Innovation within the fashion industry has been on the rise in an attempt to meet many environmental, social, and ethical concerns. Designers, brands, and innovators are reinventing the future of the industry and the impact that it will have on our world and our lives. In our #FastForwardFashion series, we have reported on many innovations and advancements in fashion and textiles manufacturing, design, and even retail. This post explores some of the brands and creators that are targeting social and ethical concerns of late.
images via Dahea Sun - 'Rain Palette'
The Age of Smart Biodegradable Fashion:
It is no secret that the carbon footprint left on this earth becomes increasingly alarming with each passing year. As the concern for the damages we leave on this planet rise, so does the need to find solutions to save our future. Most industries contribute to the world's carbon footprint, but the fashion industry has been called out for being one of the top polluters in the world. With consumer demand for more ethical product finally on the rise, more brands have started to take ownership and their design and production teams are challenged to establish more ethical and sustainable chains of production.
image via Solve
The apparel company Solve has launched a collection of womenswear that is not only chic and versatile, but also environmentally responsible. Named ‘Omdanne,’ this three garment collection consists of clothing that is 100% compostable. Made from 100% woven lyocell tencel fibers (a cellulosic fiber derived from Eucalyptus trees), the sustainable collection has the ability to absorb moisture and release it on the outside keeping garments fresher for much longer, which is also environmentally beneficial if that means less washing on the consumer end. The fibers are developed from sustainably managed forests in Europe and are processed in a closed-loop system that leaves no room for harmful chemicals, toxic solvents, or toxic dyes. Although the ‘Omdanne’ collection has only three garments, those garments are convertible and can be changed into ten distinct styles aiming to limit how many articles of clothing the consumer will buy. Held together by detachable yet strong tiny magnets, the garments named ‘T’, ‘R’, and ‘E’ give the wearer full capability to shape and design their own #OOTD. Solve has developed a product that is tackling sustainability issues on a number of different levels, which is something that the fashion community would do well to learn from.
The Need for Social Connectivity:
What was once considered technology that would be limited to obvious products like phones and computers, has crossed over to sensor-infused textiles and connected garments. There are many examples of hi-tech textiles being used to enhance or measure performance, but what about applications for social connectivity enabled garments?
image via Zsófia Lévai
Since fashion is a good indicator of individualism and personality, it should be no surprise that some designers have been toying with the connection between what you wear and your online presence. The expressive flexibility of fashion as a means of telling others who we are is what inspired fashion designer Zsófia Lévai to merge social media and fashion to explore the line of human-computer interactions. Guided by the notion of the ‘village effect’ (the philosophy suggesting that our well-being is tied with our physical and social integration into our community), Zsófia’s ‘Power of Proximity’ collection looks to use social media data to create a network of connected garments. Using infrared signaling, LED lights on the garments show wearers what they have in common with others in the vicinity. Ironically, Zsófia’s collection actually is a catalyst for face to face interaction rather than digital because wearers are able to physically see the level of similarities shared by others in close proximity. The ‘Power of Proximity line’ enhances a new level of technology and textile integration; the designer was able to seamlessly embed electronics into knit textiles in merino wool and cashmere to create a stylish interface. Changing the game of social connectivity, Zsófia’s line will hopefully inspire enough curiosity to get individuals to interact face to face rather than virtually.
Despite the infinite positive outcomes that innovations such as Zsófia’s collection propose, advancements like these beg the question of whether this will improve social connection or feel like an invasion of privacy. While the premise of social media is to bring the world together, the argument that social technology can be divisive is very strong, and there are countless studies showing that social media use is negatively affecting the emotional, mental, and even physical health of heavy users. So, could advancements such as Zsófia’s make things worse or better? Could it only be another way for people to vie for the shallow sense of approval social media provides? Will those looking for more social interaction meet others who diverge from their own interests or will they only seek out exact matches with those whose interests perfectly align with their own? With the constant demand for social connectivity on the rise, we can only hope that innovations like this will enable more positive exchanges of views and meaningful interactions.
