5th June every year marks the World Environment Day, and the businesses across the globe reinstate the significance of sustainable practices to save the natural resources. Fashion industry is one sector which contributes huge amount of waste clothes that go into the landfill, hence polluting the earth. Though the use of sustainability is certainly on a gradual rise in the fashion supply chain, a rapid escalation is necessary and that can be aimed using the right use of technology.
Although ‘sustainability’ and ‘technology’ are two different terms, what if both are combined to give a whole new meaning to a garment’s identity? The combination is coming into a major play to endorse social distancing norms in the post-COVID-19 world where consumer behaviour is changing and the industry might not get back to the same old ‘normal’ shopping methods, therefore pushing retailers and manufacturers to opt for different concepts to lure consumers. The R Collective, a Hong Kong-based sustainable apparel company, is in lines with changing consumer behaviour and takes the concept to the next level with sustainability integration to technology in its The Denim Reimagined project.
The nine-piece denim collection is accompanied by scannable garment labels that offer four digital experiences to customers – supply chain information, less energy-consumed washing and drying tips, restyling tips to enhance the life of clothes and an advice on recycling the garment at the end of its life. US-based Avery Dennison, a global material science and manufacturing technology provider, is assisting The R Collective with digital labelling technology, especially tailored to the apparel sector to protect brand identity and conjure richer consumer experiences. EVRYTHNG – an IoT technology provider – has also joined hands with The R Collective to provide all necessary information through scanned labels.
The QR code on each garment gives a ‘born identity’ so that the garments’ features like how it was made, how to care for it live within the garment. The technology enables the users to scan this label with a smartphone where they can get to know all required information.
“This is crucial, as we have a digital interface that allows us to ‘stay in touch’ with our customers after they have bought the piece,” Christina Dean, Founder, The R Collective, informed Apparel Resources.
Need of such concept
According to Christina, consumers contribute 37 per cent of the climate impact along a jeans’ lifecycle after they have purchased the product. One of the challenges is reaching consumers and then sparking their interest to change their behaviour for a sustainable supply chain. “Asian, particularly Chinese, consumers are tech-savvy and they readily engage with QR codes so integrating these into our collection made sense. Whilst we have a global retail reach, we have many Asian consumers, and the collection itself is physically in Levi’s Hong Kong store, which attracts the typical mix of people living in Hong Kong,” asserted Christina.
The project is backed by Levi’s, and the brand in its recent study found that washing denim cold instead of warm reduces the climate impact by 69 per cent in a typical garment lifecycle, while line drying instead of using a dryer can reduce impact by 65 per cent. By providing information like this in its scannable QR codes, the project helps customers adopt more sustainable habits.
Secondly, it’s imperative to know that most of the apparel brands don’t manufacture products themselves, so the verification of the source of materials that goes in the product making is quite a daunting task and the brands might not be having necessary information in their hands. Even when information about supply chain, materials and usage is provided, it remains difficult for customers – who want to know how their garments are made – to read and assess the sustainability level of a garment as they often lack a comparable data.
And, all this is made possible by technology integration which plays a vital role in endorsing sustainability, particularly in transparency and traceability. “We can’t have a sustainable fashion industry, and work towards improving the industry, unless we can trace and track the supply chain, and also better understand the demands of consumers. So technology and sustainability go hand-in-hand. Technology may seem quite challenging to some businesses, but the reality is that once you crack the surface of it, it’s very logical,” adds Christina.
Levi’s backing The Denim Reimagined Project
The Levi’s Collaboratory funded the project as part of their fellowship programme to support innovative change-makers who are working towards making apparel more sustainable. The R Collective is working to reduce fashion’s climate impact and Levi’s extended its support to the company’s creative and experimental upcycling goals. This support also resonated to The R Collective’s support to various start-ups’ mission to experiment and scale good ideas for the benefit and learning of the broader fashion industry.
As far as the funding is concerned, Levi’s provided The R Collective with access to common waste streams that of aged inventory and irregular samples, so that the unique upcycled collection offered a solution to one of the most pressing questions which apparel supply chain is facing – what should be done with excess materials?
“We are now retailing Denim Reimagined in a Levi’s store in Hong Kong, and we also collaborated on various digital virtual workshops in which fashion influencers shared their personal ideas to prolong their garments in what was called #WearAndCare campaign, which Levi’s HK hosted on their social media channels,” shares Christina.
The #WearAndCare campaign largely used data from Levi’s Life Cycle Assessment (LCA), in particular related to consumer care and climate change reduction.
Endorsing the need for this project, Liz Lipton-McCombie, Director of Sustainability, Levi Strauss & Co., comments, “The Collaboratory was designed to inspire and support inventive, tangible solutions that address the most important social and environmental challenges facing the apparel industry today, in line with Levi Strauss & Co.’s broader commitment to sustainability in and beyond our business. The R Collective project fits the bill because of its creative approach both to upcycling excess material for new product and to advocating for more conscious consumption and more sustainable consumer care habits, especially among new generations of consumers.”
She further mentions that it is gratifying to see the project get to this stage and to see how it is utilising data from life cycle assessment of a pair of jeans to convey the extent of resource use in apparel to consumers in East Asia.
The way forward
Though most of the business owners don’t have the perfect crystal ball about the post-COVID-19 world, some of them are passionate about their mission, and thus, they believe to be well-positioned to address consumer expectations for greater transparency and sustainability once the world starts resuming activities.
“We embarked on our Denim Reimagined and #WearAndCare campaign long before the pandemic. It is only now however I realise the value of having technology at the core of our mission because we’ve used unique digital identities which quite literally made garments ‘born digital’. And, now we will be able to interact with our customers even during a time of social distancing. We’ll be able to stay connected and most importantly educate consumers on how to care for their garments in a sustainable, climate-friendly way,” expresses Christina.