Consumer spending in the fashion industry is snowballing. People are buying clothes almost faster than the factories can make them. As a result, the number of garments purchased each year by the average consumer has increased by 60 percent since 2000, and with no sign of slowing down, clothing production has more than doubled since that time.
According to McKinsey & Company, condensed production cycles and “up-to-the-minute” designs have enabled shoppers to not only expand their wardrobes, but also to refresh them on a sometimes weekly basis. Customer shopping habits have shifted as a result. Research shows that consumers now keep clothing items about half as long as they did 15 years ago, and they treat lowest-priced garments as nearly disposable, discarding them after fewer than 10 wears before they go out for more, something that’s become known as “fast fashion.”
According to financial holding company CIT, top fast fashion retailers grew 9.7 percent per year over the last five years, compared to the 6.8 percent growth of traditional apparel companies. However, while business is booming, the fast fashion trend has consequences. In 2013, there was 15.1 million tons of textile waste, with 12.8 million tons discarded.
This new disposable way of interacting with fashion not only impacts the environment due to the chemicals and textiles used, but also brings ethical issues under the spotlight, including manufacturing conditions and fair trade. This in turn threatens brand reputation; although consumers are desperate to satisfy their thirst for style, they’re becoming more and more conscious of their carbon footprint and how their purchase decisions impact the planet.
So how can brands win back conscious consumers in a world of fast fashion? By tapping into Internet of Things technology, apparel brands can better provide transparency around ethical practices, encourage consumers to care for garments in low-impact ways and incentivize people to return their clothing back to the store in order to be recycled.
1. Transparency: Through our partnership with Avery Dennison, EVRYTHNG has enabled billions of apparel and footwear products to be #BornDigital™, meaning that individual physical garments are embedded with unique digital identities at the point of manufacture. When a product has a digital identity, it holds data about where and how it was made, providing real-time traceability of the entire lifecycle so buyers are aware of how it was made. This means that a conscious consumer can simply scan the smart label on a t-shirt from Zara in order to understand the full environmental and ethical impact of that product.
2. Care Instructions: Part of a product’s carbon footprint is produced after it’s made and sold—when a consumer launders it. By “switching on” #BornDigital™ apparel, sustainable brands can provide care instructions that encourage eco-friendly practices. As an example, your H&M pants could tell you that they should be washed less than you think to reduce water usage and that they should be line dried to reduce energy usage.
3. Recycling: According to the Environmental Protection Agency, 84 percent of unwanted clothes in the US in 2012 went into either a landfill or an incinerator. As a response to this fashion waste, some apparel brands, including H&M and Levi’s, have sought out greater sustainability through “closed-loop sourcing,” in which a product is recycled to become a very similar product. Levi’s, for example, encourages customers to bring their jeans back to a local store, so that they can be turned back into a new pair of jeans—and help the brand significantly reduce the amount of water it uses to produce its “thirsty” products.
As part of its care instructions, when scanned by a smartphone, a pair of #BornDigital™ Levi’s could tell their owner that they should be recycled when no longer needed. Taking this one step further, the brand could incentivize shoppers to recycle—and drive them to revisit the store—by offering a reward for every pair of jeans returned and authenticated.
The introduction of connected apparel not only helps brands engage customers by encouraging greener behavior, but it can also put people’s environmentally-conscious minds at ease and reinforce consumer trust in the apparel brands that promote sustainability.
Frederik Armbrust is VP, Enterprise Solutions, Apparel and Footwear at EVRYTHNG.