5 European startups battling fast fashion
When most people think about industries with the worst environmental impacts, oil, air travel, and plastics spring to mind. Surprisingly, fashion tends to escape most of the blame.
The $3 trillion industry is the world’s second largest polluter after oil, and is responsible for 10% of all gas greenhouse emissions. More than 60% of all fabric fibers are also derived from fossil fuels.
‘Fast fashion’ has quickly been cast as responsible for these startling statistics. The term describes brands, clothes manufacturers, and marketers who emphasize high production levels (normally at a low price) with a rapid turnover of trends. Fast fashion began in the early 1990s when Zara opened in New York and brought clothes from design to store in only two weeks. Since then, fashion sales have increased exponentially. In the EU alone, the number of clothes a person buys has increased by 40% in a few decades.
This combination of cheap and accessible clothing has not only led to mass consumerism, but also a substantial carbon footprint, due to the water, energy, and chemicals used in making, transporting, and packaging the clothes.
The European Clothing Action Plan
While fast fashion is a global concern, Europe has been fast to respond. The European Clothing Action Plan (ECAP) was an initiative launched in May 2016 by UK-based organization WRAP, supported by 11 EU countries. The aim was to divert 90,000 tonnes of textiles away from landfill by 2019. The method involved working with retailers to promote the economic and environmental benefits of sustainable manufacturing processes and recycling in fashion.
A recent report documenting ECAP results stated the initiative saved over 800,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions, 50 million m3 of water, and reduced or diverted waste from landfills or incineration by 4,600 tonnes.
While the ECAP was successful in achieving its goals, preventing the effects of fast fashion is a huge undertaking. Elsewhere in Europe, these five startups are striving to make fashion sustainable, one step (or shoe) at a time.
ELSE CORP (Milan, Italy)
ELSE CORP is a 3D virtual retail platform offering cloud-based solutions for fashion brands, retailers, manufacturers, and designers. Initially founded in Milan in 2014, the startup disrupts the supply chain of fast fashion by selling made-to-measure products directly to consumers. Using artificial intelligence, the platform lets users customize and virtually fit clothing or shoes. As such, items are made on a case-by-case basis and no surplus is generated.
The end of fast fashion?
These startups are a small sample of Europe’s sustainable fashion startups but they represent a growing need to address and negate fast fashion. As more and more sustainable fashion startups emerge, they not only champion a change in the industry but a completely new model for buying and selling apparel.