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Sustainable 3D Fashion: More than a Passing Trend


In today’s guest post, Sharon Lim, CEO of Browzwear, educates us on the benefits of working in 3D when it comes to the environment. Sharon is a corporate visionary with nearly 20 years experience in the apparel industry, from sourcing to retail. She is responsible for directing Browzwear’s vision and business operations in the rapidly-evolving 3D apparel market.

Climate change. Greenhouse effect. Global warming. Pollution. These are terms you don’t necessarily associate with skinny jeans, pencil skirts, graphic t-shirts and tracksuits. But the fact is, sustainability is no longer just a trendy topic. It has become a business imperative across industries …and especially in the fashion industry.

But, what’s the connection?

The fashion industry is contributing to the climate change problem, and the industry suffers from its own consequences.

According to research by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, total greenhouse gas emissions from textile production amount to 1.2 billion tons each year – more than all air travel and maritime shipping combined. And it will continue to get worse; experts around the globe predict that if the industry continues on this trajectory, by 2030, textile production emissions will rise by more than 60%. And that’s just production. On the other end of the life cycle, landfills in the United States alone are filled with 21 billion pounds of textiles every single year, and most will never decompose since so many modern materials and fibers include plastic.

On top of that, the industry already feels the effects of climate change in many different stages of the workflow. Water shortage, decreasing biodiversity and endangered ecosystems already impact the way garments are designed and produced, and the impact will only become greater with time.

3D: Changing the World, One Garment at a Time

There are many changes that can be made at various stages of the workflow. From choosing eco-friendly fabrics and trims to cutting down on the use of plastic and finding ways to reduce water usage in production.

Another way that brands and retailers can make a positive global impact is by embracing the current digital transformation and moving to 3D design technologies. Digital technologies in fashion design mean far fewer physical samples as well as faster production times for quicker time-to-market. Brands can follow trends and adjust collections on the fly, which leads to less wasted inventory or items that go out of style before they even hit the racks.

Collaboration is Key

Digital and 3D technologies also enable enhanced collaboration during product development and merchandising decision making. At the end of the day, 3D design solutions waste less through a decrease in the production of physical samples, while enabling designers to create images that are so realistic, they can be used in style merchandising all the way through e-commerce. A digital catalog, in turn, reduces resources involved in photography, while also reducing paper and ink usage.

True-to-life 3D digital garments can be displayed on websites and in catalogs, and consumers will not even realize that the garments they are browsing through online have not actually been produced yet. There will be a shift from the current process of developing, then manufacturing and hoping to sell, to a customized, on-demand process that begins with an order and moves to payment and then to manufacture. In other words, brands will be able to fill an order only once its been placed, and smart manufacturing options will enable smaller local factories to fulfill individual orders more quickly and efficiently, significantly reducing waste and the carbon footprint including removing the need to transport mass quantities of garments from distant factories and shrinking inventories that might go unsold and end up in landfills.

Ecommerce conversion rates currently hover around 2.5%, while return rates can be as high as 44%. The goal across the board is to increase conversions while reducing returns, which would change the entire paradigm, encouraging players in the industry to rethink strategies for sustainability.

Beyond Recycling: Introducing Upcycling

With so many textiles being produced and circulated, the amount of waste is staggering. Apparel companies produce more than 50 million tons of clothing each year with projections reaching 160 million tons by 2050. To do their part, consumers often turn to organizations like Goodwill to recycle the items they no longer wear. Buying second hand, once an activity considered taboo, is slowly becoming more trendy as consumers want to make a positive impact on the environment in any way they can. But recycling clothing and buying second hand isn’t enough. Organizations like Goodwill receive so much textile, they end up spending millions of dollars each year to incinerate items that are not sold, many of which would never decompose naturally because of the materials they are made from. Sadly, 80% of discarded textiles end up in a landfill or sent for incineration, and only 20% are actually reused or recycled.

Organizations like Remake are working to transform the fashion industry into a force for good by encouraging conscious decision-making to slow down the effects of the industry on the planet. Remake is made up of designers, storytellers, and fashion aficionados who are leveraging the power of the collective to try and reduce the industry’s waste problem and move toward circular fashion. One of their main tenants is a commitment to “buying less, investing in quality pieces, and supporting sustainable designers.”

While many brands are already seeking eco-friendly materials for their garments, we are also seeing more of the new trend of upcycling. Much like finding ceramic scraps to make new lamps, or reusing old materials to make cups and plates, brands can reuse unsold inventory or gently used fabric to create completely new styles and garments.

We are even beginning to see new processes to upcycle plastic bottles into yarns and other materials to make garments, shoes or handbags. Using newer 3D and digital technologies enables brands to price and source fabrics and trims that are upcycled or made from more eco-friendly materials.

At the forefront of the zero-waste fashion movement, we see brands like zero waste daniel who designs sustainable clothing and accessories using all recycled materials; and Re;code the Korean upcycling brand who work closely with Goodwill to deconstruct salvaged materials for their designs.

We’re all in it Together

As consumers become more environmentally conscious, we are seeing more and more players in the fashion industry, from top design houses to suppliers and manufacturers, move away from wasteful practices of the past. Embracing new 3D technologies and riding the wave of the digital transformation will benefit everyone along the supply chain all the way down to consumers.

Lydia Mageean Lydia Mageean has been part of the WhichPLM team for eight years now. She has a creative and media background, and is responsible for maintaining and updating our website content, liaising with advertisers, working on special projects like our PLM Project Pack, or our Annual Publications, and more.Joining mid-2013 as our Online Editor, she has since become WhichPLM’s Editor. In addition to taking on writing and interviewing responsibilities, Lydia has also become the primary point of contact for news, events, features and other aspects of our ever-growing online content library and tools.