Following the success of their SPF Runway competition, ESCP students reflect on the sustainability challenges facing the fashion industry and where new technologies can make a difference with the example of Staiy.
It has always been imperative that fashion not be consistent. Looking at fashion over the decades, it is easy to see change, easy to be stunned by all the facets it offers, easy to be convinced to buy new clothes, new shoes, and self-express in new ways.
As a result, the industry has been growing at about 5.5% annually, with its total value at about US $2.5 trillion, before the pandemic.
A significant part of this growth is fast fashion, a term coined in the 2000s to describe the quick turnover of designs moving from the catwalk to current fashion trends. The process includes retailers focusing on key supply chain elements to emphasize increased manufacturing speeds and low costs. Fast fashion has transformed the market by focusing on simplicity, convenience and affordability.
We can no longer overlook the environmental and social implications of the industry
Over the past 15 years, the growing middle-classes have been doubling their consumption of clothing while the lifetime utility of clothing has been steadily decreasing. Driven mainly by the ‘fast fashion’ phenomenon, the consequences of this growth are dire, to say the least.
Ninety-two million tons of waste are created per year, while 79 trillion litres of water are consumed annually to keep up with the production of cotton and other textiles.
Furthermore, the use of chemicals in all stages of production have a significant impact on freshwater systems, soil stability and biodiversity due to runoff and pollution from textiles. For example, approximately 200,000 tons of dyes are lost to runoffs due to inefficiencies in the production processes.
One cannot overlook the social implications of the industry, problems that the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated.
Forced and child labour, excessively long working hours, low pay, repression of trade unions, lack of job security, gender/race-based discrimination, and dangerous working conditions still characterize garment manufacturing.
In all the chaos of COVID-19, alone in Bangladesh, over US $3 billion worth of orders have been cancelled, a loss that has affected 2.27 million workers. Through our research, we have come to find that one must understand the connectedness of the global economic system to assess the sustainability of the wider industry and the structure it is embedded in.
Looking at all this, it is easy to see that making a change to how a whole industry and its target groups produce and consume in a sustainable manner (SDG 12) while also “fostering sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth“ (SDG 8) is quite the feat.
Awareness about the future of fashion needs to be addressed on and off the runway
To raise awareness about the fashion industry’s future and further understand how we can accelerate its transition towards more sustainable practices, we organised a runway competition to reward fashion designers that promote sustainable practices.
In creating the SPF Runway Project, we came to find that we were not alone. Not at all. On the journey to the final event, and while the students of fashion design were already working on their outfits, they gathered with like-minded people, entrepreneurs, and designers who see the value and potential that sustainability offers to the industry and the world.
Among them was Staiy, an online sustainable fashion marketplace and one of their main supporters. Selling, writing, evaluating, and probably breathing sustainable fashion, Staiy is the frontrunner of a new generation.
Introducing Staiy, an innovative, tech-enabled sustainable fashion marketplace
Staiy assigns “grades” to clothing, defining their level of sustainability via set criteria. Then, working with AI (Artificial Intelligence) to detect customers’ preferences, Staiy marries the concepts of sustainability and technology.
Only after one year as a company, they’ve already written a sustainability report for the year 2020, which outlines their approach toward achieving environmental, social, and economic sustainability to become market pioneers quickly.
This report follows the GRI (Global Reporting Initiative) to detail their impact and progress across various business areas.
Staiy evaluates brands through five pillars (water, air, materials, working conditions, and supply chain).
Last but not least, Staiy introduced a new pillar, the commitment pillar, which evaluates brands based on participation in social projects, engagement with NGOs, profit sharing, initiatives for improved working conditions, etc.
And to show their own commitment, they have already started partnerships with organizations like One Tree Planted and 1% for the planet.
Nevertheless, Staiy does not just evaluate brands, but, as mentioned before, it uses AI to provide customers with style-based, personalised offerings of apparel on their platform, which discourages overconsumption and makes sure customers are making a good investment through their purchases.
To do this, they use customer-oriented KPIs to enhance their ability to retain and increase the number of customers that engage in conscious consumption through their platform.
Their primary strategy for impacting the fashion industry stems from their unique evaluation methodology, as explained above.
This methodology was formatted as a questionnaire for fashion brands and went hand in hand with the UN Sustainable Development Goals of 2015. This ensures that Staiy is aligned with internationally agreed-upon standards of values and behaviours.
What about sustainable fashion on the runway?
At the SPF Runway Final Event, five competing teams presented their work which exceeded all expectations. Because each outfit was so unique and exemplified the values of innovation and sustainability, all five competing teams will be able to present their work in the following Paris fashion week thanks to another one of their supporters, Studio Zeta.
Although it will take much more to create significant change in the industry and, therefore, our world, small projects like SPF are the stepping stones that form the awareness needed to improve the fashion industry for the better.
At the event, each of these brands went more in detail about what sustainability means to them and which steps they are taking to improve their operations because there is not just one way to be 100% sustainable, yet it all starts with minor changes.
From fashion designers to business managers, from CEO’s to your average Joes, we all have to be taking strides together to create sustainable practices that ensure a better future for all industries and the world.
About SPF Runway
SPF is a project made by students for students. Back in September 2020, Cecilia Beltramone, Emilia Kuelps, Riccardo Zanini, Joseph Berger, Marcos Collins, and Bruna Alessandri Bonetti started this initiative to combine their passions and create something that will motivate fashion students to foster long-term innovation in their profession.
As part of this next generation graduating university soon enough, it is easy to feel the weight of the world on your shoulders as climate change increases and keeps negatively affecting people’s lives all around the world.
With that in mind, this small group of students set off to find a way to help. They decided to analyse the fashion industry and see where help was needed and where they could have a significant impact. They narrowed it down to helping students of fashion design; the idea being as non-fashion experts, how could they help these students navigate the ever-changing landscape of the design and fashion industry. They aimed to create an opportunity for these students to stand out and to be rewarded for designs that promote sustainable practices. And they did just that through their competition, SPF Runway.
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