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Editor's pick Podcast sustainability

Meet 5 companies putting sustainability at the core of their business models

Consumer demand for more responsible products is clearer than ever, and companies – from legacy names to newer players in the field – are evolving their business models to incorporate more sustainable practices.

To hit their ambitious sustainability goals, the approach is diverse, from using blockchain in the supply chain to finding new ways to bioengineering innovative textiles.

Last year, TheCurrent Global’s Innovators podcast spoke to some of the world’s top brands and companies on what it means to be sustainable at this day and age, and how to create a more responsible future that will enable them to still be around in decades to come.

H&M
Nina Shariati, who is responsible for transparency at H&M, on TheCurrent Innovators podcast
H&M’s head of transparency Nina Shariati

H&M has some of the fashion industry’s most ambitious goals: by 2030, it aims to use 100% recyclable or sustainably sourced materials. Nina Shariati, who leads transparency at H&M, spoke to TheCurrent Global on how the group’s size in the fast fashion space could work in their – and everyone’s – favour: “We see it as a positive thing that we are a large company where we have [these ambitions], and we see that with the help of our size we can drive this change that we want to see.”

For example last year already, 36% of H&M’s total material buy was recycled or sustainably sourced.  “What we want to do with transparency is to set a measuring index that harmonizes the industry so that you can compare your product across brands,” adds Shariati. “We are far from the time where it’s OK to work in silos.” The ultimate goal, she notes, should be to empower consumers by enabling them to make more informed decisions.

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Naadam
Liz Bacelar and Matt Scanlan, Naadam
Liz Bacelar and Matt Scanlan, Naadam

For Matt Scanlan, CEO and co-founder of the disruptive cashmere brand Naadam, being sustainable means transforming your supply chain into a community. The brand was conceived after he spent a month with local communities in the Gobi Desert learning about their lifestyles. He eventually returned with $2 million in cash to buy tons of raw cashmere directly from herders, thus allowing them to earn 50% more profit than in a traditional fashion supply chain. His ambition to disrupt the cashmere industry has grown rapidly since.

But Scanlan still holds some skepticism about reaching 100% sustainability in the supply chain, which he thinks is both fake and impossible to achieve. Speaking to Innovators co-host Liz Bacelar, he also talks passionately about the human side of the industry which, after all, is built on relationships.

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Ikea
Rachel Arthur and Ikea’s Joanna Yarrow

Ikea is focusing on creating products and services that can support consumers to live more sustainably, and more healthfully, every day.

According to Joanna Yarrow, head of sustainable and healthy living at the Swedish giant, to achieve its sustainable strategy, the company’s approach is threefold: look at its use of energy and resources – by 2020, it will be generating at least as much energy as it is consuming in their operations; focus on its people and its supply chain; and lastly, work on how to improve its customers’ lives overarchingly.

Since the original episode was published, Ikea has opened what it claims to be its most sustainable store in the world in Greenwich, London, featuring solar panels, rainwater harvesting and a geothermal heating system. It has also introduced a furniture leasing pilot in Switzerland.  

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Martine Jarlgaard
Martine Jarlgaard and Rachel Arthur
Martine Jarlgaard and Rachel Arthur

Blockchain has an emerging and important role in sustainability, and UK-based designer Martine Jarlgaard was one of the early adopters of the technology in order to investigate a more sustainable supply chain.

In 2017, her namesake label teamed up with London-based startup Provenance to register and trace each step of the journey of a garment on a blockchain platform, which consumers could access by scanning a QR code found on its label.

Speaking to co-host Rachel Arthur last summer, Jarlgaard weighed in on how brands need to redefine the value of a product to change the way in which consumers shop, and emphasized the huge responsibility that sits on the industry’s shoulders to start driving sustainability ahead. “We are such a closed, centralized system. Being open and transparent is the only way forward.”

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Bolt Threads
Dan Widmayer and Rachel Arthur
Bolt Threads’ Dan Widmayer and Rachel Arthur

San Francisco-based bioengineering startup Bolt Threads is arguably one of the most known names disrupting the fashion industry, largely due to its relationship with eco-luxury label Stella McCartney. Working with the brand, it has so far launched pilot products such as a dress made of of lab-grown spider silk, as well as most recently, a ‘leather’ bag constructed out of mushroom leather, or mycelium.

