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  • Writer's pictureJudith van Dijk

Google sets its sights on Fashion Sustainability

Updated: Jun 24, 2020

When during London Fashion Week there's a conversation scheduled to talk about "the importance of collaboration in fashion sustainability", with non other than Google, WWF, Stella McCartney and BFC... you block out your diary.

London Fashion week Spring 2021 Men’s wear kicked off last Friday 12th June 2020. The first ever all digital fashion week by one of the four fashion capitals. Anyone and everyone could attend - for free! I needed no extra incentive and I eagerly sat down on my front row seat - at home.

However, this post is not about the streamed events, designer Q&A’s or showcasing their alternative content. It’s about a conversation in which Maghan McDowell (Vogue Business), Caroline Rush (BFC); Claire Bergkamp (Stella McCartney), Laila Petrie (2050 & WWF) and Maria McClay (Google) talk about...

I can honestly say I was glued to my screen for the duration and afterwards set out on a mission to learn more. The significance of this chat may have been lost amidst the other events, after-all Fashion Week is mainly about celebrating the capitals fashion talent. But, when I spotted the discussion planned with the British Fashion Council and Google my ‘digitally attuned sensors’ went into overdrive.

‘Digitally attuned sensors’? This is a blog on all things Fashion, isn’t it? Well yes, and fashion is the main focus. However, as well as my background in the fashion industry I have also spent a large part of my career working in the Internet industry. So, when I see fashion and digital in one sentence, I get very excited.

When the digitally associated name belongs to a big boss, like Google and WWF, Stella McCartney are mentioned in the same breath, one sits-up and pays attention.

To put the significance of these companies’ paths crossing into perspective we need some background information.

Let’s start with WWF

Ikea has been working in co-operation with WWF since 2002 to address climate change. They currently have 6 pillar projects spanning their entire value chain. One of the tools they’ve developed helps them identify and map the risk and impact that various raw materials have in their textile supply chain.

This 'decision support tool' helps their sourcing teams with a products lifecycle assessment. Fundamentally, it helps them answer questions like; What impact are the fibres they source having? What does this impact mean for the environment? Where is the impact happening? What are the existing solutions and are they sufficient?

On a parallel trajectory

In 2019 at the Copenhagen Fashion Summit, Google announced a pilot in collaboration with Stella McCartney. Using Google’s powerful data technology and the information that Stella McCartney had gathered on its cotton and viscose supply chain, they had joined forces to deliver a tool aimed at giving brands a better overview of their supply chain.

The announcement was also a call-to-action inviting those close to the source to supply data, with the ambition to bring that data together in one place for everyone to access.

Synergy of collaboration

As a result of that call-to-arms and having compared notes Google and WWF have just announced their partnership on a Fashion Sustainability Platform. With the depth of WWF's knowledge on assessing raw materials and Google's Cloud technical capabilities, uniting their efforts will undeniably lead to something much bigger in a shorter space of time.

Laila Petrie (2050 & WWF)

“The idea is to take all the learnings from the IKEA data sets and what we’ve built and use the big data and algorithmic machine learning capabilities that Google has and ramp it to the next level.”

This boils down to adding 20 more commonly used materials in the fashion textile industry to the two, cotton and viscose, they had initially focused on. The goal being to provide detailed, local insights on a number of different metrics such as; emissions, water use and water pollution, and soil impact. Make it open source, visible and accessible to decision makers, thus drive more responsible and sustainable decisions.

With Fashion ranking as the third most polluting industry on our planet and 60% of that happening at the raw material stage, one can see how important it is to be able to gather data on its impact.

Although there’s an increasing effort by brands, manufacturers, governments, non-profits and academic institutions to dive deeper into the supply chain impact, the industry is frustratingly nontransparent and complex.

Trying to trace where textiles are sourced and the impact this has on our ecosystem is a mammoth task, but one that Google has firmly set its ambitions on to tackle.

For now, the project is still in its infancy and Google are predominantly working on the backend and data sets. They hope to be adding a user interface in the near future, which will initially be rolled out to industry professionals.

Knowing that the likes of Google and WWF are behind this, I am confident that in the not so very distant future we will be able to search for items and filter that search based on sustainability.


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