion being touted as not just a virtual trend but catalyst for tangible change.

By addressing the environmental impact, automating processes, visualising carbon footprints, and embracing circularity, the fashion industry has the potential to emerge as a leader in sustainability. This intersection of technology, nature, and consumer engagement is paving the way for a future where fashion doesn't just adorn bodies but contributes positively to the planet.

As Laing aptly puts it: "The future is the customer, the customer is the new creator." The journey has begun, and the destination is a sustainable and stylish tomorrow.

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