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The future face of ethical fashion and global supply networks

In collaboration with CERN Knowledge Transfer, we explored how their particle detector technology, combined with open APIs, could lead to greater transparency in supply chains and ethical opportunities for the fashion industry - the world’s second most polluting industry (after oil).

We prototyped Shiva - a smart fashion blogger - our proposal for what the consumer experience of the fashion industry might look and feel like in the near future. Shiva draws on realtime supply chain data in order to match shopper’s style preferences with more ethical and sustainable garments.

We imagine the power of socially networked online services such as Shiva could leverage growing ethical consumer demand to catalyse a necessary shift towards more socially and environmentally responsible practices throughout the entire fashion supply chain, including a shift towards circular consumption patterns.

An emerging future system

Our research into the current state of ethical fashion revealed an emerging ecosystem of innovation being led by big fashion brands themselves, through the Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC) and the Higg Index, which now facilitates sharing of data and best practice on environmental and social standards of more than 10,000 manufacturers globally. By 2020 SAC’s ambition is to give full transparency of fashion supply chains through the Higg Index.

CERN Technology: Smart Supply Chain monitoring

Detector-enabled supply chain monitoring with CERN’s compact radio-frequency quadrupole (RFQ) linear accelerator technology, would provide reliable, real-time data to feed to support the Higg Index. An open API would allow for an array of user-centred, ethical online shopping services; Shiva is one proposal for what this consumer facing end might look and feel like.

Insight #1: The power of fashion bloggers

Based on interviews with regular fashion shoppers, we found the critical decision point in the customer shopping journey is the first point of viewing a garment, most often via fashion bloggers on Instagram, rather than an actual retail experience. It could be a missed opportunity to simply add supply chain data to garment labels.

Design response: as an ethical fashion blogger, Shiva inspires her followers with her stories and travels, showing them how the latest trends can go hand-in-hand with saving the Planet.

Insight #2: I like it, I want it

Crucially, we realised that despite shoppers best intentions, any ethical credentials would be viewed as a bonus rather then a core criteria when choosing clothes and would always be trumped by style preference.

Design response: Shiva uses Facebook Messenger and AI to match her follower’s shopping requests to more ethcial alternatives; she can also send them personalised wishlists using image-recognition of their instagram likes.

Insight #3: Lack of trusted information

Shoppers told us they have become increasingly aware of the dark side of the fast fashion industry due to tragedies such as the Rana Plaza factory collaspe in Bangladesh making mainstream news in 2015. However, despite awareness campaigns, labelling initiatives - organic, Fairtrade, H&M Concious - shoppers didn’t always fully understand or trust these. 

Design response: Shiva also acts as a personal online shopping platform for her followers; she connects to the Higg Index through an open API, revealing the true impact of each garment she picks out for you.

Insight #4: The circular economy imperative

Shockingly only 13% of clothes bought in the UK will be passed onto someone else to wear again. More likely your clothes will either end up in landfill, be incinerated, or shipped abroad to developing countries where they often undermine local manufacturers. Furthermore, the average use of a garment in the UK is a mere 4 months before it might sit idle in your wardrobe.

Design response: Shiva’s online shopping platform would prompt you to resell clothes you bought through the platform every few months, with a simple notification. These pre-worn offerings are included alongside new clothes on the platform, and Shiva community members can chat directly before buying from eachother.

Project partner: CERN Knowledge Transfer
Project team: Becky Miller, Thanyawan Eamsonthi

Year: 2017