Sustainable innovation and the power it now carries are a direct response to a shift in consumer behavior, he says. “Ultimately it is up to the consumer. [We’re] seeing the speed at which consumer taste is changing – 2017 was a transformative year for sustainability,” adding, “It is getting big really fast and it’s becoming one of the issues at the forefront of the industry because it touches everyone.”

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Catch up with all of our episodes of the Innovators podcast by the Current Global here. The series is a weekly conversation with visionaries, executives and entrepreneurs. It’s backed by The Current Global, a consultancy transforming how consumer retail brands intersect with technology. We deliver innovative integrations and experiences, powered by a network of top technologies and startups. Get in touch to learn more.

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Editor's pick Podcast

Martine Jarlgaard on how blockchain can redefine fashion

Martine Jarlgaard and Rachel Arthur
Martine Jarlgaard and Rachel Arthur

“We are such a closed, centralized system. Being open and transparent is the only way forward,” says designer Martine Jarlgaard with regards to applying blockchain to the fashion industry, on the latest episode of TheCurrent Innovators podcast.

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In 2017, Jarlgaard piloted a blockchain system hoping to address the level of transparency that she believes is missing in the fashion industry. Today, she continues on a mission to push an open supply chain that not only enables consumers to make more informed decisions, but allows those in the chain to be held accountable, and receive the exposure they deserve. The overarching result, she hopes, is that brands will start acting more responsibly.

From her perspective, systemic change is needed in this regard. “The fashion industry as it stands today is ancient, and I’m struggling to understand why it hasn’t realized that and why it’s not using this incredible opportunity to stand in and really show vision, and to see what the future is.”

Since the inception of her namesake fashion label, Jarlgaard has been investigating ways to extend the value of a physical product through tools that facilitate transparency and sustainability. The blockchain project, for example, registered and traced each step of the journey of a garment via an app from London-based startup, Provenance, which customers could access by scanning a QR code found on the label. This was one of the very first examples of fashion applied to such a digital ledger.

Jarlgaard is passionate about decelerating the damage that people and the industry have already done to the planet, and deploying technology is one way she is striding towards that goal. She’s also exploring mixed reality, the role of art, and what the textiles lab of the future looks like, as further crucial fields.

In this conversation with Rachel Arthur, she emphasizes the huge responsibility that sits on the industry’s shoulders to start driving sustainability forward, how brands need to redefine the value of a product to change the way consumers shop, and why she believes innovation is what will enable a radical difference for good.

Catch up with all of our episodes of TheCurrent Innovators here. The series is a weekly conversation with visionaries, executives and entrepreneurs. It’s backed by TheCurrent, a consultancy transforming how consumer retail brands intersect with technology. We deliver innovative integrations and experiences, powered by a network of top technologies and startups. Get in touch to learn more.

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Editor's pick technology

Martine Jarlgaard challenges self-perception with lifesize mixed reality fashion experience

Martine Jarlgaard's Meet Yourself mixed reality experience
Martine Jarlgaard’s Meet Yourself mixed reality experience as modelled by Louise Cehofski 

UK-based designer Martine Jarlgaard first experimented with mixed reality for her September 2016 show at London Fashion Week. Now, her latest experience is more about the user than the collection in question.

Launched at Techfestival in Copenhagen earlier this month, the Meet Yourself interaction enabled users to stand face to face with a lifesize 3-dimensional avatar of themselves.

The idea was to challenge self-perception and present the feeling of stepping outside of yourself, Jarlgaard explains. “This is something that I believe is highly relevant, not just in a fashion context but in general, as we live in a visual culture with a high degree of exposure to perfection. Seeing yourself from a new perspective is thought provoking from a psychological and emotional perspective and challenges your usual settings.”

Her big focus is on highlighting mental health, especially in an age of ever-increasing technology: “Our minds are so incredible and important, yet fragile in certain environments. We can be stuck in a negative idea of ourselves. With Meet Yourself I want you to step out of yourself and to give you the opportunity to meet yourself and to see yourself as others see you. I think this is both necessary and healthy. We as humans will change so much in the coming years with technological, scientific and AI developments. I believe that us feeling good about ourselves is a crucial place to start.”

