AI is leading the charge for sustainable fashion

Written by: Samantha Wolhuter

In our previous article on sustainable fashion, we looked at the top technologies disrupting the bad practice of fast fashion, helping brands and retailers offer more conscious fashion choices to their customers. In this article, we will take a broader look at how AI and intelligent automation are assisting in creating green fashion.

While one might wish that the global fashion industry had suddenly grown a conscience altruistically, the reality is that Millennials (the generation with the buying power right now) are creating the demand for more sustainable practices from all the brands they love and support. While some fashion houses have adopted more low-tech changes within their businesses, a great deal have turned to the tech world to find answers to some of the more complicated issues facing their transition to greener products.

1. Fashion meets the circular economy

The market for second-hand items is on the rise.

The simplest way for us to reduce mass production is by rehoming old clothing. Whether it’s called second-hand or vintage, all types of used clothing are being given a new lease on life. In fact, the second-hand clothing market is set to be worth a whopping $64 billion by 2024. More and more clothing swap, share and hire sites have been popping up and currently, China has the world’s largest sharing economy for everything from bicycles to cars to homes and now fashion. According to a World Economic Forum report, the Chinese resale and rental fashion market will account for around 20% of the country’s GDP as soon as 2025. 

AI has begun to bolster the second-hand market with the likes of Rent the Runway, using machine learning to predict the fashion items you might like best. But that’s not all, by running their model through AI they’re able to determine the stock count required for items, anticipate the season’s hottest looks and ensure they have the correct sizing in store for their customers. Interestingly, AI is also helping them identify users who are abusing the service, logging damages to clothing and how often a user might ‘lose’ an item. 

2. Sourcing sustainable materials

Some textiles and material are simply just harder on the environment than others. AI helps by ‘looking’ at a design, identifying the required materials to make that particular item and then finding similar textiles that manufacturers can use that are less onerous on the environment. Further to that, the use of 3D modelling has helped manufacturers streamline their greening processes significantly. This AI-enhanced technology can be used to find alternatives to synthetic material, while still allowing the original vision of the item to be created. You’re able to model how it will crease, how the fabric will fall and you can even work out how much ‘give’ the fabric has to determine sizing better.  

3. Reducing inventory

One of the biggest wastes of the fashion industry are unsold items. In the past, clothing manufacturers, fashion buyers and retailers were using the ‘guestimate system’ to work out how many items need to be created and bought. Over decades, while the ‘system’ has been refined, all too often there is an over-production of items that just don’t move. When this happens, occasionally that material is reused but more often than not, it lands up at the dump. AI has the capacity to take the guesswork out of it all and reduce inventory levels by as much as 50%. Using large quantities of data AI has shown to be effective at working out how many size 8 consumers a brand might have by looking at previous sales. Say your sales split was 35% size 8 and 50% size 10, you’ll want to be producing 15% more size 10 items. 

But AI can make even smarter predictions – let’s talk bikinis. Most women will agree that their size on top might not necessarily fit their size at the bottom. AI has the capacity to calculate these more complex ratios; say manufacturing a 2:1 ratio of small bikini bottoms to small bikini tops. 

4. Personalise styling

Source: Stitch Fix

Stitch Fix is leading the way in terms of utilising AI smarts and human stylist flair to create personalised styles for their consumers. The company uses machine learning algorithms to match what you answered in your style quiz, to the products in stock from more than 1000 retailers and brands. The site even has a social impact tab that explains exactly what Stitch Fix’s mission is within the sustainability space. This is a company that was built around sustainability rather than having to adapt to more sustainable models. 

5. Enhanced purchasing experiences

For those that are sustainable-first consumers, AI has made it possible for you to find the kinds of fashion that suit your set of ethics. More and more people have shifted to purchasing items online. Now you can ask Alexa (or any other virtual assistant), for recommendations for a pair of shoes that fit your outfit from stores that actually sell sustainable merchandise. Looking for those businesses and brands that have developed more environmentally friendly practices has never been so easy. Furthermore, your virtual assistant is able to keep track of the stores you purchase from the most so that you’re offered options that fit your style and taste. 

A quick mention 

In our previous article, we made mention of the use of 3D modelling for virtual samples to ensure the reduction of sample production which is of course an AI technology.  There are also solutions that allow you to do virtual fittings, which have shown to not only reduce the stress consumers feel when purchasing clothing but can also be an instrument for size and trend prediction. Petite women aren’t going to go for styles that make them look shorter, and men with a penchant for trainers aren’t suddenly going to start wearing dress shoes every day. 

In closing

Fast fashion’s days are numbered, but lucky for all those fashionistas out there the tech industry is making it easier and easier for all of us to shop with a cleaner conscience. It’s not just the consumers who have benefited from a little peace of mind. Businesses are also seeing a very welcome upside. From using more sustainable textiles to actually limiting the amount of stock created, many businesses have noted higher financial returns as a result of being more environmentally conscious. So the choice to go green really is a win-win for everyone. 

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Last modified: August 9, 2021
Author info
Samantha Wolhuter
Sam is in charge of writing a big portion of WeAreBrain’s creative content. She is a digital nomad always on the go, inspiring us with her words from some of the world's most beautiful locations.
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