Fashion’s love for technology has not yet moved the needle in sustainability

The fashion industry is often accused of ignoring new technology, then embracing it as it became mainstream (and sometimes claiming to have been forward-looking innovators all along). This is certainly the case with web3, as many brands have gotten involved NFTsAnd the metaverse activations And the CryptocurrencyBut analysts now suspect that the leading luxury brands are quietly building virtual worlds to launch into the metaverse when the timing is right.

“This would reflect how luxury brands approach digital technology,” Bernstein analyst Luca Solca wrote in a note last week. “LVMH wasn’t a pioneer in the digital space, but when they decided to move into it, they put their efforts in overwhelming force.”

When it comes to new tools to mitigate fashion’s impact on the environment, this tipping point is always on the horizon. Countless companies are promoting their innovative approaches to tackling fashion issues, from blockchain-based technology to Mysterious supply chain mapAnd the Product tags Prove to consumers that their purchases are made ethically, and new textiles Made from mushroom roots or captured carbon.

Fashion companies are expected to invest 3 to 3.5 percent of sales in technology by 2030, up from 1.6 to 1.8 percent in 2021, according to BoF and McKinsey’s. Fashion state: technology Report.

But will this spending result in companies operating more sustainably? I don’t hold my breath.

Innovation takes time, patience, and resources to build and spread widely, particularly in an industry that is specific in its ways. It also requires the fashion industry to stay the course, not to give up on the project in order to jump on what’s trendy and sexy. This can be difficult for an industry that favors instant gratification and consumer-facing initiatives. Release of NFT is easier and payoff faster than building full traceability of product origins and ecological footprint.

And while new technologies and innovations can offer tantalizing glimpses of future solutions, they are often not a panacea. For example, the conversations about the potential of blockchain-based platforms to demystify fashion supply chains are intertwined Heavy, intense and highly representative work To connect manufacturers and suppliers of raw materials, where digital penetration is minimal.

Most fashion companies do not currently have this kind of vision. Nearly a third of the 30 companies evaluated this year BoF . Sustainability Index Not providing any general information to indicate that they have a complete understanding of even their direct suppliers.

In fact, the annual Fashion Sustainability Performance Benchmark finds that hot new technologies and bustling new business models are still far from truly disrupting the status quo. For example, while more companies are experimenting resale And rental, these mannequins have not been expanded within the traditional fashion business. The companies evaluated in the index scored an average of just 17 points out of 100 in the assessment segment that examined progress towards creating circular business models.

It was one piece of news last week that, for me, put tech’s lofty fashion ambitions into perspective by highlighting the least attractive foundation that still needs attention. Calvin Klein and PVH owner Tommy Hilfiger announced they are partnering with Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth, Business for Social Responsibility HERproject and Better Than Cash Alliance, all of which are programs that help factories pay workers through digital banking.

Advocates of such a change say the social and economic benefits are manifold, from driving efficiency and accountability in back-office operations to promoting financial literacy, independence, savings, and safety from theft or fraud for predominantly female garment workers. Only about two-thirds of apparel factories pay their employees via digital bank transfer, according to 2018 data by the Higg Index — and I imagine that percentage drops when you consider the less formal angles of obscure fashion supply chains undetected by established reporting tools. .

If the global fashion system has yet to digitize one of its most basic (and often exploited) transactions, NFTs may be taking a back seat for a while.

BoF Sustainability Index 2022