Close your eyes for a moment to the ongoing hype surrounding generative AI (artificial intelligence), and you’ll remember that AI isn't novel. If anything, we can attribute its current boom - and that of other Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies - to one of those “being at the right place at the right time” moments. This one, in particular, is plagued by the desperate need to solve climate change and other concurrent problems.
Which leads us to the fashion industry. Recent years have seen brands make lofty, almost overly ambitious, commitments to sustainability. With the rate of progress lagging far behind the rate of rising global temperatures, the attainability of such goals remains in doubt.
That said, one technology with massive potential to transform almost every aspect of the industry is AI. Read on as we look at the ways it’s being used to support the transition towards sustainable fashion.
1. Predictive analytics to combat overproduction
One of the biggest hurdles for sustainable fashion is overcoming excess everything. Typically, companies spend a lot of time, money, and effort, to forecast and design for trends. More often than not, this leads to the production of clothes that don’t sell - even at the bargain bins of major discount stores. Simultaneously, fast fashion is also to blame. The cycle of constant creation to fuel constant buying has only resulted in shameful levels of excess inventory and clothes waste that are creating problems worldwide - even for non-players.
AI algorithms are able to more accurately predict consumer demand patterns based on target market/s, historical data, social media trends, and whatever other factors are chosen. It takes out a huge chunk of uncertainty and human error so that resources are invested in clothes that will actually sell. By analysing this information, brands can properly optimise production, reducing the risks of overstocking and waste.
A few years ago, Tommy Hilfiger collaborated with IBM and FIT to show how AI can not only speed up the creative process, but also improve demand predictions for hyper-localised products. Without sacrificing creativity in the process. At present, French conglomerate LVMH is in partnership with Google Cloud to leverage AI and cloud solutions for enhanced forecasting, inventory management, and overall customer experiences.
2. Better supply chains and resource management
This next point is closely related to the previous one. Fashion’s supply chain, for international brands especially, is complicated and extensive - from raw materials suppliers and external producers, to logistics and retail partners. The game has many moving parts, and more parts equals more byproducts.
Eco-luxury label Eileen Fisher teamed up with sustainable design and technology consultancy Pentatonic to assess the operations of over 200 brands, analysing impact and offering solutions. Last 2022, they released a report that found 96 per cent of emissions stem from fashion’s supply chains.
AI-based solutions can provide real-time data and analytics, allowing brands to track and monitor their entire production process. Eventually, this means having the ability to identify inefficiencies and make data-driven decisions to improve resource (energy and water) consumption savings. No excuses.
3. Sustainable materials sourcing
Raw materials selection - those that are environmentally-friendly, ethically-made, and more - is a key component of sustainable fashion. But direct control over suppliers isn’t 100 per cent guaranteed, so organisations rely on third-party audits to ensure compliance with environmental and labour regulations. Adding to that, keeping a close watch on hundreds of suppliers is no easy feat - even for large companies.
So AI comes into the picture in two ways. First, it can look at a clothes design, identify the materials needed, and make suggestions based on set parameters - such as natural fibres, suppliers with no history of violations, and so on. Second, it can help brands assess their sustainability efforts and evaluate their progress as a whole.
Prewave is a German-based AI company that allows clients to monitor suppliers. It combs the internet for any possible information on sustainability violations - related to the environment, labour, governance (i.e. corruption) - and sends risk alerts. Although they don’t operate in fashion just yet, they’re an example of a powerful tool for businesses that truly want to pursue sustainability.
4. Personalised shopping away from overconsumption
Finally, AI can help enhance the shopping experience. Think virtual assistants, chatbots, and AI-powered platforms.The clothes and textiles that go to landfills represent losses of billions of dollars. If people are satisfied with what they buy, ideally, they hold on to those pieces longer. As a result, there’s less harm done to the environment, less waste, and collective production should (hopefully) slow down over time.
Algorithms can power personalised recommendations for shoppers, leading them to discover sustainable fashion brands suited to their personal preferences. Brands themselves can also take advantage of AI to study user data and purchase history, and suggest better-made alternatives, encouraging buyers to make sustainable choices.
Here, AI comes in so many forms. We’ve compiled a short list of some interesting AI companies that support - directly and indirectly - sustainable consumption:
1. Stitch Fix - a styling service, where real stylists use AI data for decision-making. They have a special focus on social impact: workplace equity, local community or foundation support, and a code of conduct for responsible production, to name a few initiatives.
2. EyeFitU - a try-on tool, so people are more likely to buy the right size. Fewer returns mean avoiding waste and emissions. Did you know? SANVT is using AI through EyeFitU on all product pages. This allows customers to find their perfect fit in a matter of seconds. Learn more about the SANVT sizing here.
Clearly, AI has a huge role in realising sustainable fashion. From supply chain management to personalised recommendations, designed with positive impact in mind, it can help the industry embrace and adopt sustainable change at every stage. Not only can brands lower their environmental footprint, but they would be better positioned to meet the demands of increasingly conscious folk.