How virtual clothing could help solve the fashion waste problem


The ephemeral nature of fashion may seem an odd companion to the blockchain, an online ledger designed to be permanent. But the industry is looking for ways to use it and other digital tools to reduce waste and move fashion into the future.

Italian company Lablaco is working with fashion houses and brands to digitize their collections in the emerging ‘phygital’ fashion market – where customers buy both a physical fashion item and its digital ‘twin’, designed to be collected or worn by avatars in virtual environments , such as metaversion.

Lablaco was founded in 2016 by Lorenzo Albrighi and Eliana Kuo. Both had backgrounds in luxury fashion, but were looking to improve the industry’s sustainability credentials and promote circular fashion – the practice of designing and making clothes in a way that reduces waste.

The pair launched the Circular Fashion Summit in 2019, and Lablaco partnered with retailer H&M to launch a blockchain-based clothing rental service in 2021.

Lablaco wants to use digital tools to revolutionize the fashion industry.

Pushing fashion into digital spaces helps generate data that is vital in the effort to move to circular fashion, he argues. With Lablaco, physical and digital items remain paired after a sale, so if a physical item is resold, the digital equivalent is transferred to the new owner’s digital wallet. The transparency of blockchain technology means that the new owner can be sure of its authenticity and the creator of the item can track its journey after the sale.

“If you don’t digitize the product itself, you can’t have any data to measure and you don’t know what the impact of fashion is,” Albrighi tells CNN Business.

The textile and fashion industry produces around 92 million tons of waste annually, and digital fashion could play a role in reducing this number.

Kuo says digital spaces could be used as a testing ground for the physical world. For example, a designer could release a digital clothing item in 10 colors in the metaverse and use sales data to inform which colors to use for the real-world version. “It automatically becomes an on-demand model, which can really reduce fashion waste,” he says.

Trying on virtual clothes could also reduce the amount of clothing returned in the physical world, Albrighi says. He adds that holding fashion shows in virtual spaces reduces the need to travel in the fashion world. Both interventions have the potential to reduce the industry’s carbon footprint.

But for these innovations to spread, Albrighi says it’s key to motivate designers. With a phygital model, the blockchain’s transparency could allow brands to earn royalties when an item is sold throughout its lifetime – a way to “produce less and actually earn more.”

“It’s the start of a whole new industry,” he says.

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