The ephemeral nature of fashion may seem an odd companion for blockchain, an online ledger that is designed to be permanent. But the industry is finding ways to harness it and other digital tools to reduce waste and push fashion into the future.
Italian company Lablaco is working with fashion houses and brands to digitize their collections in the growing “figital” fashion market – where customers buy a physical fashion item and its digital “twin”, designed to be assembled or worn by avatars in virtual environments such as the metaverse.
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 producing clothes in a way that reduces waste.
The pair launched the Circular Fashion Summit in 2019, and Lablaco worked with retailer H&M to introduce a blockchain-based clothing rental service in 2021.
Pushing fashion into digital spaces helps generate data that is vital in efforts to move toward circular fashion, they argue. With Lablaco’s model, physical and digital items remain paired even after the 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 assured of its authenticity and the creator of the item can follow 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 fashion impact is,” Albrighi tells CNN Business.
The textile and fashion industry creates approximately 92 million tonnes of waste per year, and digital fashion can play a role in reducing this figure.
Kuo says digital spaces can be used as a test bed for the physical world. For example, a designer might release a digital garment 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,” she says.
Trying on virtual clothes could also reduce the amount of clothes that make it back into the physical world, says Albrighi. He adds that holding fashion shows in virtual spaces reduces the fashion world’s need to travel. Both interventions have the potential to reduce the industry’s carbon footprint.
But for these innovations to become widespread, Albrighi says that encouraging designers is essential. With the phygital model, the blockchain’s transparency could allow brands to receive royalties when an item is resold throughout its lifetime — a way to “produce less and actually earn more.”
“It’s the start of a whole new industry,” he says.