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business e-commerce Retail sustainability technology

From holograms to responsible packaging: 10 must-read retail innovation lists

This year has seen continued breakthroughs in retail innovation, with brands exploring new ways to interact with consumers, whether that’s through the physical store, virtual spaces, or new touchpoints like vending machines. 

2019 has also been an impressive year for sustainable innovations, with everything from creative store design and technological transparency, to responsible packaging solutions and the rise of rentals.

Here, we reflect on 10 of our must-read retail innovation articles from the year.

8 brands deploying vending machines as smart retail solutions
Mulberry x Current Global Vending Machine

Artificial intelligence, social media buzz and customer acquisition tools are just a few of the strategies behind vending machines being used as a key part of today’s retail experience. In this story we explore how the technology has been applied to brands including Mulberry and Adidas.

4 technologies aiding in-store navigation
Gatwick’s in-app navigation

Big box retailers including Walmart’s Sam’s Club, Home Depot, Lowe’s and Target are using a variety of interesting wayfinding technologies to improve customer navigation inside the physical store. This piece dives into the role of innovation for more efficient customer journeys.

5 brands pushing conversions through virtual storefronts
Lego’s AR-activated experience

Brands including Macy’s and Lego are using virtual experiences in physical locations to provide shoppers with the benefit of an interactive in-person experience without needing to carry inventory. Here, we look at how these “invisible” or augmented reality storefronts are driving sales, collecting data and boosting branding efforts.

7 ways fashion brands are harnessing hologram technology
Alexander McQueen’s hologram show

The fashion industry has been experimenting with holograms for some time, using them as both elaborate marketing techniques, as well as more immersive in-store opportunities aiming to drive brand engagement. In this piece, we take a look back at some of the best use cases from the likes of Alexander McQueen and Ralph Lauren.

9 brands pushing sustainable store design
Ganni’s sustainably designed store

With sustainability an increasing priority on the agenda for fashion and retail businesses around the globe today, attention is also turning to their brick-and-mortar stores – how they’re resourced, designed and constructed. Here we explore how the likes of Stella McCartney through to Ikea are approaching it.

4 innovative retail fulfilment methods to know
Ford’s delivery robot

With the on-demand economy continuing to fuel consumer desire for instant gratification, innovation in delivery continues to rise, from crowdsourcing to the latest in robotics. Explore how tech solutions are shaping efficiency in the last mile, here.

7 brands regaining consumer trust through transparency
‘I made you clothes’ campaign

Enabling transparency is a key focus for fashion businesses today, but with rising concerns of greenwashing – from misleading PR-led campaigns to the increase of fake news – consumer trust is at an all-time low. As a result, brands are having to work harder than ever to prove their authenticity in the matter.

5 brands using gamification to drive shopping
Nike’s React Land game

Brands and retailers are jumping on the growth of the gaming market and increasingly using ‘play’ mechanics as a way to encourage shopping. Here we dive into why gamification is estimated to be a $40bn market by 2024 and explore those making the most of it already.

4 effective ways brands are tapping into the rental market
Ba&sh’s NY store

The rental market boom is sending a clear signal to brands struggling to survive in the current retail climate: it is time to adapt to changing purchase behaviors, or risk losing market share. In this piece we look at the varying benefits of stepping into this space, from sustainability to data capturing.

8 brands turning to responsible packaging solutions
Toad&Co partnered with LimeLoop

The rapid rise of the e-commerce era has seen an equally colossal increase in plastic packaging used by brands around the world, something those at the forefront of sustainability are now looking to change. Check out some of the best alternatives introduced by the likes of PVH to MatchesFashion.com.

How are you thinking about innovation? The Current Global is a transformation consultancy driving growth within fashion, luxury and retail. Our mission is to solve challenges and facilitate change. We are thinkers and builders delivering innovative solutions and experiences. Get in touch to learn more.

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business Podcast product Retail sustainability

Christopher Raeburn: How to scale circularity

There is so much opportunity in being a big business that there’s no excuse for not doing the right thing, says Christopher Raeburn comparing his British-born Raeburn brand with the global scale of Timberland, on the latest episode of the Innovators podcast. 

