The fashion industry is no stranger to the advent of innovation. The very nature of both the business and artistry of fashion lies in its ability to transform with time. So why has the fashion industry lagged so far behind other sectors in keeping up with sustainability? And what is the role of startups in sustainable fashion?
First, it may help to take a look back at how we got here. In the first half of the 19th century, fashion remained a slow and personal process. Local dressmaking businesses were responsible for making clothing for middle-class women, while women from lower-income households continued to make their own clothing. In the ‘60s, though, the industry started to see a shift in the habits of young people, as they began embracing cheaply made clothing to stay in the fashion loop.
Once the 1990s and 2000s rolled around, this wave of “fast fashion” took on a life of its own. People not only started embracing their low-cost clothes, but began showing them off and touting the price. Fashion trends became increasingly short-lived year over year as the cost to produce new and more diminished rapidly.
The resultant increasing demand for new clothing items is leading to an overwhelming expenditure of non-renewable resources used in industrial agriculture and production. The “wear-once and dispose” trends coming out of Zara, H&M, and the like allowed consumers to buy clothes and engage in fashion at larger scales than ever before.
In 2015, The True Cost, a documentary revealing the underbelly of the fashion industry, shocked fashion lovers and environmental activists alike. Suddenly, a new light was being shined on the true effects of the way we were doing fashion. The Rana Plaza Collapse, which killed at least 1,132 garment workers and injured more than 2,500, is often cited as the turning point for the way people see the fashion industry.
The Current State of Fashion
The Global Fashion Agenda CEO’s Report 2020 recognizes that the current model has been a powerful engine for global growth and development, but states there is a compelling business case for those who invest in long-term social and environmental sustainability, beyond short-term financial incentives. While changing established practices is not an easy feat, the authors remain convinced (as do we) that the fashion industry can act as a role model for other industries to embrace sustainability before it is too late. And innovation plays a key role in that.
BOF-McKinsey State of Fashion 2021 Report conducted a survey from fashion executives on the greatest opportunities within the fashion industry. While digital was the major front-runner in opportunity as COVID-19 persists, sustainability followed in second place. The current optimism about digital and sustainability is consistent with the widely held industry view that, despite the disruption of the pandemic, these trends will accelerate and, in turn, lead to the ongoing reset of the fashion industry.
Innovation in Sustainable Fashion: Trends
The Global Fashion Agenda names 8 top priorities for fashion sustainability, which include:
- supply chain traceability;
- combating climate change;
- sustainable material mix;
- circular fashion system;
- efficient use of water, energy, and chemicals;
- respectful and secure work environments;
- promotion of better wage systems; and
- the “Fourth Industrial Revolution.
The first Plug and Play Sustainable Fashion Initiative event kicked off in January 2021. We invited a number of panelists and startups to come together and discuss the future of sustainable fashion innovation. Of these top eight priorities, we focused on three to begin with, including circular fashion, new textiles and engineered fibers, and dyeing innovation.
10 Startups Reshaping Sustainable Fashion
Good on You
Good On You is the world’s most comprehensive brand rating system and online discovery platform for fashion. It connects conscious shoppers to fashion retailers globally. Their trusted, independent ethical brand ratings solve a real problem for the millions of consumers looking to shop better and the retailers looking to reach them.
Since 2015, this sustainable fashion startup has rated over 2,500 brands for their impact and empowered millions of shoppers to buy better. They celebrate the designers and makers who are doing good, and give retailers the tools to connect with the growing conscious consumer market.
Armadioverde is a sustainable fashion startup with a mission to become the most recommended community-based service platform for the exchange of high-street fashion in Europe.
With a growing user base, the highest customer retention rate in the industry, a collection of 200,000 affordable items, new collections published 4 times a day and a talented team in Milan, armadioverde enables its members to exchange items and revamp their style in an affordable, convenient, and sustainable way.
ECOfashion Corp is a social purpose corporation with the vision to transform the fashion and textile industries through sustainable design and a ‘source to story’ business model.
Global leader of sustainable fashion via 4 verticals: MetaWear (B2B), YES AND (D2C), and Farm to Home & Seed to Style (QVC.) From source to story and farm to finished fashion, EFC was born with environmental and social justice in its DNA. From organic/regenerative agriculture and climate action, to inclusivity and women’s empowerment, EFC is deeply committed to doing well by doing good in the world.