The avatars are of course dressed in Martine Jarlgaard London collection looks, the styles of which were pre-scanned so that a hologram of the garment is then superimposed onto the animated human forms.

That fashion element is also particularly important within the mixed reality space to Jarlgaard as a sustainable designer. This project helps us to question the value of materiality and immateriality, she explains. “In the current fashion landscape of overflowing landfills and too many garments being treated as disposable, I’m preoccupied with the idea of creating meaningful experiences which can challenge consumption and the idea of value as we know it,” she notes.

She is now working to get the Meet Yourself experience out to more people and to develop it further.

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Editor's pick sustainability technology

From farm to finished garment: Blockchain is aiding this fashion collection with transparency

Martine Jarlgaard London's new collection demonstrated using Provenance blockchain technology
Martine Jarlgaard London’s new collection demonstrated using Provenance blockchain technology

Given the number of parties usually involved in producing a garment, transparency in the fashion industry is no small feat.

From farmer to consumer, there are multiple steps along the way to create the t-shirts, jeans and dresses we all frequently buy. And buy we do. According to a study from McKinsey & Company, annual clothing production exceeded 100 billion items for the first time in 2014. Consumers also now keep said pieces for about half as long as they did 15 years ago, and nearly three-fifths of all clothing produced ends up in incinerators or landfills within a year of being made.

The demand for transparency around where our clothing comes from and exactly what’s gone on before it reaches us is increasing however, backed particularly by campaigns like #Whomademyclothes, run by Fashion Revolution each April.

According to London-based designer Martine Jarlgaard, however, what’s really going to get us there is technology: “When I think about our world and outsourcing now, we’ve gained a great distance to how things are made. We need to re-educate ourselves. Technology will be what helps to reconnect us to the people and the places involved, and that information will increase consumer expectations, which will put more pressure on the big companies.”

On that basis, she’s launched a new pilot initiative that uses blockchain technology – a distributed and secure ledger – in a bid to enable both transparency and trust around her collections.

A partnership with blockchain technology company Provenance, consultancy A Transparent Company and London College of Fashion’s Innovation Agency, it tracks the journey of raw material through the supply chain and finally to finished garment.

Each step of the process is registered and tracked on the blockchain via the Provenance app, from shearing at the British Alpaca Fashion farm, to spinning at Two Rivers Mill, through to knitting at Knitster LDN, and finally to Martine Jarlgaard, at the designer’s studio in London. Head over to Forbes to read more about it, including further insight from Jarlgaard on what she’s hoping to achieve for the industry at large by demonstrating it at this week’s Copenhagen Fashion Summit.

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Editor's pick technology

Hololens’ mixed reality to transform London Fashion Week show

Hololens Martine Jarlgaard London
Martine Jarlgaard London will show her collection at London Fashion Week using Hololens mixed reality (Image: Brendan Freeman)

For guests who walk into the Martine Jarlgaard London show during London Fashion Week (LFW) this weekend, they won’t be met by a typical runway setup, but rather an empty space.

Or that’s how it will look to anyone peering in. Five individuals at a time will otherwise be wearing Hololens, Microsoft’s mixed reality headsets, to see the full spring/summer 2017 collection coming to life in the form of holograms in front of them.

This first expression of mixed reality during fashion week is an aim to reimagine the catwalk show; challenging what it consists of by removing the barrier between the physical location and the audience.

Unlike with virtual reality, which isolates you from the environment you are in and instead transports you to another when you have the headset on, this technology superimposes the holograms on top of your natural surrounds. In other words, you can still see the room and the people around you, enabling you to move about freely and explore the collection from all angles while it appears solid, real and lifelike before your eyes.

The project is the result of a partnership between Jarlgaard, the Fashion Innovation Agency at London College of Fashion and Hololens developers and 3D capturing company, DoubleMe. Head over to Forbes to find out more about it, hear directly from Jarlgaard on what she’s aiming to achieve, and the big impact mixed reality is likely to have on the fashion industry in the future.

Want to learn more about mixed reality? Join us for the next in our #FashMash Bootcamp masterclass series for a deep-dive on this technology complete with immersive start-up showcase.