From Mushrooms to Metaverse: Where is Sustainable Fashion’s Future Headed?

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“Future-wear” is no doubt a trend, since the pandemic, whether in Marine Serre luxury face masks and lunar bodystockings, or Balenciaga exoskeletons and blackout catsuits. As fashion reflects a culture and place in time, it suggests that the future is, well, right now.

Almost two years into the Roaring ’20s 2.0, we witness the fate of fast fashion; an overexploited and environmentally damaging industry that values convenience and profit over quality and ethics. Fast fashion has changed the way we interact with clothing and shop for our needs. As social media fuels increasingly fast trend cycles and makes styles more disposable than ever before, the volume of clothing produced yearly reaches unprecedented peaks. Between 2000 and 2014, garment purchases increased by 60 percent per capita and customers keep clothing half as long as they did a few decades ago.

While the blame cannot be placed on most every brand we enjoy, but rather the framework they’re made to be complicit in to operate, hopefully sooner rather than later all brands and fashion lovers will adopt long-term efforts to make fashion as sustainable as possible. It’s going to need to be a team effort between clothing-wearers and clothing-makers.

The basics of reduce, reuse, and recycle will always apply – and strictly in that order. Reduce your purchases and waste first, reuse vintage items, and recycle your clothing by reselling, donating, or revamping. But that’s not enough to color the industry green. And mass-producing half-sustainable garments that only add to fashion’s towering pile of discards won’t either.

What does real sustainability look like in fashion?

Well, firstly, it’s looking lot more individualistic. As the industry embraces body diversity, the clothing reflects the culture shift, venturing farther than standard “inclusive” sizing. The idea of mass-producing generic-fitting clothing is no longer viable, as slow fashion that’s made with quality and the potential for a lifetime of use is prioritized. In a few decades, our clothes will fit to us, in made-to-measure bespoke sizes. Some brands are beginning to 3-D body scan customers for their best fit, and storing their measurement data for future purchases and easy online shopping.

Standardized sizes will be a thing of the past, from blouses to shoes, and clothing will be physically accessible and directly represent the consumer. Vanity sizing, a.k.a “Insanity sizing,” speaks to customer frustration and large scale clothing returns based on out-of-touch fits. Fashionista reported that 0 billion worth of clothing is purchased online yearly, though shoppers return about 40% of their online purchases mainly due to sizing issues. Not only does made-to-measure ensure a positive shopping experience, it also reduces brand overstock, since inaccurate fits hinder conversion rates, and overall textile waste.

Additionally, the future of fashion will focus on reclaiming, mending, and prolonged wear, even for lesser-quality casual clothing – so make sure you have a good tailor lined up. Ideally, a ‘circular’ production chain will be widely adopted, where no scrap is put to waste. The Environmental Protection Agency found that Americans produce 16 million tons of textile waste per year, where, on average, three million tons of clothing are incinerated, and 10 million tons are buried in landfills. Brands may adopt Patagonia’s “Don’t Buy This Jacket” approach, from the brand’s 2011 Black Friday ad in the New York Times.

The “Common Threads Initiative” campaign presents an image of a polar fleece, which the viewer is advised not to purchase, alongside statistics informing that 36 gallons of water are required to produce it (enough to hydrate 45 people on a given day) and 20 pounds of carbon dioxide is emitted in the process (24 times the product’s weight). The point of the was to increase awareness toward necessity, where a Patagonia shopper need not an extra jacket, since theirs is designer to last a long time. The brand presented 4 R’s: Reduce, Repair, Reuse, Recycle. The pledge assumes the responsibility to the planet to mend garments instead of discarding, with Patagonia’s help, and embraces the ‘circular’ model, as the brand accepts and resells unwanted products. The fifth “R” is Reimagine, “Together we reimagine a world where we take only what nature can replace.

