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Fashion's Digital Revolution: From Runway to Recycling - Pearl Academy

By Professor Meha Jayaswal
Associate Dean, Fashion Communication
Pearl Academy

Sustainability and transparency are the most important conversations of the century for the fashion industry to meet its sustainability and climate goals. It is undergoing a digital transformation from classroom to runways and retail – A shift that is not only reshaping the way we buy and wear clothes but also how fashion brands operate or tell their stories. Leading this transformation is the concept of Digital Identity (Digital ID) and Product Passports.

Digital Identity vs. Product Passport

While these terms are often used interchangeably, they represent distinct facets of the fashion revolution. A Digital Identity, in its simplest form, is like a birth certificate for a material or product in the form of a QR code or digital twin, attaching vital information such as producer details, manufacturing location, and environmental impact. In contrast, a Product Passport encapsulates the entire journey of a finished product, including material composition, working conditions in factories, water usage, environmental footprint, and even care instructions tailored to each item. This comprehensive approach aims to extend the lifespan of garments and reduce landfill waste.

The Fashion Taskforce

At the last G20 summit in Rome, a Fashion Taskforce was established to explore the potential of Digital IDs in the fashion industry. Their mission? To create a seismic shift from the linear model of “buy-wear-throw” to a circular one, where garments are bought, worn, recycled, resold, or rented. This taskforce signifies a global commitment to reduce the fashion industry’s environmental footprint and work toward net-zero.

Transparency: A Fashion Industry Game-Changer

One of the most significant impacts of Digital IDs and Product Passports is the unprecedented transparency they bring to the fashion supply chain. While, many brands like Adidas, Reebok, Puma are increasingly publishing information about their supply chains, but Digital IDs would tell the whole story. It would reveal the origin of raw materials, where a garment was crafted, by whom, and the environmental footprint accrued during its journey. This wealth of information would reduce unnecessary packaging and the time spent surfing websites for details. Thus, empower consumers to make informed choices.

At a time when, European Commission’s new climate proposals announced in July 2023 include plan to make fashion pay for clothing waste and make textile producers legally responsible for the cost of their waste, these digital IDs will help track footprint and bring-in more transparency.

The fashion industry’s circularity ambitions will be increasingly realized through Digital IDs. These data points will improve life cycle assessments and environmental impact analysis. With resale markets growing, brands could connect customers with preferred partners. At the end of a garment’s life, knowing its fibre content and manufacturing details will help recyclers maximize textile value, contributing to sustainability goals.

The Global Shift Towards Digital IDs

Europe is leading the charge by making Digital IDs mandatory within the next five years, while the US is also overhauling product identification processes. Major players like Zara, Zalando, Calvin Klein, and luxury brands such as LVMH, Prada, and Cartier are already adopting this technology. Avery Dennison aims to digitize 10 billion apparel and footwear products in the coming years, revolutionizing consumer experiences.

London Fashion Week held in February 2023 witnessed the fusion of fashion and technology with UK-based (Indian origin) designer Priya Ahluwalia’s Symphony Unlocked project allowing customers to discover each garment’s unique story through QR codes. These codes revealed the design inspiration, production processes, and material origins, blurring the lines between the physical and digital realms. This innovation connects customers with the journey of their clothes, from manufacturing to retail, fostering a deeper connection with their products.

The Future of Fashion

According to the Fashion Revolution 2022 ‘Fashion Transparency Index 50 percent of the world’s largest fashion brands disclose little or no information about their supply chain. Only 12% of brands worldwide provide information about their raw material suppliers.

With the entire supply chain gearing up for COP 28 in UAE, December 2023, fulfilling the Paris Agreement terms and targets are of utmost importance. And, transparency through Digital transformation will facilitate the way forward.

It will not be just about wearing clothes, it will be about telling a story—the story of each garment’s journey, from conception to recycling. Through compelling narratives, visuals, and digital experiences, fashion brands can engage consumers in a deeper dialogue about sustainability, ethics, and the true value of their products. Social media influencers, fashion journalists, fashion PRs and other fashion communicators will have an important role to play in building this story-telling, immersive content to enable brands to showcase their commitment to transparency and the circular economy.

It’s no more just about fashion, it’s a digital fashion revolution.

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