Raeburn has been creative director at the latter since late 2018, where he says he is focusing on putting responsible, innovative design at the centre of its strategy. But it’s through his work and experience for the smaller Raeburn business that he’s able to do so, he explains. 

“One of the ways I’ve always looked at Raeburn is almost like a Remora – those small fish that clean sharks… sometimes they can clean the teeth and everything like that. I think it’s a really interesting analogy, because by swimming alongside sometimes those big big fish in the ocean, A) you have the opportunity to clean them, and that’s exciting because they want to be cleaned. B) you have the opportunity to talk to them a little bit and then maybe you can start to really steer them. And if they want to be steered and it’s a really good partnership then you’re going to go in the right direction together,” he says. 

Raeburn, which was founded in 2009, has built up its business focused on three key areas that all come under the circularity header: reduced, remade and recycled. But that was the case long before sustainability itself became a “trend”. 

“I never really set out to start a responsible company. It was more a company that started from common sense. And it fascinates me, as I say, that there is all of this stuff out there. And why can’t we reuse and remake it before we even need to buy anything new,” Raeburn notes.

Join us as we also explore why scaling such a model is essential for the future of our industry, how much opportunity is coming down the pipeline from what we currently consider trash, and the role business has to play in education today.

Listen here: Entale | Spotify |  Apple Podcasts | Android Google Podcasts | Stitcher | RSS

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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business Campaigns Editor's pick sustainability

From G7 to fashion weeks – why the industry needs to cut the sustainable chat and take action

One minute we’re talking all about saving the planet, the next, it’s onto the indulgence and excess of fashion weeks. No wonder there’s so much questioning around what the industry is about right now. 

At the G7 Summit last month, François-Henri Pinault, chairman and CEO of luxury group Kering, introduced the Fashion Pact, a deal that saw 32 brands from Adidas to Prada, coming together to commit to stopping global warming, restoring biodiversity and protecting the oceans. 

The initiative was mandated by French President Emmanuel Macron, who asked the industry to set practical objectives for reducing its environmental impact.

Practical is the keyword here. While collaboration between so many different players is in itself great progress, reflections on many of the goals are that they have been light on detail as to how they’re going to be achieved. 

Meanwhile, as has been pointed out by others this past fortnight, fashion week season has kicked off and we’re back into that completely contrasting feeling of celebration and excess once more. “Fashion month is a party,” Orsola de Castro, co-founder and creative director of non-profit Fashion Revolution, told the Business of Fashion. “It’s huge fun, but it’s the kind of fun that is no longer funny.” 

Within that is of course the volume of waste and climate impact generated from the shows themselves, but in addition, the culture of consumerism they continue to feed.  

In London we have Extinction Rebellion protesting against the very existence of fashion week itself, while in New York, the biggest stories have conversely been about the large-scale theatrics of shows from the likes of Tommy Hilfiger and Rihanna’s Savage x Fenty. Let’s not forget, fashion weeks are about marketing – appealing to buyers, press and consumers individually to encourage them to buy and buy-into the new collections in one or other of their relative ways. 

By their very nature, they therefore clash with a more sustainable approach to supply and demand. All of which makes one question how much hot air really surrounds the topic of sustainability – no matter how much it’s “trending” – when looking across the industry at large. 

Back to the G7 pact and the biggest question that sits there then, is how will any of these promises turn into reality? As in, literally what are the methodologies behind them? 

The fact is, what we really need is less talk more doing. To put it into the simplest terms, the contradiction of fashion week doesn’t sit well with the notion of ‘actions speaking louder than words’. But neither do promises that aren’t backed by some tangible outputs to follow. 

The same goes for the sheer volume of broader sustainable pledges being made by the industry. Everywhere you turn you see promises to use 100% renewable energy by 2020, to become carbon neutral by 2022, to reduce water consumption by 2025. The same can be said for chemicals, materials, recycling, waste… the list goes on. 