Presize is a size assistant for fashion e-commerce. It helps fashion retailers increase their conversion rates by eliminating size uncertainty and reduce their return rate by recommending the perfectly fitting size.
To receive a size recommendation from Presize, end-users can answer questions about their body and/or record a 7-second video of themselves turning around in front of their smartphone camera and it will give them accurate size recommendations that people buy (+50%) and keep (+50%). This makes Presize the only holistic solution on the market, delivering a result with and without a video.
New Textiles & Engineered Fibers
Dropel is a sustainable fashion startup that targets our favorite fabrics, such as cotton, and makes it possible for those fabrics to perform better for longer. Disrupting performance fabrics, Dropel uses an entirely new natural technology to maintain the things we love about them, the softness and breathability, all while adding advanced performance never before seen without compromising on hand.
By applying their patent-pending technology material science and cotton processing technology they can make clothing “life proof”, including stain proof and spill-proof. Dropel leverages material science and textile engineering to create high-performance natural fabrics that push sustainability in the fashion industry and reduce polyester-based microfibers pollution in our oceans.
Are you a corporation looking to tap into sustainable fashion? At Plug and Play, we connect the largest corporations in the industry to the best startups in the world, such as Dropel.Become a corporate partner: you’ll gain access to a network of over 30,000 future-thinking startups, as well as first-hand access to the latest trends.
Did you know that each time an item of clothing made with synthetic textiles is washed, about 1,000,000 microfibers are released? Synthetic textiles account for 65% of total fiber production, and yet only 8% of brands know their supply chain to the chemical supplier level.
Kintra Fibers is a material science company that makes high-performing and 100% bio-based polymers for textile use, formulated to keep our oceans microfiber-free. They use 100% bio-based inputs, and their polymer is 100% intrinsically compostable. This means that any Kintra fibers released through fabric laundry cycles will see their end-of-life at the compost environment within a wastewater treatment facility, instead of persisting to the ocean like traditional synthetic textiles.
Azolla is an early-stage biotechnology startup developing technology to replace toxic materials with sustainable, affordable options by converting pollution into biomaterial. Azolla’s biomanufacturing platform will empower industries to transform this CO2 into biomaterial that can be used to make everyday products, starting with textiles.
Their proprietary organism transforms CO2 into nanocellulose material for the textile industry – an industry that uses 98 million tons of non-renewable resources each year. Their unique synthetic biology approach leverages a bacterium that converts CO2 directly to nanocellulose, without fermentation, and therefore is cleaner, faster and cheaper. This sustainable fashion startup offers a unique, totally sustainable and regenerative pathway to generating this versatile material that is already widely used.
There are no other printing/dyeing technologies that take the decoloring process into consideration, which is a crucial step if the fashion industry is to ever become fully circular. Even though consumers are becoming increasingly aware of the need to be more responsible in their purchase habits, being fashionable is still a priority for most of them. Vivdye’s concept allows them to work close to the final customers, providing them with access to their fashion desires with a clear conscience.
Vividye has developed a resource-efficient dyeing technology that can be used to apply all sorts of colors and designs to textiles. Unlike other dyeing methods used in the industry today, their technology is designed to facilitate the removal of the applied color when it is no longer wanted without harming the material. In other words, it makes it possible to decolor and recolor old textiles, giving them a new life. They specialize in reversible dyeing solutions for textiles, designed to satisfy current fast fashion trends in a sustainable and safe way.
DyeCoo‘s mission is to lead the textile industry to a lean and clean future. DyeCoo’s CO₂ technology is the world’s first 100% water-free and process chemical-free textile processing solution. Providing geographical freedom from water sources and offering textile manufacturers a head start on legislation that restricts the use of hazardous process chemicals. Its low operating costs allow you to elevate your short-term results and long-term ambitions.
Werewool develops biodegradable fibers with inherent color and performance. Werewool uses microbes to produce proteins for textile fibers with built-in color and performance properties, without the use of toxic plastics, dyes or finishes. They are harnessing nature’s strategy for material performance, using functional proteins to impart desired properties like color, stretch and waterproof in their textile fibers. Their fibers reduce dependence on agriculture, livestock and petrochemicals, and cut out detrimental dyeing and finishing processes from the textile supply chain.
This is an exciting time in the fashion industry. Innovation is happening all around us. Industry leaders should explore new business opportunities and implement solutions and collaborations with startups in the space. Doing so will prove essential in future-proofing your business, and is crucial in working with humanity today to meet the needs of future generations.