Virtual try-on: shortcut to a sustainable future?
Valeriia Kravtsova / Duncan McKay
With an increasing level of uncertainty due to rising global economic risks, the energy crisis, and inflation, sustainability appears to be more important than ever.
But do we understand what it is really about? Let's answer what sustainability is and what it’s NOT first. Every now and then, businesses initiate environmentally-conscious practices. Let’s review a couple of common “sustainable” activities.
Transparency in CSR reports, where brands define their sustainable goals and strategies to make an impact and reduce their ecological footprint.
Eliminating clothes waste through the reuse of materials and garments, reducing landfill drop-offs through recycling and prolonging clothes’ usage.
Integrating biomaterial innovations to produce plant-based or lab-developed textiles instead of animal-derived fabrics.
Even though each of the activities from the above can be listed as a sustainable action, none of it makes a brand entirely sustainable.
So what makes a company truly sustainable after all? A devotion to not only ecological preservation but also to social & economical development – it's about equilibrium.
Sustainability is not a one-off, but a commitment to long-term development, a drive to sustain and maintain over time. It requires investment - it costs and takes time to become fruitful and actually make a difference.
According to the UN definition, "sustainability" has to meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. In other words, assuming that resources are limited, it is our responsibility as a society to implement such actions that will ensure a prosperous future. Just like you don't get rich by simply saving money, a sustainable future cannot be achieved when just conserving resources.
Sustainability in fashion is more than singular actions. It is an all-inclusive process that addresses the complete lifecycle and related elements involved in producing products, including the people involved (e.g., policymakers and employees’ devotion), the specific actions and required procedures.
Clearly, the fashion industry has an enormous problem its been trying to tackle for quite some time. But how big is the problem?
According to Bloomberg,
fashion accounts for global CO2 output that is more than international flights and shipping combined;
the number of garments produced each year has at least doubled since 2000, and yet 87% of the total fibre used for clothing is sent to a landfill;
clothing is thrown away after being worn on average 7 to 10 times overall;
synthetic textiles like polyester shed tiny pieces of plastic with every wash and wear;
globally, 35% of the microplastics found in oceans can be traced to textiles, making them the largest source of microplastic pollution in the world’s oceans.
Now, there are a lot of ways to improve the above. There is no magic pill or unique way to ensure fashion's sustainable development.
However, implementing fashion tech can become a differentiator or even a shortcut.
For example, digital fashion and virtual goods give opportunities to brands to generate sustainable revenues in the short term. Tracking software and Big Data technologies also improve traceability, and allow fashion brands to make meaningful progress, adding extra “credits” to their value chain. ML & AI tools can help optimize supply chain and inventory operations processes to achieve sustainable production levels. For instance, such algorithms have the capacity to gather real-time data about stock levels and consumer behaviour (dwell time on webshops, returns and demand prediction), which altogether can help in production planning to decrease the amount of clothing and material wastage.
Let's have a closer look at one of the fashion tech examples that is gaining momentum and will likely become a necessity in Web3. We are talking about virtual try-on. This state-of-the-art technology uses AI, machine and deep learning algorithms together with computer vision and allows customers to try on garments, pick the outfit and rate the fit without going to a brick-and-mortar store or waiting in long and annoying queues to the fitting room.
The benefits for consumers:
It gives them freedom of choice between offline and online shopping;
it allows brands to combine both - digital and physical, and deliver an omnichannel shopping experience, which has been proven to prompt in-store shoppers to spend 4% more and online shoppers 10% more;
with an increasing cost for online returns, virtual try-on enable consumers to find their perfect fit from the very beginning;
From a sustainability perspective, virtual try-on has a huge potential to drastically decrease return rates and inventory excess. In reality, a large portion of returns never get resold due to multiple reasons: short shelf-life of an item, supply disruptions, additional costs for recirculating returned packages - the whole reverse logistics process requires time, which may lead to the risk of returned products expiring before getting back on shelves. Not only is it costly and cumbersome, but the transportation and garments’ reproduction results in additional carbon emissions and water wastage.
Making online returns more costly for shoppers is one way of dealing with inventory excess and landfills. However, addressing the issue with technology is a game changer. Fashion brands and retailers should think about decreasing the return rates in the first place rather than making reverse logistics slightly more complicated for consumers. With more consumers finding their perfect fit from the very beginning, the material and technical support required to become more time and cost-effective, which allows brands to lower their carbon footprint and focus their efforts on further sustainable development rather than ‘superficial treatment”.
Valeriia Kravtsova (lead author)
Duncan McKay (editor)