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Digital Fashion: Synonymous with Sustainable Fashion?

If sustainability is to date strongly democratic, as it has become entrenched in a large portion of consumers as a proper way of life, industry players have also grasped the planet’s needs over time and rethought their modus operandi from a sustainable perspective. As is well known and recently demonstrated by the studies conducted during 2020 by Ordre and Carbon Trust, the environmental impact of Fashion Week, representing this only one side of what constitutes in its complexity the fashion industry, is equivalent to the production of CO2 emissions for an amount equal to 241 thousand tons.

To reduce consumption, there are several tools to remedy and compress the pollution that the textile industry habitually generates. Not the only one but a tool that has proven to be of primary importance-digitization has played a vital role in bringing out a new way of communicating fashion and ensuring that it is reborn by explicating a range of pro-planet benefits. Although concealed between the lines, resource savings are indeed revealed to be an inherent benefit of digitizing production processes, a technology that has extended to other stages of the supply chain.

Image: Icarius
Image: Icarius

Digitization and Sustainable Fashion: What’s The Connection?

Digitizing a sound, an image, or a text means turning them into a signal that can be stored or edited with a computer, stored longer or transmitted remotely more efficiently.

Treccani

Translating into digital format what lives in other, primarily material format-if of the fashion universe we are talking about is not a new idea far removed from those who champion sustainable fashion. Even the first literal definition of “digitization” hides a more profound meaning between the lines. Long-term preservation and efficiency are indeed similarly essential pillars in the concept of sustainability. Therefore, in digitization, whose potential has recently been rediscovered, one could recognize a new and alternative dimension in which sustainable fashion – and more – is allowed to materialize and develop. Digitizing fashion at multiple levels results in more immediate and effective communication of the messages brands intend to convey, but environmental impacts are significantly reduced. Combining these would allow consumers to encounter fashion that is more democratic, usable, and green.

A double-side of benefits would emerge by rethinking digitization as an offshoot of sustainability.

In the absence of fashion shows in attendance and evidence reported through the data above, digitization would first reduce the consumption and environmental impacts that Fashion Week as a physical event is annually brought to generate. Secondly-but, no less importantly-it would facilitate the containment of all those consumptions before the presentation of the actual collection, inherent in the production of sample garments first and the finished product later. Such an innovative tool would also make it possible to calibrate production waste a priori, monitoring in advance consensus and needs of the public and thus positively affecting the reduction of surplus.

Several companies operating in the Fashion & Luxury sector have seen digitization as the primary tool for producing, communicating, and presenting sustainable and environmentally friendly collections to consumers. Characterizing is precisely how the latter approached digitization: if communication channels were initially considered instrumental, they now become real protagonists.

Brands can have a direct and efficient relationship with consumers through communication channels, becoming increasingly demanding and attentive to what they buy. All this incites fashion houses to find the most suitable means of responding to said needs, developing increasingly interactive strategies-without neglecting creative profiles-aimed at conveying to the end consumers all the necessary information and data about the products. This essential aspect aims to improve the customer experience and conscious consumption.

New technologies can also improve energy efficiency, promoting better use of primary resources while lowering emissions and pollution generated by overproduction. As of today, the digital revolution is a tangible reality affecting various fields, not just fashion. Thus, it could be argued that the digital process and environmental impact reduction are strongly related issues.

This is because digitization results from sustainable development that can ensure green strategies, potentially suitable for improving business processes and environmental protection and incentivizing a better relationship between companies and customers.

Digital is sustainable: Bacon’s eco collection.

Bacon, a brand that produces down outerwear, was one first to adopt this philosophy. For founder Andrea Pilato Barrara, digital profiles and communication strategies are not mere marketing tools but are meant to support sustainability, considered in all aspects. It is not, in fact, a very technological progression but a fundamental ethical and cultural change inherent in the brand.
Below, we address with Andrea some key aspects that led Bacon to embark on this new and innovative path.

How was the Bacon brand born?

