5 Ways to Use Technology to Make Fashion More Sustainable
As these 5 exciting innovations illustrate, technology is making fashion more sustainable every day.
Manufacturing clothing has always been at the forefront of innovation. Sewing needles made out of bone or ivory were among the first tools crafted by early humans. The textile industry was the driving force behind the industrial revolution in 18th century Britain, and the modern concept of sustainable fashion technology is gaining traction, as well.
What is Sustainable Fashion Technology?
Sustainable fashion technology is when fashion leaders turn to technology to tailor and create sustainable solutions. Clothing manufacturers have traditionally incorporated the latest technological advances into the manufacturing process to improve efficiency and lower overhead.
However, they are now forging new paths to appeal to a generation of customers who value sustainability and environmental responsibility as highly as they do style and elegance. Growing public awareness has led to new and innovative techniques that reduce pollution and eliminate waste, and, once again, the fashion industry is leading the way.
How Can Fashion be Sustainable?
Thanks to some key innovations, there are many ways that technology allows fashion to be more sustainable. If we had to list them all, they would go beyond the scope of one article, though. Nevertheless, we can list the top 5.
So, without further ado, here are 5 amazing ways that clothing manufacturers are using technology in fashion design to produce sustainable products that appeal to today’s more discerning consumers.
#1: Fabrics Made From Food Waste
The standings of traditional fabrics like cotton, polyester and acrylic have been dealt blows in recent years for several reasons. For example, it takes about 20,000 gallons of water to produce just a couple of pounds of cotton. Additionally, synthetic fabrics release plastic microfibers into the water supply every time they are washed. Consumers who want to look good without worrying about environmental baggage can now choose clothing made from food by-products that would usually go to waste.
Piñatex is a synthetic leather made from pineapple leaf fibers, and Orange Fiber uses peel that would typically be discarded by juice makers to create a silky fabric that is incorporated into cotton and silk blends. Clothing made out of Piñatex was shown at the Met Gala in 2017, and Salvatore Ferragamo released a premium Orange Fiber collection not too long ago.
#2: Plastic Alternatives
Plastic has long been the go-to material for buttons, fastenings and fashion accessories, but that momentum is starting to change. Plastic manufacturers use toxic chemicals and release vast amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Unfortunately, these end products pollute the oceans and endanger wildlife.
Clothing manufacturers can now avoid being associated with these types of adverse environmental impacts by using materials like Parblex to produce items that are generally made out of plastic. The company Chip[s] Board uses this new range of bioplastics. They, and companies like them, make products from food waste sourced from potato chip manufacturers. Parblex is available in three colors, and it is produced using a zero-waste method that recycles offcuts.
#3: 3D Knitting and Printing
The fashion industry was quick to see the benefits of 3D printing and knitting. Forward-thinking fashion icons such as Iris Van Herpen and others have featured designs created by this tech on the runways of New York City, Paris, London and Milan.
Computers are capable of producing items with more intricate geometries and shapes than traditional machinery, and the 3D printing process virtually eliminates errors. Waste is also minimized as 3D printed or knitted items are made on-demand, and ramping up or slowing down production can usually be accomplished by pressing buttons or turning dials.
While still in its nascent stages, manufacturing clothes using 3D printers and looms is expected to become the norm within the next few decades. The technique is currently used mainly for rapid prototyping and producing one-off and haute couture items. Shoe manufacturers are heavy users of the technology because it gives their artists a way to see how their designs will look and feel long before they go into full production.
#4: Heat-Based Dying
Adding color to fabric is a toxic process that uses dangerous chemicals and releases trillions of gallons of tainted water into the environment each year. Companies including AirDye, DyeCoo and ColorZen have developed dying methods that use heat instead of water, and the process drastically reduces the number of chemicals needed to complete the task.
Fabrics can also be colored in about half the time, which reduces energy consumption. This approach also protects the environment by using inert reusable dyes and recycled paper to transfer color. Heat-based dying was first introduced two decades ago, but the textile industry did not embrace it because the machinery used to do it is expensive. However, most experts expect that to change in the years ahead.
#5: Featherless Down
Dozens of space-age substances have been created in the last few decades that are being used in place of materials found in nature. Some of the most interesting to the fashion industry are alternatives to down feathers used in winter clothing.
Materials made by companies like PrimaLoft provide solutions that offer superior warmth and comfort while also separating clothing manufacturers from the stigma of animal cruelty. In 1983, the U.S. Army tasked PrimaLoft to create a synthetic and water-resistant alternative to goose down. The company now has a full portfolio of products and works with more than 800 global brands. These materials, some of which were developed by NASA, are also lighter than feathers, making them easier and less expensive to package and ship.
Bonus: Lab-Grown Diamonds
Diamonds, unfortunately, are not forever. In fact, resources for these precious gems are finite, and there are also the negative consequences of the diamond trade to consider in certain areas. Fortunately, technology is making this sector of fashion sustainable by growing these accessories in labs, which we have to admit is a brilliant idea.
Vendors like Lark & Berry create lab-grown diamonds by using a process called Chemical Vapor Deposition (CVD).
Diamonds made this way require far less energy to produce than a natural one. Also, many of the vendors that create these cultured diamonds are using large amounts of sustainable energy, meaning that plant and animal-habitat destroying methods such as mining are not utilized in the process.
What is the Legacy of these New Technologies?
Sustainable fashion technology got off to a rocky start, but it is rapidly becoming a hotbed of innovation as the climate peril the world faces looms into view. Processes and materials considered faddish and impractical just a few years ago are now expected to become mainstream. Also importantly, manufacturers that embrace this new paradigm before their competitors could find themselves with an enviable market edge.
Growing interests in sustainable production methods will likely lead to more significant discoveries and influences in the future. Meanwhile, this trend could leave companies reluctant to accept change adrift in a sea of outdated methods and out of touch modern consumers.
Improving Efficiency and Eliminating Waste
If they wish to take a genuinely sustainable approach, fashion companies must look for ways to improve efficiency in all areas. N41 has been providing dedicated enterprise resource planning software to help wholesalers, manufacturers and fashion brands manage their day-to-day business operations since 2005. We are also constantly updating our products to ensure that they offer our customers quick and seamless access to time-sensitive and critical information.
To find out more about our ERP solutions for fashion, please call us at (213) 738‐1010 or sign up for a demo using our online form.