Focus on sustainability, climate change and its connection to the fashion and apparel industry is nothing new, In fact, over the last few years the word “sustainable” has become a “must have“ theme when it comes to any fashion product, process, technology or event. Nevertheless, besides a minority of devoted activists like Greta Thunberg and a bunch of climate change deniers (self-named “climate change skeptics”), the majority of people in our industry don’t take the issue of sustainability seriously, but rather approach it like a fashion trend as opposed to a serious problem. To be honest, sometimes I’m skeptic too. Not about the climate change, and the need to adopt sustainable practices; my doubt lies in the real meaning and the bottom line impact of declarations made by some companies to commit to sustainable practices.
I’m keen to understand why we don’t take it seriously enough? I’d like to suggest a psychological reason: we don’t really care about something unless if affects us directly. As our relation to a specific person or specific event is more distanced, the less we think of it as related to us. This is a default survival mechanism that has successfully served us as humans for millions of years. As a result, our actions are strictly prioritized; nobody runs to put out his neighbour’s house fire when he has a fire in his own home. But, today, the game is changed. Take the coronavirus as an example of how something that happens somewhere in China can overnight appear as our own problem with unpredictable outputs. In today’s world we should think how we can expand the circle of our own priorities, seeking to collaborate with our business partners, suppliers, and even those that we call “competitors” in order to prevent the next, more dangerous fire. First, we have to admit: sustainability is not a fashion trend, it’s a serious problem! Second, we have to realize: sustainability is a global problem and we are a part of it. Finally, we have to understand: there is no more “us and they”, we are all ONE and our home, planet Earth, is on fire!
“The great solution to all human problems is individual transformation.” Vernon Howard
3D, CAD and PLM: what is the next challenge?
From the early days of 3D and PLM we all have assumed the benefits: save design and development time, reduce the number of physical samples, reduce time to market, then reduce costs. Now, with raising awareness about sustainability, 3D and PLM vendors stand before a new challenge: how to expand and reprioritize the existed functionality in order to be able to support the smooth pass of our industry into a sustainable future.
Needless to say that design and product development in a 3D environment are purely sustainable. Nevertheless, the brutal part that is responsible for 10% of the global carbon footprint does not come precisely from the physical prototypes, but from the unbearable volume of fashion products, which are produced in huge quantities, utilizing natural recourses and after a short time of use finding their way to the landfills.
Recycling! Recycling can be a proportional antidote to our unsustainable reality. Recycling can take different forms: recycling of old garments into new materials, recycling as reuse (second hand market), clothes for rent, repair of old or damaged clothes, and finally redesign, reconstruction and reassembling of old textile products into new fashion styles.
The question is, are 3D, CAD and PLM systems ready to help to scale up those recycling methods? Historically, PLM systems are designed to support the linear product lifecycle from design and development, through sourcing and production into distribution and sales. But when a garment is sold to a consumer, after 30 days of the return and exchange option, the traces of that garment are completely lost.
I expect that increasing awareness in the urgency of circular economy models will push the development of PLM systems accordingly. It means that PLM system should be able to absorb a garment for any recycling process even years after the sale.
3D: make it ‘til you make it
As well as PLM, 3D systems should be also prepared to assimilate sustainable practices. Even today, 3D solutions allow design and developing of limitless styles with unlimited color and material options. This design freedom allows production with the scope of chosen designs and keep alternatives as a contingency plan. Using the same principles, 3D can become even more indispensable when it comes to recycling. The array of styles prepared in advance can serve as an accelerator of recycling methods into industrial scale. Imagine for a moment: a garment that has been in use for several years can get a new life by redesigning, disassembling and assembling again into a totally new and updated style!
Digital fashion: it’s here to stay!
In the coming years we will see that the relatively new tendency of digital fashion will continue to grow, contributing its part and establishing itself as a relevant, sustainable alternative. We may expect that, similar to regular fashion, digital fashion will take various directions. Some may co-exist with those already established, known as luxury and street, sophisticated and bohemian. Although, we can expect that totally new, unpredictable directions will emerge.
This is likely to happen because design in a 3D environment brings with it unprecedented freedom that is not necessarily restricted by the laws of physics that traditional fashion is restricted to. In addition, the immediate feedback and continuity that 3D simulation provides, leverages the design process to new heights – a situation that is not accessible to designers that work under the traditional conditions.
We need to start now
We have to admit, the change to sustainable methods is urgent, and we need to start now! We must adopt the sustainable alternative of: reuse, redesign, recycle, and respect.
Let’s think less about the cost and more about the value. Sustainability can cost more in the beginning, but it will all pay off in the future!