Many of the designs at New York City’s recent Fashion Week certainly looked futuristic–think metallics and extreme eyeliner–but the fashion industry will have to do better than that if it wants to adapt to coming changes brought about by climate change, resource shortages, and population increase. As these factors emerge in the decades ahead, what will happen to the multi-trillion dollar fashion industry? The Forum for the Future explored the question in the Fashion Futures report (PDF), which envisions four sustainable scenarios for the fashion industry in 2025.
*In Techno-Chic the latest craze is ‘Chameleon’ clothing, a military spin-off, offering a blank canvas which can change colour and style, programmed to mimic the celeb of the moment. People ‘try on’ clothes in virtual mirrors using 3-D body scanners.
*In the Patchwork Planet scenario, clothes are grown from bacterial cellulose and waterless washing machines are common in areas experiencing water shortages.
*In Slow is Beautiful ‘slow fashion’ is in vogue, and high street brands compete on sustainability credentials. People also wear ‘smart’ clothes that monitor their health and wellbeing.
*In Community Couture the fashion industry is highly entrepreneurial and focused around keeping costs down and reusing clothing.
Fashion research project BioCouture is already working on using lab-grown bacterial cellulose to produce clothing–part of the Patchwork Planet scenario. Eventually the organization hopes to “literally grow a dress in a vat of liquid.
One company to keep an eye on as a model for future “Slow is Beautiful” fashion is Nau, an outdoor clothing company that uses synthetic fabrics with highly-recycled content and certified organic cotton. The company tracks the energy and resources used to make all of its fabrics, and requires manufacturers to follow a code of conduct that addresses human rights, the environment, and full documentation of practices.
All of these scenarios are based on so-called “weak signals from the future”, or hints about the future based on current trends and research. For any of these scenarios to come to fruition, clothing companies have to start innovating now. Realistically, no single one of these scenarios will prevail–the future will probably involve some sort of combination of all of them. That means if companies want to succeed, they have to start taking a serious look at supply chains, low-impact production and distribution models, and opportunities to use renewable energy.