“Bacon was born in 2011 with the desire to change the scenario of the down garment world for women. The down garment was born purely to protect against the cold, the lines were unsightly, and the challenge Bacon was born to change these patterns. I’ve always been very passionate about jackets, I come from the 90s school and the iconic garment of the time with the American vague was the down garment; we wanted to clear it through customs.”

What motivated you to approach sustainability?

What encouraged you to come to the world of sustainability and take this step?

“We have been influenced a lot in recent years by marketing, which has started to talk a lot about sustainability even though, in our opinion, it has been used more instrumentally and in more than practical ways. We waited a few years before deciding and relying on competent people in the field. We realized that to take this huge step, we had to go in a different direction than just using the concept in communication. We confronted ourselves internally, especially with the first link in the production chain, namely the fabric producers, indispensable in our supply chain. We realized two paths: exploiting the trend and taking relatively sustainable fabrics with meager prices. Or a more “serious” and ethical way, tying ourselves only to truly certified suppliers. The costs, in this case, would have been high, would have reduced profits but would also have allowed us to hit the target of real sustainability. With Bacon, we chose this second, more accurate, and more ethical path, overcoming the critical issues of the moment but moving toward a more sustainable future in a fashion that we have encountered and will encounter.

So we identified a special production partner in this research, and we chose to use for our capsule the Eco Ripstop fabric obtained from the recovery of plastic from the oceans and for this doubly ecological, that is, against the pollution of the seas and for targeted recycling, another vital element in the fashion of the future.

We gave up having high margins, but we were thus able to give honest feedback on the traceability and eco-sustainability of our raw materials. Everything is related to recycled feathers, biodegradable zippers, water-printing labels without chemical waste, and recycled and biodegradable plastic packaging. We have done things the way they needed to be done, the process is complex, but over time we are confident it will simplify and become an obligation to ourselves, the system, and the planet.

CLAIRE ECORIPSTOP WHITE

Although there is no entirely sustainable collection to date, there has nevertheless been a sustainable approach to digitization.

“Digitization has given a significant boost to our message. In addition to the physical product, we created a digital fashion show after six months of hard work that allowed us to engage on the energy-saving front. The digital fashion show will enable us to save quite a lot in terms of raw material production: the technical data collected show that in 4 minutes of the fashion show, there is a saving of 2 thousand kilograms of carbon dioxide, five trees, and – counting in hand – these are actual results.

Over time by digitizing garments, we will be able to avoid producing so-called “samples” and “counter samples,” which will also enable substantial energy savings. The technology used well will give a big hand to sustainability processes and produce a new model of business and creative development, as it will allow testing of ideas with more agility than the old way of working on a finalized garment. Today’s fashion cycle has long lead times, digitization allows real-time to transpose the idea immediately onto the digitized garment, and put it online, thus going down a double track: in addition to sustainability, the optimization of creativity and production time, and this is potent.”

Bacon’s Version – sfilata digital

What feedback has been received from a consumer perspective concerning the digital presentation?

“We are still in our infancy; this question will be fully answered over the following few collections. We used the gaming methodology first and are still the only ones on this path. When it was undertaken, we knew where to start, but not yet where it would take us; it was a real business risk. Some things have been overcome and are still being studied, but this research is part of Bacon’s DNA. Our task is first and foremost to gather the trust and credibility of our customers, starting from raw materials to truly sustainable creations and processes. This is the real challenge.

And we are almost there. The technology we use brings results: for example, for a down garment worn on an avatar, we have to calibrate its weight. The avatar moves and responds differently depending on whether the feathers’ fabric is heavier or lighter, stiff or soft. This response is our strength. You will never see one of our garments on an avatar that moves the same way because the fabrics are different, the weighting is different; it is this perceived and feedback is our strength, and we are getting there, so it is only over time that I will be able to answer you “yes, there is a good feedback from the end consumers because they perceive that it is all and real and traceable.”

We are now dealing with a new audience, with whom there is a much more open dialogue, and together we feel we are close to the goal.

