This year’s theme for the European Social Innovation Competition is ‘Reimagine Fashion.’ From Post Carbon Lab’s photosynthesising fabrics to Myfactori’s AI-driven manufacturing and Pulp Fashion’s paper clothing, Ruth MacGilp meets some of the semi-finalists.
Technological innovation in fashion is far from a novel concept. Since the dawn of time, creative people have been inventing new ways to weave fabrics, mix dyes and construct clothing. The industrial revolution saw a colossal shift in fashion’s adoption of mechanical engineering, and in the 21st century tech has skyrocketed into a tool for maximising production, communication and sales. But what happens when technology is a force for slowing fashion down, not speeding it up?
The landscape of sustainable fashion in 2020 can be characterised by a battle between tech and nature. Earth Logic argues that while we dream of a tech-driven solution to fashion’s environmental destruction, ‘the only solution is less stuff.’ Meanwhile, Alice Payne explores the connection between ‘taming’ and ‘rewilding’ to visualise the potential of collaboration between techno-optimists and post-growth cautionaries. Fortunately, there are dozens of recent innovations by a new generation of conscious fashion entrepreneurs primed to meet the unique challenges of today’s industry.
Perfect examples of these thoroughly modern solutions can be found in the semi-finalists of the 2020 European Social Innovation Competition. Each year, the European Commission runs a challenge between social innovators from across the EU to address a different issue facing Europe. This year the theme is ‘Reimagine Fashion’, with a focus on behaviour change and sustainability.
Images: Post Carbon Lab
30 early stage projects from 14 countries have been selected as this year’s semi-finalists by a judging panel of sustainable fashion industry leaders like Bert Van Son from MUD Jeans, Fredrik Timour from the Swedish Fashion Council and Jonas Eder-Hansen from Global Fashion Agenda. The entrepreneurs are all working towards changing the ways we produce, buy, use and recycle fashion and encouraging a sustainable shift in consumption. “We’re really impressed with the variety of creative ideas they’ve come up with to help reimagine fashion for the better,” says Slawomir Tokarski, Director of Innovation and Advanced Manufacturing at the European Commission.
From the UK we have Post Carbon Lab, an open source research laboratory exploring the pathway to climate positivity through fashion. From zero-waste dyes to ‘photosynthesis’ coatings using microbiological technology, Post Carbon Lab offers a cross-disciplinary approach to regenerative sustainability in textiles. “We want the future of sustainable fashion to focus on what we already have, turning landfills into treasure mines,” says Dian-Jen Lin, the project’s co-founder.
Image: Dian-Jen Lin, Post Carbon Lab
Another British semi-finalist is Myfactori, a potential solution to the cancelled orders crisis that has left garment factories footing the bill for fast fashion retailers with complex seasonal contracts. Myfactori is an operating system driven by AI, with the ambition to enable on-demand manufacturing by connecting suppliers, designers and consumers.
Across the channel, there’s French project Pulp Fashion, a concept developed by Igor Brossman, a label creating clothing from humble paper. Just like the mid-1960s trend of disposable paper dresses, Pulp aims to combat planned obsolescence in the industry at large. Referencing the ancient Japanese art of paper clothing, the project’s founder Ludovic Brosse believes that: “we already know all the solutions to make fashion sustainable,” trusting that relearning old techniques can help us rethink modern fashion. Similarly, ByBrown from The Netherlands is reimagining the paradigm of clothing use by developing a fully circular jacket. Their ‘transposable raincoat’ is designed to be shared within a rental system, and will be fully recycled at the end of its life to be remade into new products.
Images: Pulp Fashion, ByBrown
Based in Romania, WasteLess Fashion is developing a sustainable education program that enables fashion designers to pass on textile waste to schools and work together with teachers and students to develop zero-waste apparel. “Currently Romanian fashion education institutions do not place an emphasis on sustainability,” says Elena Toader, one of the project’s founders. “We believe education is the most important factor in the future of sustainable fashion, and we place a lot of importance on a zero-waste mindset to guide all design and production activities.”
Tackling textile waste is also a key motivator for German startup Kleiderly. With its sights on closed loop circularitity, Kleiderly offers an innovative way to keep clothing out of landfill by transforming existing textile waste into a durable new material which could be used to replace oil-based plastics altogether.
Over in Spain, Fluid Fashion Realities are taking an equally futuristic approach to revolutionise the fashion industry. The idea itself is simple – encourage Europeans to purchase clothing for protective characteristics, not aesthetics. They aim to create a sustainable system that allows users to match physical garments with digital projections of looks in real time. The judging panel have also selected Copenhagen Fashion Week’s new initiative which implements minimum requirements for participating designers to incentivise transitions to sustainability. The event itself has also pledged to halve its climate impact and eliminate all waste by 2022, a vital shift for the future fashion weeks as the world begins to reopen.
Image: Pulp Fashion
After taking part in workshops at the now virtual Social Innovation Academy and producing an extensive business plan, three winners from the semi-finalist shortlistwill be announced this Autumn and receive a prize of €50,000 to accelerate their project.
It’s clear that investing in innovation and supporting sustainable startups works – just ask Good On You and Common Objective, alumni of Fashion for Good’s renowned innovation platform. Other recent collaborations between fashion and tech have also been celebrated by the Drapers Sustainable Fashion Awards. Nestled amongst rental revolutionaries, independent brands and notably some infamous fast fashion greenwashers, the textile innovation category provides a glimpse of hope for the future of sustainable fabrics in the mainstream. The shortlist includes Candiani Denim, Re:newcell and more, from which the winner will be announced on Monday 6th July.
While we continue to tread the delicate balance between looking forward and treading backwards to reach for a utopia of slow fashion in the new normal, using the technological tools within our current framework offers the opportunity for a new future driven by the planet, not profit.
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