That’s all well and good, but only if progress towards those things actually happen. On our side, we’re tracking them all, and the list of promises is growing at a substantially faster rate than that of the actions being made in response. This is absolutely key. It means that currently the announcements are serving in the main as PR initiatives – a way of hiding behind something that is several years away, or about buying time while you figure out what to actually do. 

The result is that we either have too many pledges that risk not being met, or those offering too little too late – such as to be carbon neutral by 2050. In Greta Thunberg’s words, this is a climate emergency

Last year, Fast Company reviewed various environmental goals set for 2020 by large corporations as well as countries, questioning which of them were on target to actually be met in time. It reads like a mixed bag, though does demonstrate progress in parts. 

The same can be said for fashion. Kering itself has always been one of the most vocal about its goals, setting them out in 2012, then reporting back on what it had and hadn’t achieved in 2016. It reset its targets in 2017 with a broader 2025 sustainability strategy in line with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. Included in that was cutting the group’s carbon emissions by 50% and reducing its overall environmental impact by at least 40%. Not small aims. An update is expected in 2020. 

H&M is another that’s always gone big. It’s reportedly on target to hit its goals of both using 100% organic or recycled cotton, and eliminating hazardous chemicals in its production, by 2020. Future aims include becoming climate positive by 2040. 

The difficulty with all this is the sliding scale of what attaining such goals mean, not to mention how they’re measured. 

One of the ones I have the biggest issue with in the industry broadly is the idea of moving to entirely “sustainable cotton” by 2025. This isn’t so much in the goal itself by any means, but in the naming of it. What is sustainable cotton? Strictly speaking, most of the time what we’re talking about is rather “better” cotton. As in, it is literally better for the environment than that which is otherwise farmed in the conventional manner. Usually this falls under those certified via the Better Cotton Initiative and others including Organic and Fair Trade. 

This sort of language use is critical because of how misleading it can be to the consumer. It instantly gives the impression that fast fashion, like Zara as well, for instance, will be absolutely fine by 2025 because the materials used will indeed be entirely sustainable. Not true. They’ll just be less bad at that early part of the supply chain. Arguably, that’s not enough. 

The same goes for what is the lesser of two evils when we hear certain companies have managed to achieve zero waste to landfill targets, yet are continuing to incinerate items. Does the ban on incineration in France mean landfill will then be on the up? 

When it comes to greenhouse gases, there was a feeling in a recent meeting I had with some members of UK parliament, that regulation for companies to declare their emissions makes the industry immediately more accountable.

What didn’t seem to be acknowledged is that the fashion industry doesn’t know the true numbers around its emissions. As I’ve written about before, it’s not completely possible right now because there is simply not enough accurate information out there for it to report this – and it doesn’t have direct control of its supply chain in the majority of cases to discover any of it itself further. 

We know this from our work with Google to build a tool that shines a light on the raw materials stage of the supply chain – Tier 4. What’s available right now is at best globalized averages, at worst, completely unknown. The result, therefore, is guesswork. How for instance can H&M become climate positive in a true sense, if it can’t trace back the impact it is actually having? It can’t. You can apply the same to Burberry, to Nike, to whoever else you like.

A few years back there were headlines about 2020 being the “magic year for fashion” based on the industry embracing sustainability. Arguably, even in the midst of fashion week season, that has already happened. But it doesn’t mean anything if it’s just being talked about.  

Change can only take place if these goals become tangible. That’s our entire mantra as a business – drive transformation by enabling action. Enough with the pledges therefore, what we’d rather see is the industry diving deep, staying quiet, building new solutions and starting to show us some results. 

How are you thinking about sustainability? The Current Global is a transformation consultancy driving growth within fashion, luxury and retail. Our mission is to solve challenges and facilitate change. We are thinkers and builders delivering innovative solutions and experiences. Get in touch to learn more.

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business digital snippets e-commerce mobile product Retail social media Startups sustainability technology

Shutting down LFW, Farfetch acquires New Guards Group, the UN’s agriculture alert

A round-up of everything you might have missed in relevant fashion, retail and tech industry news over the past week.

