Making fashion more eco-friendly with artificial intelligence

In this digital age, it is important to exhaust tools at our disposal while also leveraging new technologies that could play a key role in transforming an industry as massive as the fashion industry. A few weeks ago I discussed how the fast paced trends can be predicted using natural language processing (NLP) to better help companies, manufacturers and designers keep up with the changing styles and trends of their target audience.

This week I'll be focusing mainly on the manufacturing and logistic side of things, trying to understand how AI can be used to optimize these processes in a way that will help to reduce waste and pollution, and make the fashion industry more sustainable.

The first point that comes to mind is being able to use an AI algorithm that sifts through the pages of clothes and accessories on a website to identify what isn't selling. This would be especially useful for big brands like Fashion Nova, Forever21 and Amazon that sell hundreds of thousands of clothing items. When you are able to identify what isn't selling you can better understand what your audience is looking for. Or you might go back to the drawing room; is there something in the product that can be improved to better serve your customers? Or is it a marketing strategy issue where people don’t even know that such an item exists? You also get a better understanding of what you'll need for inventory and reduce (or eliminate) the manufacturing of those products that aren't being sold.

On the other hand, such an algorithm can be used to 'group' items that are being bought by a specific sub-group, thereby allowing brands to better serve their different customer bases rather than trying to serve the majority. What this does is it allows them to understand their buyers better, build a more targeted marketing approach (more selective ads and curated online presence for customers), while also reducing inventory.

Another point to mention would be how AI can be used in supply chain management to improve routes (and overall logistics), while reducing shipping times and costs by being able to predict or immediately pick up on unexpected circumstances and alternate routes. Understanding how to optimize supply chain processes is constantly top of mind for both small and large businesses as a means to reduce labor and cost, and improve overall customer satisfaction.

This could mean an automated logistical process whereby retailers are able to better plan for deliveries to their brick-and-mortar or directly to customers.

The last point I want to discuss is the ability to replace physical sampling of clothes in the real world with a digital method. Brands can reduce their carbon footprint by investing in 3-D fashion designs as a means to replace real-life trial testing which uses models and fashion runways. Fashion companies typically go through many iterations of sampling clothes before they are ready to be launched or put up on their website. Rather than creating the physical clothes, which would have to be manufactured, altered, tested over and over again, a more sustainable alternative would be using to test the clothes on the models using photo-real animations. Finesse and The Fabrikant is currently leading the way in digital-only clothing as a means to help brands become more eco-friendly.

Ultimately, it'll take a few years (or even decades) for such futuristic ideas to be adopted by the majority. The fashion industry produces 92 million tonnes of waste each year and consumes 79 trillion liters of water and is also responsible for 10% of humanity's carbon emissions. The adoption of sustainable practices - from supply chain, to manufacturing to consumers own choices - is crucial.

The chemicals used in the textiles which are used to make our clothes make it incredibly hard for moderns clothes to be recycled. Majority of our clothes end up being thrown in a landfill, incinerated or disposed of in a third world country. This is especially true for fast fashion , which is now producing almost twice the amount of clothing compared to the year 2000. To even produce these textiles (i.e., nylon, cotton, polyester) requires a large amount of energy and water. The end result is the production of nitrous oxide which is a greenhouse gas that’s 300 times more powerful than carbon dioxide.

At this point, I assume your mood is probably a bit grim (my bad!). Here are a few practices I've taken up in my person life to help me reduce my carbon footprint:

  1. Remembering that brands only make what people want / buy. By dissociating myself from them I am less likely to get pulled into any marketing scheme trying to convince me that I need yet another pair of shoes!

  2. I recently got into thrifting and donated 65% of my wardrobe this past summer!

  3. I'm a lot more conscious about the quality of clothes I buy. Instead of looking for the cheapest option, I try to ask myself how long I want a piece of clothing to last. If I don’t care how long it lasts, then I probably don’t need it. But if I do want it to last long (a good Chelsea boot, a winter coat), then investing extra money to make sure it's still wearable 2+ years from now is a long term investment I'm willing to make.

  4. If there's a specific clothing item I need for an event (like a dress) but I know I will probably never wear it again, I try to borrow from my sisters or close friends rather than buying it new

As a fashion lover, I'm always looking for new ways to be more sustainable so let me know if there are any practices you've adopted to reduce your carbon footprint!