The digital future is knocking on our door and, finally, the fashion industry will undergo the radical changes we have been anticipating for so long. Meaning, we are excited to see how these technologies will be adopted for a radical improvement of social and environmental sustainability in the industry.

There is no secret that since the industrial revolution, the fashion industry has been frantically increasing production and lowering quality in terms of jobs and materials until we have turned fashion into the polluting out-of-control animal it has become. All this is based on an extract-use-dump system, built on the shoulders of low-paid factory workers and non-renewable natural resources.

Not to state the obvious but, since we are undergoing a revolution, wouldn’t it be wise to design the new digital future of fashion in a sustainable way so we don’t fall back into the same mistakes as before?

But now, straight into the uncomfortable truth. What is digital fashion? We hear a lot of buzz about generative AI, the metaverse, blockchain, and many more terms that are defining some of the future scenarios of fashion. However, we often don’t understand what these terms mean or how they can actually change the fashion industry.

So, let’s start from the beginning. Let’s put a tag on all these new terms flying around to put the jigsaw pieces together for a definition of digital fashion.

Sustainable fashion tech: some definitions to help

Generative AI

According to Mckinsey, “generative artificial intelligence describes algorithms (such as ChatGPT) that can be used to create new content, including audio, code, images, text, simulations, and videos. They say; “recent breakthroughs in the field have the potential to drastically change the way we approach content creation.”

This technology is generating a lot of excitement and skepticism at the same time. The reason is that generative AI algorithms can replace a lot of human capabilities associated with a lot of current jobs. And not only production jobs that the industry doesn’t care about. We are talking about head offices, well-paid, Western-world kinds of jobs. Even though AI is in the very early stages of development, the technology can create graphic identities, edit texts, create art pieces, consider complex trends on the web, and create a top 10 chart of whatever is going to sell next season… and many more things that were performed by well-paid experienced people. Obviously, nobody can be surprised that this technology is ruffling some fashion feathers.

Photo by Google DeepMind on Unsplash

The metaverse

The metaverse refers to current web spaces changing into 3d virtual spaces, accessible and shared among users. It is an immersive and virtual online world. It is the intersection of the physical and digital worlds, where augmented reality, virtual reality, and blockchain-based environments enable people to develop and live in new virtual ‘worlds’ to express themselves, connect, interact, etc. Basically like the physical world but without the restrictions of the real world.

It is an exciting and interesting idea built on the capabilities of the development of the web3, and whatever is coming afterwards. However, being “realistic”, the metaverse brings restrictions of its own. The technology needed to be able to enjoy these environments is quite expensive and not widely available. Those issues may be solved soon but we will have to wait and see. As a user, you can buy a piece of land in one of these worlds but it turns out most of the pieces of land have been sold now to people that thought it was cool, or that thought it was a good investment. Therefore, there is not much more land to buy, unless you have the money to pay for the excessive price imposed by the virtual law of supply and demand. So the people that had access to the expensive technology first, have occupied all the virtual space and now sell it to others fighting to get there. Not very inclusive if you ask me. Does it sound a bit too real-world familiar?

In the fashion context, the results are similar. The latest Metaverse Fashion Week hosted by Decentraland, dropped its attendance to fewer than 9,000 unique visitors, a staggering 92% dropoff from last year, according to third-party metaverse analytics firm GEEIQ. And the conclusions are familiar: the experience was technically clunky, the spaces were a little underwhelming and the interactions with the items were too similar to the experience of walking around a real shopping center.

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According to its co-founder, Peter Smith, Blockchain is a way of distributing a central source of truth. Let’s take the example of banks. You may have 10,000 dollars or euros in your account. You don’t really know if they are THERE. You trust the bank as a central source of truth that you have 10.000 euros in that account and that they are taking care of it. Blockchain is composed of many encrypted parts that assure you of that truth, instead of only relying on one bank. And that logic and system of truth can be applied to any asset and any industry.

So basically, blockchain technology is a decentralised tracking system and its main potential use is to allow brands to store and be aware of all the information gathered in their supply chain. Each garment could, therefore, be traced back to its raw materials, revealing production processes and ensuring it has been sustainably produced. Blockchain could be a powerful tool for building a more sustainable future. However, it requires significant energy consumption (Annualized Total Bitcoin Footprint 54.28 Mt CO2 - Comparable to the carbon footprint of Singapore).

Photo by Icons8 Team on Unsplash


And now for the technological context behind it all. The World Wide Web. According to the, “Until web3 emerged, it was impossible to create a unique digital good, as anybody could copy a picture or a video an infinite number of times with no possibility to know who had the original one. Therefore digital goods were valueless and there was no such thing as a digital luxury good.”

  • Web1 (the 2000s) refers to the emergence of the first public release of the internet
  • Web2 (2010s) arrived with new technologies and the emergence of centralized social networks and services such as Airbnb or Uber.
  • Web3 (present) is moving towards a new set of decentralized, disruptive technologies such as blockchain, extended reality (XR), and tokenization that are quickly gaining momentum and viable applications.

Sustainable Fashion Tech Examples

We’ve covered some promising technologies. But how are they being put to use in sustainable fashion? Let’s continue to put the jigsaw pieces together with some examples…

Carrefour released its first collection of NFTs the NFBees. These NFTs aimed to raise awareness of the disappearance of certain fruits and vegetables if bees were to disappear. The brand also offered an educational and fun tour in a game format about bees, using The SandBox. The campaign is not there anymore and it was probably used as a marketing campaign of sorts. Still, it is a good first step in using the world of digital fashion to change the optics and add a sustainable aspect to it.

Digital fashion can be an example of circularity, when companies create business models based on digital fashion that doesn’t need raw materials for production and that you don't really need to discard afterward. So basically you can keep producing fashion items without worrying about the impact of its materiality or its recyclability. Energy and carbon footprint is another matter. An example of this is DressX, showcased as an example of a circular business model by the Ellen Mcarthur Foundation. According to Barclay’s research, among the users of their credit cards, 9% of clothing is bought for content creation to be returned afterward. DressX allows you to buy any piece of clothing from their digital wardrobe and upload the piece on your image or video, for social media use. DRESSX prevents the production of items that might only be worn once or twice, thus successfully decoupling financial growth from the extraction of raw materials. Although we always have the question hanging around sour heads of, is this actually replacing buying new stuff - or just on top of the usual use?

Getting deeper and deeper into the development of sustainable fashion tech we have This startup uses generative AI technology to generate virtual models with an infinite range of backgrounds, and sizes and looks for a tiny bit of the cost of a real photoshoot. This way, brands can increase diversity on their e-commerce channels becoming more inclusive and therefore, sustainable. A few weeks ago Levi´s announced they will be experimenting with Lalaland´s technology and all sorts of controversy came out. The obvious claim emerged: using diverse models that are not real, makes the inclusiveness claim a bit clunky since they won´t be paying any model at all. Giving them the value they deserve for using their “image”. But they will be giving them visibility, as a collective. At least we will be discussing the ethical considerations, which is fresh air for a change.

Is it possible to be digital and sustainable?