TOP STORIES
  • Scrap the catwalk: Extinction Rebellion is right – LFW is unsustainable (The Guardian)
  • Farfetch acquires Off-White owner New Guards Group (BoF)
  • UN states we have to transform how we use land and grow food (Fast Company)
TECHNOLOGY
  • Nike buys an AI startup that predicts what consumers want (Tech Crunch)
  • Can artificial intelligence help society as much as it helps business? (McKinsey)
  • How fashion retailers are using artificial intelligence in 2019 (Edited)
  • Google implements augmented reality in maps (Mashable)
SUSTAINABILITY & PURPOSE
  • Only 1/8 Bangladesh garment factories passed international safety inspections (Fashion Network)
  • Sustainable retail: do shoppers love it or hate it? (Retail Week)
  • Volcom launches ‘Water Aware’ denim collection (Fashion United)
  • The challenges of building a socially conscious band (Vogue Business)
RETAIL & E-COMMERCE
  • Depop opens pop-up store in Selfridges (Fashion United)
  • Live stream apps are changing the way people shop (BoF)
  • Boohoo wants to beat Zara at its own game (BoF)
MARKETING & SOCIAL MEDIA
  • Climate change activist Xiuhtezcatl Martinez is the face of a new fashion campaign (Teen Vogue)
  • The future of fashion will be run by influencers (Quartzy)
PRODUCT
BUSINESS
  • Barneys files for bankruptcy as rents rise and visitors fall (BoF)
  • Boohoo to snap up Karen Milen & Coast in pre-pack (Retail Week)
  • Adidas posts jump in sales and profit (Fashion United)
  • Michael Gove orders HMRC to help small retailers in no-deal Brexit (Retail Gazette)
CULTURE
  • Victoria Secret cancels its runway show (Retail Dive)
  • Heist asks whether shapeware can be feminist in new campaign (Campaign)
  • Versace loses Chinese brand ambassador amid t-shirt controversy (BoF)

How are you thinking about innovation? The Current Global is a transformation consultancy driving growth within fashion, luxury and retail. Our mission is to solve challenges and facilitate change. We are thinkers and builders delivering innovative solutions and experiences. Get in touch to learn more.

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Comment Editor's pick sustainability

What Saint Laurent’s Malibu show can teach us about the environmental impact of events

The recent staging of Saint Laurent’s spring/summer 2020 show in Malibu, California, violated multiple environmental regulations, leaving the local community up in arms, according to reports.

The event, which was denied a permit by the local government (instead enabled via a filming permit from a contractor), went against rules designed to protect the area’s fragile natural resources, writes Vogue Business. Included in that was the fact grunion, a type of fish, were expected to spawn on the sand that evening. Residents also said pieces of the set were left to wash out into the surf and the whole affair was rife with plastics, including plastic sandbags banned by the city. 

This raises questions about the impact such elaborate events, which often last for less than an hour, have on the environment, and the responsibility the industry should be taking to minimize their presence. By comparison, Stockholm Fashion Week was just cancelled in order to pursue more sustainable opportunities for its brands instead. 

Our Event Producer, Grace Collins, who also runs a business called Ten Four, is an expert in this space, increasingly working towards more sustainable solutions. So I called her up to find out exactly what’s going on and how brands can make better decisions with regards to the environment when planning their own occasions…

RA: Given your experience running events, what is the usual sort of waste that is produced from something like a fashion show, a conference or an activation?

GC: On average, the typical event attendee produces 1.89kg of waste per day, 85% of which can be non-recyclable, depending on where and what type of event it is. Food can comprise anywhere between 20-60% of this waste. This is outside of the waste produced by the organizers themselves which, in fact, can be huge.

A lot of the time events, fashion shows and experiential activations in particular, can involve a ‘build’ of some sort – this ‘build’ is usually a one-off, an experiential moment, or a photo op (for example) for guests, and is broken down and thrown out post event without any consideration for the materials used and how they should be correctly disposed of. These can include the likes of wood, plastic, steel – so many materials that if considered in advance and regulated by local authorities could and should be disposed of more appropriately – ideally recycled. 

RA: Are you seeing this change as the industry starts to consider sustainability and the environment more broadly? How?

