Every day, some event, fact or opinion pops up relating to sustainability. With fashion business being one of the top carbon footprint contributors we all have a lot of ownership in this regard…

The Goal of Sustainability

“To meet the needs of today without diminishing the ability of future generations to meet their needs” is so critical that it is becoming very important for each one of us to stay focused, understand and take the necessary action sooner than later.

Looking at the statistic of 150 billion garments made in 2018, out of which 50 billion garments never sold, and another 50 billion sold at discount, we need a transformation in the way we make fashion decisions. There is a huge mismatch between supply and demand.

Transformation starts by embracing a way of thinking. Every style is a winner without wastage or an inventory pile-up if manufactured the right way in just the right quantity. There is no other word that explains the need of the hour as this Swedish word Lagom. Lagom is a Swedish word meaning “just the right amount”.

A good number of brands and retailers have started taking conscious initiatives in addressing the challenge. While a lot of focus is happening on sustainable materials, ethical fabrics, recycle, re-use, fair trade, slow fashion, etc., not enough is being done on the supply side effectiveness in meeting demand in dynamic fashion.

We see an emergency for us to put this area on steroids. Many brands and retailers are focused on consumer experience transformation at the front end and have a big pipeline of innovations and relatively low focus on the back end of the fashion supply chain, in particular, technology-led transformation. We would like to draw your attention to the backend of the supply chain and take urgent action to transform supply – through responsible forecasting, responsible demand prediction and responsible localized distribution.

The way we get the products made and delivered through the supply chain is what we are calling the ugly side of fashion (considering the impact it creates on the carbon footprint).

Why Don’t Fashion Brands Get a Fashionstat

Taking inspiration from Nest Labs’ Intelligent Thermostat Innovations case study, abstracting a similar intelligent stat for fashion – we refer to as Fashionstat – which senses what consumer wants and helps them provide the right fashion in the right quantity and save a ton of energy in making unwanted products.

This is what Stylumia is doing through its cutting edge technology capabilities to help fashion brands and retailers to spot relevant fashion “just the right fashion” trends and also help them predict to order “just the right amount” and distribute to the right demand points “just the right store”, thus minimizing wastage at its root.

We can have a good balance of economic, environmental and social goals. In fact, our customers see benefits in both economic and environmental impacts. The impact seen is in the order of improving economic outcomes by 20-40 percent and at the same time minimizing wastage of similar order.

This leads us to speculate how we can re-invent meaning in the fashion industry.

Instead of just looking at how we can provide relevant fashion to our consumers for them to look good, why not “bring fashion in a responsible way to help consumers and the Earth look good”. This can be a new meaning for both the brands and the consumers. While a lot of attention is going into material components of fashion and their carbon footprint impacts, what is revealing is how technology can enable the global fashion industry to reduce carbon footprint significantly. The fashion industry in 2018 made 150 billion garments and out of which 50 billion garments never sold at all and another 50 billion sold at discount. With this industry contributing to 9% of the global carbon footprint and just next to oil as the most polluting industry in the world. We have been enabling brands and retailers with our solutions for over 3 years now and we are able to see conservation of resources by 20-40 percent, by eliminating waste at source.

Our Mental Model – Living in a Bubble

To apply systems thinking to sustainability, we need to understand the current mental model (assumptions) that we have about the subject. Our beliefs cause us to seek short-term, self-motivated objectives at the expense of long term community focused actions.

Our mental model is built on our experiences, perceptions and beliefs about how the world works. We will go through Karen Higgin’s work on this area
and come out with some clarity over the next few edits on how fashion business globally can address this challenge.

Beliefs in our Mental Model

Our mental model comes from the fundamental of shortterm orientation and reliance on past experience. It is also shaded by the belief that earth belongs to us rather than we are part of the earth.

  1. Economic growth fuels human thriving and will continue indefinitely.
  2. Technology advances will provide enough energy capacity to keep up with economic growth and to maintain our energy-dependent lifestyles.
  3. Population growth and pollution are beyond our concern because they do not directly or immediately affect our lives.

The way we get the products made and delivered through the supply chain is what we are calling the ugly side of fashion (considering the impact it creates on the carbon footprint).

These beliefs together explain why the global economy is still growing even though the effects of this growth profoundly damage the environment. They also clarify why we consume energy as though carbon-based energy sources are infinite. They also explain why the global population continues to increase even though many nations cannot support their current inhabitants. This model assumes economic growth, seemingly stable environment and our resources will go on forever.

For example, Bhutan is exemplary of how a country/organization can approach this serious environmental challenge. Bhutan, one of the smallest countries in the world is standing tall on making a sustainable country and helping the planet. Bhutan’s systems thinking approach is not just inspiring but pioneering.

Bhutan is approaching sustainable development through a unique 3G model.
Bhutan is the only carbon negative country in the world. The 3G model uniquely integrates their goals on Carbon emissions – Green House Gas (GHG), Social Welfare – Gross National Happiness (GNH) and Economic growth – Gross National Product (GNP).

This clearly indicates a holistic approach to sustainability combining environmental, economic and social angles. The framework consists of 4 pillars, 9 domains and 33 indicators. United Nations were inspired by
Bhutan’s GNH model and have initiated World Happiness Report.

What makes Bhutan’s approach unique is an empowering commitment to a holistic approach to sustainability. In our view, that consists of…

What the World of Fashion Can Learn from Bhutan?
Learning from Bhutan’s approach to sustainability, fashion brands and retailers can adopt the 3G flywheel to their businesses.

  1. Economic Growth of the business
  2. Greenhouse Gas Emission
  3. Gross Brand Happiness

While (1) is always taken care of, (2) and (3) can be the new focus areas. A good number of brands are taking initiatives to reduce their carbon footprint. Platforms like Fashion for Good are bringing together industry, government, start-ups for furthering the cause of sustainability in the fashion industry.

In order to execute this in the business, it is vital that the business creates a construct as in Figure 2 on vision, strategic commitment with clear metrics.

There are various innovation attempts to make the fashion business sustainable. Here are some interesting experiments in this area (unconventional ones),

  1. Can Biology fix the fashion pollution problem?
  2. Grow your own Fashion
  3. 3 creative ways to fix fashion’s waste problem


– Roberto Verganti

Stylumia was recently recognized by the United Nations, Fashion for Good, Intellecap & H&M Innovation as a Circular Changemaker (the only technology-led enabler) and enabling the fashion and lifestyle industry to globally contribute to a sustainable world. The event happened at the Lakmé Fashion Week 2019, where fashion’s beauty side is normally showcased. It was very mindful of the organizers to bring the industry’s attention to making efforts towards sustainability. Presenting below our memory from the event.

The industry leaders present also made a pledge to contribute towards sustainability goals. It is heartening to note that most of these companies have partnered with Stylumia, showing their demonstration of commitment to take actions from materials to technology.

While most of the innovations are happening around the materials, processes of circularity in the entire supply chain, what we observed was “There is a huge opportunity to reduce wastage (Muda) by doing Right First Time, the principal activity of making the right products”. Using Big Data at Internet scale combined with the brand’s own data, powered by AI technologies of machine learning, computer vision, brands and retailers to sense demand and make relevant products. Using prediction engines, fashion industry globally can improve their effectiveness (eliminate wastage) as high as 10-40 percent (carbon footprint reduction of this order) at the same time enhancing economic growth of the business. This is a magnitude of waste reduction without any capital expenditure and can happen through first few seasons

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