‘Fashion sustainability requires innovation’

This week was Fashion Week in Stockholm - and that means more than catwalks and clothing. The focus needs to be on innovation and how to create sustainable clothing, Swedes say.

Fashion Week is a popular event across Europe and the world, where new and exciting designs shock and delight on the runway and fashionistas decide what to wear next season.

But in Sweden, a country devoted to sustainability and innovation, it has an additional focus.

“With the right kind of innovation, we can consume less, and consume in better ways,” Swede Madelaine Levy, editor of fashion magazine Bon, said at an event about the future of fashion. “Sustainability requires innovation.”

Levy hosted an intriguing panel discussion with several of the top names in the industry to discuss exactly what the future of fashion is – and the lines between fashion and technology were quickly blurred.

One of the panelists was Bradley Quinn, a well-known fashion journalist who has worked with 'Wearables' – the next generation of fashion, featuring technology blended into clothing. Quinn said that all of our clothing will be filled with technology very, very soon.

“Brands can really benefit from wearable technology,” he said. “Fiber optics and LEDs can be powered by batteries or even heat from the body to create clothing that lights up. This is valuable in sports, for example when people are working out at night and need to be seen in the dark.”

An example of wearable technology, a dress by CuteCircuit.

Nanotechnology will also enable manufacturers to produce clothing that is waterproof, has more interesting textures, changes colours, and much more. In fact, technology and lifestyle have already blended in essentially all other arenas – and Quinn said that very soon engineers and fashion designers may be one and the same.

“Nowadays new graduates have more skills than those who have been working in the industry for 15 years,” Quinn remarked. “You get students saying, ‘Hey, why don’t we grow a dress in the lab?’ These young people are already changing the world of fashion.”

Indeed, Swedish and international students at the Beckman's College of Design in Stockholm are already changing fashion. Each year 14 students are selected to collaborate with well-known Swedish brands and create their own cutting-edge interpretations and put on a show. Get a glimpse at this year's designs below.

Another panelist was Francis Bitonti, a designer from New York who specializes in 3D design. His most famous production was a black dress produced for model Dita von Teese. 

“The dress has 3,000 unique moving parts,” Bitoni said. “Most 3D printed garments so far have been armour or just fabric, but this we printed as a completed dress.”

The 3D printed dress.

In short, the technology of the future is already here. And as soon as 2016, wearable technology will be entering mainstream fashion, according to Quinn.

Since Sweden is on the frontlines of sustainability, and also a key player when it comes to fashion, the panelists agreed that the country can be a leader in this area.

"For instance, with 3D printing we can download a product instead of shipping it, and this means that you can produce on a local and low-level scale, saving money and cutting carbon emissions," Swedish designer Julia Krantz said. 

Krantz said that another impressive development already underway is for consumers to scan their bodies and create customized products. She is one of the designers behind Volumental, a part-Swedish company which is already working with body scanning.

Such developments are still a ways away, but the important change – which is already taking place in Sweden – is how companies view consumers and production, Krantz said.

“The most radical part of this is putting the consumer in the beginning of the production process and value chain, rather than at the end.”