GC: I have definitely noticed small changes here and there but whether we like to admit it or not, there is a level of ignorance toward the matter until it’s either enforced by authorities or in more severe circumstances, publicly ridiculed. The plus side of the recent Saint Laurent show in Malibu, is that it has now drawn attention to the impact that destination events can have on the environment and the fact there can be such a huge amount of waste created and left behind when these take place. 

The focus and pressure on the likes of these brands and corporate organizations to incorporate sustainable practices has a knock on effect for any event organizer. We need to understand and be more conscious of the footprint our one-off events are leaving on the environment.

A lot of corporate companies and brands alike are becoming more conscious of the impact their working environments and all things associated have on the environment. As event planners, it is our role and responsibility to reflect such sustainable conscience by making necessary changes to the events we produce on their behalf.

RA: What are the barriers or challenges surrounding this?

GC: Costs! A sustainable event strategy is something that can and should be considered and incorporated into every event management plan and event budget from initiation. However, it is quite often the costs that are associated with doing so that turn people off the idea of following through.

RA: What are you doing to help this change?

GC: I encourage my clients to think more sustainably when producing their events. I ask them to consider the likes of going paperless, talk them through the different options and ensure they feel confident in making these necessary changes. The bigger issue at hand – not to make life difficult for fellow planners but in an effort to make a positive change – is that many local governing bodies can be quite lenient when it comes to approving permits for events. 

Every event organizer has a responsibility to submit a waste management plan to their local council/governing body when applying to host an event, but only when hosting in a public space. Even in that case, the level of detail required is usually minimal and local councils do not hold a huge amount of responsibility over organizers or follow through with analyzing the damage that can be left behind on such occasions.

I’m working on a detailed waste management template and a list of suggested waste management suppliers/partners within my locality that can be shared with event agencies, and will hopefully go on to be accepted and monitored by local councils/governing bodies. These plans will need to be submitted and approved by councils’ in advance of any event taking place and then monitored to ensure companies are carrying out approved disposal plan properly.

RA: What are some easy solutions / things businesses could adapt to ensure less waste is produced or left behind from their events?

GC: There are a variety of different areas you can make effective changes in, from venues to catering and overall event production but in order to know where to begin, you need to reflect on and understand your impact. My tips for doing so, include: 

Develop a sustainability event strategy in the initial phases of your event plan, down to choosing a venue or location that is accessible by public transport (metro, buses, city bikes). If there are transfers required, I would suggest partnering with an electric car company, for example. If you can host your event and accommodation under the one roof – do! This will eliminate the requirement for transport.

  • Confirm whether or not your event venue recycles their waste. If they don’t have a system in place then start making a plan. Work with a local waste management company to dispose of planned materials on-site appropriately.
  • Look at previous event budgets to see if there were any areas whereby the quantity of product ordered was too high and ended up going to waste.
  • Use renewable energy sources. With advancements in technology there are many ways in which you can save on power to create a more sustainable event. Be conscious of what power you need and when you need it running. Options as simple as switching to LED lighting and lower power efficiency systems, although costly, will minimize your footprint – talk to your AV company about the options available.
  • Reduce print requirements, go paperless – think digital, incorporate an event app that allows guests to register and check-in without requiring a printed ticket or name badge. You can also make your event itinerary available to guests via this app/webpage, effectively communicating with them in real-time (which is of huge benefit to any event planner), and easily circulating new information/schedule changes. If you’re printing something for branding purposes, steer clear of including dates so that you can use again at future events.
  • Sustainable catering – ask your caterer if they can supply reusable, compostable or recyclable dinnerware? Do they have a food waste reduction strategy in place? Get an accurate guest count and finalize the amount of food needed in advance of the event so that you are reducing the potential waste. Donate leftover food to a nearby shelter. Help longterm by beginning to track typical food consumption patterns at your events.
  • Make it as easy as possible for your attendees to recycle and maintain the venue while still enjoying the event, simply by ensuring you place plenty of recycling stations throughout the venue.

Sustainable practices may not come naturally to everyone. Be patient, take baby steps, practice makes perfect, and every little counts in my eyes.

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Retail sustainability

UK brands push for government support in sustainability

The UK fashion industry is calling for the government to support further sustainable development, according to a new report.

