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Systems and Infrastructure Change are Crucial for a Sustainable Fashion Revolution

The problem is mind-boggling. 

As a society, we produce 150 billion new clothing items every year. (Yes, that’s billion with a “b.”)

Clothing is piling up faster than recycling systems can process them, with mountains of discarded textiles ending up in developing countries. 

And the fashion industry is currently failing to meet its Paris agreement target by a long shot.

It’s true that there is a rising awareness of the threat of “fast fashion” from the public. 

But as a software and technology consultant for the circular economy, I’m most inspired and encouraged by something else — the systematic and infrastructural change we’re starting to see across the industry.


The circular economy can be part of the solution

The circular economy is an exciting answer to so many of the challenges posed by the fashion industry. 

The circular economy, as opposed to our current take-make-waste system, shows us a better way of doing business. It shows us a better path to managing resources, making and using products, and using the materials after their life cycle has ended.

For decades, innovators like EILEEN FISHER and Patagonia have been moving in the right direction. They’ve embraced parts of the circular economy model through creating better, longer-lasting products, implementing take-back and resale programs, and educating consumers about the importance of buying less in the first place.

While even these businesses still have a long way to go to be fully circular, brands like these provide powerful proof that taking steps toward circularity is actually great for business. 


Technology is vital to supporting a sustainable fashion industry

We can’t arrive at a circular reality without major changes to the systems and infrastructure the industry depends on.

In their excellent report by our friends at Pentatonic, Hey Fashion! highlight the eight areas that businesses, governments, investors, NGOs, and scientists need to be tackling to address fashion’s waste crisis.

A few of them include:

  • Scaling collection and resources
  • Investing in (better) recycling infrastructure
  • Establishing cross-sector collaboration.

They also point out how software and technology are crucial to enabling this transition. After all, businesses rely on software in virtually every aspect of their regular activities — from managing, to moving, to measuring products. 

Most of the time, software itself is designed to be linear, facilitating a one-way movement of materials and products. Software needs to be circular to support, rather than block, a business’s circular ambitions.


Software innovation examples in sustainable fashion

There are dozens of ways we can use technology to facilitate a more circular fashion industry. I’m constantly running into new examples and people working on solutions — here are a few of the them:


Using data to choose regenerative materials and design better products

First of all, we need to run the opposite direction from “fast fashion,” where products are designed, made, and promoted with the intention of being relevant for a single season. 

Technology can facilitate fashion infrastructure change by allowing businesses to design better products to begin with. Brands can and should work with knowledgeable consultants for custom advice on product design. 

For more systemic change, every business needs access to circular data and information about regenerative materials. Software like Ecochain can make better choices more accessible and help them find opportunities their designers can’t see on their own. Design consultants can also use software and data visualisation to increase the impact of their work.


Digital Product Passports to understand the product full life cycle

Another opportunity is the digital product passports for better product transparency. DPPs provide tracking for materials and products, and if used widely, can help revolutionise the supply chain.

We spoke to Jordi de Vos of Circularise all about the ins and outs of digital product passports in the HappyPorch podcast. You can also take a look at their detailed guide to digital product passports.


Innovating through rental, resale, and repair platforms

We’re also seeing the rise of software that enables fashion businesses to embrace rental, resale, and repair. 

Platforms like Trove and Recurate are just two examples of these platforms. Of course, software is a key part of making these platforms work at scale.

The Re-Action Collective takes another approach, helping outdoor brands educate their customers on product repair.


Technology is an enabler of structural change

The fashion waste crisis is enormous. But it’s encouraging to see so many individuals and companies rising up to meet the challenges we face. 

At HappyPorch, we believe technology is a vital enabler of the huge changes we need to see across the fashion industry — and so many others. The solutions aren’t complete yet, but the parts are beginning to come together.

To dive deeper into solutions we need to pursue to revolutionise the fashion industry, we recommend reading the Hey Fashion! report compiled by Pentatonic for EILEEN FISHER.

While you’re at it, we also recommend listening to our interview with Madison Wright, Circular Economy Specialist at Pentatonic in season seven of the HappyPorch Radio podcast.

Picture of Barry O'Kane

About the author

Barry O'Kane

Barry is the founder of HappyPorch. With 20 years in the web development industry as a programmer and agency owner, he has a preternatural ability to decipher the systems and processes code that holds many teams back from achieving their goals. Partners say Barry gets to the root of issues quickly and makes it downright easy to deliver good work.    

While he's unbelievably grounded, it's not uncommon to find him sailing through the trees as he paraglides his way round the world.