Customization, faux fur and biofabrication could be components of the future fashion supply chain and some companies are leveraging these innovative methods to meet consumer demands for personalized, cruelty-free and sustainable garments.
At the “Innovation is Always in Fashion,” panel during the NRF Big Show 2018 on Tuesday, three companies—Unmade, House of Fluff and Modern Meadow—came together to address challenges with the current fashion supply chain, including animal fur and skin use, apparel pollution and failure to create relevant products.
Moderated by Karen Harvey, chief executive officer of Karen Harvey Consulting Group and founder of the Fashion Tech Forum & INDX, the panel highlighted how customization, fur alternatives and biofabrication could enable fashion brands to develop desirable products for consumers and reduce their carbon footprint.
“What we are talking about today is the real possibility of designing, manufacturing and selling products from the point of view of zero waste. This is an incredible topic that’s very much on the mind of people we work with in luxury and retail,” Harvey said. “These people are leading the way in educating and helping the industry embrace new methods of design and selling products.”
Placing consumers first could improve the fashion supply chain and Unmade is shaking up the garment production process with its curated customization approach.
The London-based company developed a platform where fashion brands can offer personalized products and manufacture them for consumers. Unmade works with fashion brands, so consumers can design and customize the individual garments they would like to order. Using the Unmade customization editor, consumers can adjust a garment’s material, color and size according to their tastes. Fashion brands then execute the consumers’ garment preferences through a data flow to factories, where consumers’ garments are then produced and delivered to consumers.
With curated customization, fashion brands are still in control of their industrial manufacturing, but consumers are more involved in the design and garment production process. By enabling the consumer to tailor products according to their needs, fashion brands can create more relevant products and help curb global apparel waste.
“There’s been a huge way the industry has changed in terms of fashion because people are looking for unique products,” said Ben Alun-Jones, panelist and co-founder of Unmade. “If you look at the supply chain, how does it respond to the way people shop? Ten percent of products made each season goes to landfill because what’s being made is not what customers want.”
Unmade, which has collaborated with many fashion companies, including Opening Ceremony and Farfetch, in addition to designer Christopher Raeburn, aims to bring its curated customization solution to more apparel companies this year so consumers’ preferences can play a bigger part in the greater fashion supply chain.
“By changing the software process, machinery, logistics and factories that you are using already, you can shift the industry to on-demand,” Alun-Jones added. “With on-demand, you can open up all sorts of things about customization involving the customer and the product.”
[Read more about how companies are innovating to meet consumers’ needs: How Levi’s Blends Heritage and Innovation to Win Over New Customers, Former Fans]
Shifting material sourcing can also remedy the fashion supply chain and New York-based House of Fluff is fulfilling consumers’ call for fur free products.
Founded by CEO and creative director Kym Canter, House of Fluff incorporates earth-friendly materials and recycled materials into its apparel and accessories products. House of Fluff’s products are made locally in New York City and the company even uses scraps from its factory floor to facilitate a no waste presence. House of Fluff, which primarily sells online, recently opened a pop-up shop in New York, where every product features re-purposed materials. The goal of House of Fluff is to create a shopping alternative for the consumer that loves the qualities of fur without harming animals or the planet.
“The House of Fluff goal is to let everyone have a guilt-free fashion experience and let you feel as beautiful on the inside as you can look on the outside,” Canter said. “Killing an innocent animal for the sake of vanity is very unattractive.”
Biofabrication is another possibility for the fashion supply chain and Modern Meadow is re-imagining leather by making the staple material without one ingredient—the animal itself.
The New Jersey-based company is designing, growing and putting together living cells, including collagen found in animals, to develop biofabricated leather material. Modern Meadow engineered the material with a special DNA process to meet the same aesthetics and feel of conventional leather following fashion brands’ requests for an alternative to leather, which has caused some controversy with animal rights groups and other environmental organizations.
“Clearly, the industry and the brands are looking for these solutions, people may be surprised to know,” said Suzanne Lee, panelist and chief creative officer of Modern Meadow. “Even before the company was set up, the inception point was fashion companies saying to our CEO, ‘if you can grow human skin, can you grow animal skin.’ That was a demand from the fashion industry to begin with.”
Last Fall, Modern Meadow launched Zoa, a biofabricated leather material brand created with collagen and possessing the same functional and performance features of conventional leather. Modern Meadow said it is working with many brands to expand the biofabricated leather’s presence this year.
“The challenge is not persuading people that they should adopt to new materials, the challenge getting them to understand the R&D timeline to bring this material to the market,” Lee added. “We don’t want to create something that just appears on the catwalk, we are developing materials that can go into the supply chain for a long time.”