The study, released today by trade publication Drapers, asked the respondent’s opinions on the recommendations made after the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) completed its inquiry into the environmental and social impact of the fashion industry in February 2019. This focused specifically on the disposable nature of the fast fashion industry.

While almost all of the 370 business leaders and professionals agreed to the committee’s proposed implementations, 85% of them said the government is currently not doing enough to support the industry’s development in this regard.

94.9% of respondents supported the EAC’s recommendation that calls for mandatory sustainability targets for retailers. Furthermore, 97.1% support the introduction of fines for companies that fail to comply with the Modern Slavery Act. The same consequences are to apply to retailers that do not meet zero-emissions targets (96.4%).

But, when asked what additional actions the government should take to encourage the industry to become more sustainable, respondents also called for more investment in recycling infrastructure (84.1%) as well as the outlawing of unsustainable practices (71%).

Interestingly the majority of retailers (92.2%) reached a consensus that sustainability is a commercial imperative for their businesses. This statement is clearly driven by changing customer demands, with 91.6% saying there is a growing interest in sustainability from their customers.

Mary Creagh MP, chair of the EAC, also commented on the necessity of government intervention in the fashion industry at the Draper’s Sustainability Conference earlier this year.

How are you thinking about your sustainable strategy? We’re all about finding you the perfect partners to do so. The Current Global is a consultancy transforming how fashion, beauty and 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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product sustainability technology

Nike creates circular design guide

Nike has created a circular design guide that aims to give the fashion industry a common language for circularity.

The guide comes with 10 principles of circular design, including topics such as “material choices” and “waste avoidance”.

Nike’s 10 principles of circular design

Each of these are explained in more depth within it, including via case studies of successful design innovation by Nike and other brands.

They include video footage of a Central Saint Martins student and Nike staff talking on the principles, as well as an inspirational quote.

What follows are thought-starters for designers to think about the concept in more depth. Under the “material choices” principle for instance, it asks: “How could your material choice increase the lifecycle or durability of the product?”

A number of case study examples then follow, such as an outline of Nike’s Flyleather material, a sustainable leather alternative made of leftover factory off-cuts. Other case studies come from brands such as Levi’s, Fjallraven, Patagonia, Outerknown and Eileen Fisher.

The last section features inspirational publications, including “Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things” by William McDonough and Michael Braungart, which outlines the founding principles of the circular economy, according to the non-profit Ellen MacArthur Foundation.

It is freely accessible to anyone interested in knowing more about circularity. The launch coincides with the annual Copenhagen Fashion Summit, one of the industry’s most important sustainability events of the year.

How are you thinking about your sustainable innovation strategy? Want to learn more about how we worked with Google? The Current Global is a consultancy transforming how fashion and 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 hear more.

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data Editor's pick sustainability technology

Google collaborates with Current Global to launch sustainable fashion pilot

Google today announces the launch of an experiment in collaboration with innovation consultancy Current Global, to build-out a data analytics and machine learning tool powered by Google Cloud technology that will enable fashion brands to make more responsible sourcing decisions.

The initiative, revealed at the Copenhagen Fashion Summit, one of the fashion industry’s key sustainability events of the year, aims to focus on the raw materials stage (referred to as ‘Tier 4’ of the supply chain), providing brands with greater visibility as to the environmental impact of different textiles. The hope is to translate data into meaningful insights so the industry can take action.

Sustainability in fashion is a global environmental emergency. According to the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), the fashion industry accounts for 20% of wastewater and 10% of carbon emissions worldwide. The 2019 Pulse of the Fashion Industry report also shows the fashion industry is not implementing sustainable solutions fast enough to counterbalance the harmful environmental and social impacts of its rapid growth.

Current Global, an innovation consultancy that empowers fashion brands to reach their sustainability goals through the use of relevant technologies, analyzed where the industry’s largest environmental challenges are, and worked with Google to determine how it could help be part of the solution through the use of cloud-based tools for data collection and analysis.

