Since April 13, London has been at the center of protests. At Oxford Circus, Extinction Rebellion is taking place, a peaceful protest to draw attention to climate change and push politicians to take action to preserve biodiversity and decrease greenhouse gases in one of Europe’s most polluted cities. Despite 300 arrests and inconveniences to transport, shops and services for more than 500,000 people, protesters have no intention of giving up.
The protest began Saturday, April 13, targeting the fast fashion phenomenon with a fashion show that wanted to raise public awareness of the ecological damage caused by the sector. Clothing is the second most polluting industry in the world, second only to oil, with an annual contribution of 10% in greenhouse gas emissions.
Change of style
That something has been changing in the fashion world has been in the air for some time but it is the first time that this dissent has manifested itself publicly, in the beating heart of hit and run.
Fast fashion, the one that pursues the trend and that quickly takes it to the stores of the large global chains, has seen significant growth and today has more than 60% of the entire sector, with growth from 3.5% to 4.5% in 2019 according to McKinsey. With a demand that so far shows no sign of diminishing: 160 billion euros and 40 million tons of clothes purchased per year, destined to become 60 million tons in 2030.
However, if we analyze the phenomenon in detail, we can see that the mechanisms underlying the growth of Zara and H&M since the opening of the first stores in 1990 are changing, and for once it is not just the fault of the retail trade.
The recent failure of Lesara, one of the startups that had launched into the fast fashion world with aggressive strategies and that had quickly reached the podium of the European growth rankings, should make us understand that it is not just retail that is in crisis. The real novelty is the change in the preferences of the public, which today is much more attentive to prices and quality than what was happening twenty years ago.
Today, younger consumers are the most sensitive to this issue. And they are also those most interested in knowing where and how that garment was produced, beyond the price.
A generation that will account for 40% of consumers in 2020 and that expects a change of course from all those companies that intensively produce with very high levels of waste to chase the speed and tastes of the market. H&M has been responding to this need for some time with organic cotton collections and pursuing goals of reducing emissions and improving the conditions of its employees in production plants.
Nike, Levi’s Strauss and Gucci were the first to expose themselves through the image of Colin Kaepernick and with strong messages against weapons and social injustices. An important stance, but largely linked to the brand and marketing. The criticality in the long term remains, especially towards those consumers who ask for new business models and substantial changes in terms of processes and raw materials.
The new generations know that the change in the fast fashion industry is feasible thanks to the technology and the use of new natural fibers with which to make clothes and create new collections in line with the environment and a responsible and ethical lifestyle .
The virtual reality, the augmented one, the 3D scanning are still embryonic technologies but they allow right now to create personalized and on-demand purchasing experiences, maximizing market demand and decreasing stocks.
Upstream, the predictive analysis of data relating to public preferences and the possibility of creating digital shopping experiences to forecast trends and maximize logistics are substantial innovations that can be used from now on.
Choosy, a startup that combines artificial intelligence to predict industry trends, raised $ 5 million last year while the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) recently finalized a $ 4 billion research project with Inditex for develop new technologies related to the sustainability and recycling of fabrics used in fashion.
Bread for startups
In London there are many startups that are trying to make space in the offer of new shopping experience. Flair Atelier, Apposta.com and ThisisYr are working in the field of on-demand customization, with the offer of clothes and solutions for end consumers and companies that look to the minimization of stocks and to the supply of durable and high quality clothes.
There are also many accelerators seeking to develop new ideas related to the sustainability of the fashion industry such as London – Fashion for Good, the program of the American Plug and Play in partnership with Kerin and C&A, and Dream Assembly, the incubator of Farfetch in partnership with Burberry and Stella McCartney.
On the one hand the technology, on the other is in the search for new eco-sustainable materials to be included in the production chain that are concentrating efforts which produces innovative fabrics from orange waste.