Going back to the physical product, are there essential criteria in the choice of materials, are there regardless the sustainable approach-materials that are more preferred, and what is the selection based on in the production phase at the stylistic and quality level?

“We make down garments, and although we do not give a limit to creativity, we are tied to our specific core. Nevertheless, in the choice of fabrics, we experiment in the assembly stage but always follow the precise rules of outerwear. In order not to make these garments heavy (because they are filled with feathers), the first thing we evaluate is the weight of the fabric because it is based on that that we go to create shapes and types of padding, and it is necessary to do test after test. Depending on the fabric and the feather filling, the garment changes, and various examinations are done before choosing a material. We prefer nylon because it is the mother fabric of the down garment, but Bacon’s strength always gives a textural effect; it is our ID. It is essential to have a certain kind of resistance, waterproof, anti-drop, and windproof for a down garment that costs even over a thousand euros. However, we don’t forget that we also do fashion. These garments parade even on virtual catwalks, so we must be daring.

This year since the international fairs have reopened, we are increasing the choice of sustainable fabrics; we have included four more, meaning more than half of the collection will have, in addition to recycled down, nylon and beautiful polyester fabrics, all sustainable. The production process is also moving on that, increasing investment in that. I am not confident that we will touch many sustainable garments among the products distributed by fast-fashion chains. They are trying, but it isn’t easy to sell at that price point something that is 100 percent sustainable and with transparent traceability.

Going back to production: what evolution has there been from previous collections compared to the sustainable capsule in raw material processing and assembly?

That has noticeably changed in time and cost, even on the digitization side. Have there been any other significant changes in processing?

“In terms of processing, no. But in terms of orders and raw materials, yes, I would be telling a lie if I didn’t tell you that we haven’t had several problems in terms of availability and the costs just recalled. The issue is that the production process is not ready yet because there is always the risk that the sustainable raw material-with all the elaborate preventive processing required- will not be sufficient and consequently delivered on time.

Bacon, like other companies, has relied on multiple suppliers, but they have not yet been able to meet these demands due to excess demand. However, on a “perceived” level, the recycled fabric is very nice (it is lightweight nylon); we have been able to have a recycled material that looks soft to the touch. This is used in carrying over, which are strong garments that you repeat every year, where the numbers are significant, and you can sell to more consumers. This is also an important choice for us, compared to the previous collection, we can now appeal to a broader range of customers.

You mentioned traceability earlier; how do you manage to make the customer guaranteed transparency?

“Simply by accompanying both the physical garments and those described online with certification data sheets that explain the whole path, from the origin of raw materials to the manufacturing processes. The complete project is still under construction; the ultimate goal is to equip each product with a code related to a kind of “database,” an identikit of the garment itself, to ensure descriptiveness and transparency for the customer.

Relative to the problems you have encountered, what are the most significant critical issues for a brand approaching sustainability? 

“The biggest criticality is the high costs in following the strict process, of a sustainable and ethical philosophy that fall partly on the company and partly on the price of the finished product. It all depends on the philosophy and mission chosen for the brand.
Therefore, being born as a sustainable brand entails no inconsiderable costs and obstacles, which we set out to overcome. Even the big industry players-though established-are is encountering the same difficulties by espousing this approach. For us, still “small,” embracing this complexity becomes a double challenge that we courageously welcome in small and large steps … “digitized.”

Will Digitalization Support Sustainable Fashion?

Given what has been put in place to date by brands that have embraced sustainability through technology, we identify a broad – albeit progressing – the presence of the digitization process in the fashion industry. From the design and prototyping phase to the production phase, through to sales and even resale, thanks to the many e-commerce platforms on the web, digitization embraces the product even after it has been placed on the market by helping to monitor and certify its authenticity. Online trying, 3D rendering, and e-tailing are just some of the tools that allow the product to reach the public even before it becomes tangible. Reducing consumption and safeguarding resources- which are not infinite- digitization- could be pivotal for green evolution and innovation in the fashion industry.

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