What was identified was the need to focus on Tier 4, where brands have little to no visibility. This is an industry wide problem, where supply chains are highly fragmented, unregulated and with little transparency, yet where the majority of negative impact occurs.

Many organizations and brands have been trailblazers in an effort to collect and surface data that can lead to better sourcing decisions, but gaps in the data continue to persist due to its complexity and global nature. The aim of this experiment, is to bring together information in a way that will complement existing tools, consolidating and building on the data to shine a light into the furthest parts of the fashion supply chain.

Google sustainable fashion

“Lack of data in the fashion industry is one of the most pressing and complex issues we’re faced with. If you can’t see it, you can’t measure it, and if you can’t measure it, you can’t change it. In other words, without insights the industry is not empowered to make strategic and beneficial decisions for the sake of reducing their environmental impact,” Rachel Arthur, co-founder and chief innovation officer of Current Global, says. “We teamed up with Google to identify the strategic places within the supply chain that would benefit from its access to global data and its machine learning power to launch an experiment to create a decision making tool for the industry in order to enable a more sustainable fashion future. We know that if we could understand the nuance of the raw materials we source – information right now that is essentially impossible to accurately calculate – we could make an enormous dent into the overall composition of the clothes that are produced.”

To bring it to life, we’ll be collaborating closely with Stella McCartney on the first pilot project. This brand has been a pioneer in leading the fashion industry towards sustainability, helping to launch the UN Fashion Industry Charter for climate change and recently introducing Stella McCartney Cares Green, one of the arms of the Stella McCartney Foundation, to further promote sustainability and environmental protection.

As Kate Brandt, sustainability officer at Google, explains: “Stella McCartney has been a forerunner in the fashion industry embracing and leading the charge for sustainable fashion. At Google, we also strive to build sustainability into everything that we do whether that’s  operating efficiency data centers to having our own Responsible Supply Chain Program. In 2016 we celebrated 10 years of carbon neutrality and we are the largest corporate renewable energy purchaser in the world. Outside of Google, we aspire to build tools to help people understand the planet, improve environmental impact, and take sustainable action. This pilot with Stella is a great step in the fashion industry’s bid to become more sustainable.”

The tool will use data analytics and machine learning on Google Cloud, focused on sources that allow companies to better measure the impact of their raw materials, relevant to key environmental factors such as air pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, land use and water scarcity.

To start, it will look at cotton and viscose, each chosen due to the scale of their production, data availability and impact considerations. More specifically, cotton accounts for 25% of all fibers used by the fashion industry, with a notable impact on water and pesticide use. Viscose production is smaller but growing in demand, and has links to the destruction of forests—some endangered—which are critical in mitigating carbon emissions.

The goal is not only to be able to determine the impact of producing these raw materials, but also compare the impacts of these in different regions where they are produced. This pilot will enable us to test the effectiveness of the tool on these different raw materials, building out the possibilities for expansion into a wider variety of key textiles in the market down the line.

Ian Pattison, customer engineering manager for Google Cloud UK, says: “Google’s mission is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful. The challenge facing the fashion industry is one of information – taking fragmented and somewhat incomplete information and quickly translating it into meaningful insights to take action. In this case, understanding how fabrics are grown or made, what impact different sourcing decisions has on the environment, and ensuring that data is visible across the whole supply chain. Google’s 20-year leadership of data technologies, cloud computing and machine learning capabilities, coupled with our commitment to sustainability and our unrivalled global mapping, means that we are uniquely placed to work with the brands to address the challenge of reducing the environmental footprint of fashion.”

This is the first phase of the experiment. Google and Current Global are now actively working with further fashion brands, experts, NGOs and industry bodies with the ambition of creating an open industry-wide tool, and plan to continue driving collaboration with other key players—large and small.

The hope is that the experiment will give fashion brands greater visibility of impact within their supply chain and actionable insights to make better raw material sourcing decisions with sustainability in mind.

Adds Maria McClay, industry head of fashion and luxury at Google: “We have been hearing increasingly from clients, our industry partners and consumers the growing urgency around the fashion sector to make a dent in their negative environmental impact given the magnitude of the problem. If nothing changes, what is at stake is our future and that of our children’s. Google empowers its teams to find moonshots – really difficult, complex problems to solve where our technology can help make a 10x contribution, not just a marginal improvement. We believe that this could be our moonshot for the industry.”

