5 Takeaways from Fashion Meets Tech: How Innovation is Creating Sustainability in Fashion

Ella Perriton shares her five key learnings from last night’s ‘Fashion Meets Tech: How Innovation is Creating Sustainability in Fashion’ event at Google.

Last night I attended ‘Fashion Meets Tech: How innovation is creating sustainability in fashion’ – an event hosted by CoGo at the Google for Startups Campus. CoGo founder Ben Gleisner introduced the CoGo app, which makes ethical living achievable by connecting conscious consumers and businesses. The event explored different ways that tech and sustainability can work together, something that CoGo has successfully achieved.

The night kicked off with a chat to ‘set the scene’ with fashion designer Deborah Milner, Vogue contributing editor Harriet Quick, and CEO of Walpool Helen Brockleback.

Deborah talked about her sustainability journey in couture. In 2005, she partnered with Aveda to design 11 beautiful dresses that each researched a different aspect of sustainability, such as plastic, and created them using sustainable materials and natural dyes. 

We also heard from Vogue contributing editor Harriet Quick, who spoke about how the landscape of sustainability within fashion has developed over recent years. Harriet and Deborah both agreed that back in 2005, sustainability in fashion was not on the agenda, and even as little as 3 years’ ago it was not considered a ‘sexy’ topic. However, she feels that in the past year there has been a breakthrough with more brands starting to understand the science and complexity of the topic.

The evening continued with a panel discussion on how tech innovation is playing a part in the sustainability of fashion. The panel consisted of innovators from a whole spectrum of areas:

Laura Chavez – Founder of Lark & Berry – a company that ‘cultures’ diamonds and gemstones in a lab for luxury brands. 

Leanne Kemp – Founder of Everledger – a company using Blockchain technology to trace the supply chain of diamonds and improve transparency. 

Kresse Wesling – Founder of Elvis & Kresse – a brand creating ‘sustainable luxury’ using London’s decommissioned fire-hoses. The brand now also uses Burberry’s leather off-cuts. 

Kirsty Emery – Co-founder of Unmade – a global fashion software company that powers fashion driven by demand and customisation.

Yossi Goldsmith – Managing director at CoGo.

Nina Merenzi – Founder of The Sustainable Angle – a not for profit supporting fashion and textile projects aimed at lowering the environmental impact of the industry, and organisers of the Future Fabrics Expo

A wide range of topics were discussed, but the standout take-aways were: 

1) Power of the people

This has also been a prominent theme in other events I’ve attended. As consumers, we must be conscious and help to drive change. Buy less and buy better, contribute to the circular economy by only buying items that you will cherish (and wear at least 30 times!!), think twice about buying fabrics that aren’t biodegradable and pass garments on to others when you no longer want them. Ask questions about the products you buy. Laura from Everledger suggested that labelling garments with their environmental impacts would better inform consumers of their purchasing decisions. But until then, question the brands that you buy from. And lastly, don’t panic. Along with the negative, fashion can have positive impacts on the people and the planet, therefore be mindful of the decisions your making. 

2) ‘Tell the truth’

This was an important element in the topics of supply chains and marketing. In order to avoid greenwashing, Harriet suggested to simply ‘tell the truth.’ Many understand that the journey to sustainability is a work-in-progress and is best achieved in steps. Therefore, be honest about your actions, set realistic goals and commit to them. Kresse gave the same advice for supply chains. Sharing and telling the truth are crucial in inspiring change and encouraging best practice. If you are making positive steps towards sustainability, then shout about it to motivate others to do the same – even your competitors. Be a leader in your field.  

3) More advice for brands

There were lots of other recommendations for how brands can be more sustainable. With regards to the circular economy; design for a reason! Harriet stressed that even in the sample stage of designing, way too much is being produced and disposed of. Longevity of garments was also described as key to the circular economy. 

4) A call for more legislation

Top down legislation must also be a driver of change. The fashion industries’ commitment to sustainability has been slower than others, even though the threat on environment is still just as high. We are now in what is being described as a ‘climate emergency’, and the responsibility to be more sustainable shouldn’t only fall on consumers. This year the Environmental Audit Committee released its Sustainability of the Fashion Industry Report, which concluded that some businesses require a legislative push towards doing the right thing. Eco-Age submitted and presented evidence for this report; you can read our take on the findings and recommendations here. 

5) There is no limit to innovation within sustainability

This was evident from the range of companies speaking at the event and the fact that tickets to attend were oversubscribed. It was so exciting to hear how each company was using tech to innovate in the field of sustainability, and it is clear that from the successes of these business there is curiosity from a consumer perspective too. It will be interesting to see how the relationship between tech and sustainability evolves and further expands.