A New Way to Increase Environmental Awareness:
With manufacturing and industry increasing exponentially over the past several decades, air quality has become an issue that is on top of many environmentalists’ lists. One designer tackling the concern with fashion innovation is Korean-born, London-based designer Dahea Sun.
image via Dahea Sun
Sun has looked to how the rain cycle is altering and affecting the lives of many, specifically the impact of acid rain. Acid rain is a form of precipitation that is unusually acidic meaning it has elevated levels of hydrogen ions, (low pH) sulfur and nitrogen compounds; these compounds develop from human and natural activity, but largely from the burning of fossil fuels. Acid rain can have harmful effects on plants, aquatic life, and by extension, human health and means of living, etc.
In reaction to her concern about this hazard, Sun has created ‘Rain Palette’, a woven textile which is naturally dyed with water-soluble pigments known as anthocyanins, that acts as a pH indicator when rains falls onto the fabric. The project features a dress designed by CSM grad Gayeon Lee, which changes colors in reaction to the type of rainfall that occurs and wearers will be able to upload readings to a smartphone application to create a global database of real-time environmental data. Dahea Sun hopes to raise awareness of pollution and other environmental issues while showcasing the consequences of consumer behavior. With technology such as this, the fashion industry can start to increase awareness around environmental issues, and hopefully lead to discussions and solutions as well as promoting a sense of togetherness in the mission of making our world more sustainable.
Sustainable Performance Innovation:
One of the biggest reasons the fashion industry is criticized for being environmentally irresponsible is its waste of materials. From raw materials used in the manufacturing process all the way to the finalized product at retail and product end of life disposal, large chains and brands have neglected to invest in more holistic and sustainable practices until very recently. Bowing to intense pressure from environmental groups and, more effectively, from consumer demand, many brands are finally giving this important aspect of their business urgent attention. From sourcing more eco-friendly materials to stressing the importance of recycling and upcycling materials, the fashion industry has its work cut out for it to change the negative impacts of irresponsible manufacturing, hyper-consumerism, and the throw-away culture of their own making. One brand that has pledged to change with sustainable performance innovation is Nike.
image via Nike
Ranked number five in 2018 by the Textile Exchange, Nike is consistently one of the top five buyers of organic cotton in the industry. After learning that more than half of the brand's water footprint came from cotton farming, Nike pledged to use 100 percent sustainable cotton by 2025 while also looking to help the textile industry move closer to achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Not only is Nike committing to more sustainable cotton, but the brand is taking big steps to make sure that upcycling is at the forefront of their business model as well. Currently, Nike stands at having 75 percent of its shoes and apparel contain recycled materials. And beyond that, Nike is combining its reusable sustainable practices and new technology to create the perfect performance shoe - the Air. Comprised of pressurized air (nitrogen) inside a flexible insert which is embedded in the sole of the shoe, Air technology gives its wearer the sensation of walking or running on air. With more facilities like those producing Nike Air Manufacturing, which are able to divert more than 95 percent of manufacturing waste from landfills, textile product innovation is poised to make real strides toward a more environmentally friendly system of manufacturing.
“We believe the future needs a more circular economy – a world in which materials can be used and reused, transforming the way we think about waste, so that it becomes a source value.“
New technologies are continually being developed to bring better connection, more progress ethically and environmentally, and ultimately to improve our lives. Designers and brands alike must increase their efforts and commitment to be leaders in development and adaptation of innovation.
Fingers crossed that 2019 brings increased momentum of #FastForwardFashion!
We would love to hear your thoughts and feedback on what we have covered so far, as well as any ideas you might have for what should be included in this series. Feel free to let us know in the comments below!
Sources: CABA | ABC | WTVOX | SOLVE | Zsolevai | Dahea Sun | Nike | TextileExchange
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