How are you thinking about your sustainable innovation strategy? Want to learn more about how we worked with Google? The Current Global is a consultancy transforming how fashion and 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 hear more.

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Editor's pick Podcast product sustainability

Levi’s on the risks of the circular economy

“[The fashion industry] is 60% larger than it needs to be relative to the actual quantity of demand,” says Paul Dillinger, Head of Global Product Innovation at Levi’s, on the latest episode of the Innovators podcast by the Current Global.

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He is referring to the fact six out of 10 garments produced every year are being discarded to landfill or incinerated within the first year of their production. The result is that those working in this world need to either think about how you can eliminate overproduction, or instead build new business models around only making and selling the four that are actually wanted, he explains, even if it affects business growth.

An alternative response to that concept is the so-called “circular economy”, whereby items are not discarded but put back into the system, which to overly simplify matters, enables businesses to continue with growth while aiming for lesser impact. But Dillinger believes such moves are merely providing brands with a guilt-free alternative to keep overproducing at a point when the technology for a truly circular system isn’t yet scalable. He instead refers to the idea of credible “circular industrial ecologies”, which are much more complex to operate and achieve.

“One of them is a corporate compliance officer selling a new shiny penny to a board of directors in the C-suite, and the other one is a studious and scientific approach to really tackling a real challenge,” he explains.

At Levi’s, Dillinger is otherwise looking at key areas like reducing the brand’s use of water. “I think people’s right to drink fresh water should be prioritized above a company’s right to access fresh water for production,” he explains.

In this conversation, hosted in front of a live audience at the Current Global’s Innovation Mansion at SXSW 2019, he explains what that looks like through the  innovative work he’s been doing with hemp. He also gets technical with host Rachel Arthur about the many ways in which Levi’s is working to make its supply chain responsible in one of the most complex industries in the world.

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 product sustainability

57% of H&M Group’s material mix is now sustainably sourced or recycled

57% of all materials used by the H&M Group now come from either recycled or sustainable sources, according to its annual Sustainability Report released yesterday.

This is a considerable increase from last year, in which recycled or sustainably-sourced materials made up 35% of the company’s material mix – thus inching it closer to its ambitious circularity goals for 2030.

“Big change requires bold actions and the courage to aim high. At the same time, we have to be humble to the challenges our planet is facing,” said Anna Gedda, head of sustainability at the H&M Group.”So if we want to make a real change, we have to be brave, push the boundaries and not be afraid to fail.”

At present, 55.2% of the Group’s material mix is sourced from sustainable origins that are verified by third-party bodies. For example, 95% of is cotton comes from certified sources such as organic cotton (14.6%) or sourced from the Better Cotton Initiative (79.9%).

The remaining 1.4% of the mix comes from recycled sources, a small percentage that the report highlights is due to the “lack of viable recycling solutions [which] either do not exist or are not commercially available at scale.”

Other highlights include a reduction of 11% in CO2 emissions in its operations, moving it closer to its target of becoming climate-positive by 2040; a new commitment to making all of its packaging designed to be reusable, recyclable and compostable by 2025; reducing water usage in production by 25% by 2022, supported by WWF; and the announcement that 655 factories and 930,000 garment workers are now covered by the Group’s key programmes for workplace dialogue and wage management system.

Technology is also playing a major role, with artificial intelligence being deployed to ensure production and demand are more aligned from a sustainability perspective. This follows an announcement in late 2018 that Christopher Wylie, of Cambridge Analytica fame, is joining as a consultant on all things AI.

From the consumer side, its Take Care initiative, which offers customers guidance, repair services and products to care for their garments in order to extend their lifespan, has now moved into further four markets; and in June 2018, the company launched of Afound, a new brand giving unsold products a new life.

Additional reporting by Camilla Rydzek.

How are you thinking about your sustainable strategy? We’re all about finding you the perfect partners to do so. The Current Global is a consultancy transforming how fashion, beauty and 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.