Levi, Strauss & Co. recently endorsed their new mantra “Buy Better, Wear Longer,” promising to, “make products that are sourced in better ways, from better materials, crafted at the highest quality and made to be extremely durable. And you? Just keep wearing the products you love for as long as possible.” The denim company known for their durability aims towards a 2025 goal of 100% sustainably sourced cotton, 100% renewable energy in owned & operated facilities, 40% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. Acknowledging that sustainable developments will always be a work in progress, Levi’s is also committed to a 50% reduction in manufacturing water use in water-stressed areas in 2030. It’s not impossible for the industry to turn a new leaf in these ways, and successful names like Patagonia and Levi’s are proof of it. It’s a feat that may not be immediately possible for younger and smaller labels, but massive corporations that fuel fast fashion and reproduce seemingly every week to keep up with trends surely have the funds to rethink traditional operations.

Fashion will also need to embrace the use of biodegradable and sustainable materials, such as recycled fabric and plant-based leather. It’s a necessary next step because fashion overly relies on fossil fuel-derived synthetic materials in garment production, such as polyester and nylon, and make up 65% of clothing. It’s estimated that 342 million barrels of nonrenewable crude oil are used each year for these cheap textiles. Not only are these garments low-quality and only useful short-term, specifically the amount of time it takes for a trend to pass, they also will never decompose and sit in landfills for the rest of the Earth’s life. Natural cotton even requires a lot of water, pesticides, and fertilizer, which exhausts resources and results in chemical runoff which endangers ecosystems

Mushroom leather is fashion’s newest scientific feat, though designers have been experimenting with plant-based and cruelty-free leather for years. Most recently, Stella McCartney introduced fungi on the runway for Spring 2022 (designed with recycled nylon and fabrics) and leather authority Hermès plans to debut a shroom-based handbag. The leather-like material is made of mycelium, which is regenerative and feeds on natural resources, and can be simply reproduced in a lab. Besides hardware and zippers, these garments will eventually biodegrade. It won’t work as vintage piece in a few hundred years, but that’s the point.

Digital fashion is another invention that will solve the waste crisis, in fact it yields no waste at all. Dubbed “fashion’s newest frontier,” digital 3D designed garments are like nothing we’ve shopped for before (unless you’re a video gamer). It gained traction during the pandemic when much of the industry shut down, but presented the opportunity for designers to make digital prototypes that would eventually streamline production after lockdown and save on material costs and waste. Mark Zuckerberg’s reveal of Facebook’s Metaverse will open a new outlet for luxury brands and fashion lovers alike. “You’re going to have a wardrobe of virtual clothes for different occasions, designed by different creators and from different apps and experiences,” Zuckerberg said in an interview.

Everyone’s avatar will look exactly like themselves, effectively spreading personal existence into pixels. While digital design isn’t a new concept to artists in the industry, the demand will only rise in the consumer sector as technology develops. The hunger for fashion consumption in general has never been stronger, due fast fashion trends that refresh quicker than hair grows, and digital fashion can accommodate that desire without the harmful environmental and ethical effects. It’s also essentially gender-fluid and size inclusive, as its made to fit all the digital iterations of real-life humans. In the metaverse, you can show off your new threads and post a “fit pic” without ever physically wearing, storing, altering, or mending them.

Digital fashion house Auroboros specializes in Biomimicry couture and digital-only ready-to-wear fashions. As reported by the Evening Standard, one in ten people admit to buying close exclusively to post on social media creating an overhaul of clothing that ends up in landfills each year. Auroboros’ innovative design ethos has opened a new realm in the fashion world while also answering the industry’s sustainability issues.

    Fashion’s biggest misconception among sustainable efforts is that fixing the problem means to make more stuff. “Greenwashing” and buzzwords are not only performative, likely to profit from well-meaning consumers, but also inherently counterproductive. Any item of clothing produced will need to be made with purpose and respect, in guaranteed sizing, biodegradable textiles, or pixels. Real sustainability is the future, because it has to be – as long as we want to enjoy fashion forever.

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