Web3 could help fashion become more sustainable

If there is one industry that could use web3, that industry is fashion.

Hear us out. Fashion is one of the most polluting sectors in the world, and, according to the United Nations Environmental Programme, is responsible for up to 10% of the world’s carbon dioxide output, more than the international flights and maritime shipping industries combined. Eighty-five percent of clothes in the United States alone end up in landfills, and at least 20% of all water pollution results from textile dyeing. The ravenous appetite of fast fashion shoppers isn’t settling anytime soon, and fashion’s supply chain remains quite arduous on the environment.

A possible step toward finding the multiple solutions needed to fix this damaging sector is, well, embracing more web3.

Think about it. At least on a basic level, the widespread adoption of augmented and virtual reality alone could cut down the waste used to produce fashion shows or allow consumers to try on clothes at home rather than hop in a car to reach a store, saving the hassle associated with returning items. Blockchain technology allows for more transparency and increased awareness of what happens to a product after one discards it or produces it, and tracking the lifecycle of an item is essential for bringing more accountability to the industry.

“Blockchain applications for the fashion industry are certainly coming, and they’ll provide meaningful sustainability upgrades around our existing fashion infrastructure.” Derek Edward Schloss, partner, Collab+Currency

For example, last week, a new marketplace using decentralized technology called SPIN launched, allowing consumers to rent, buy and sell clothing using VR and AR technologies. It lets customers enter digital versions of stores, chat with avatars and buy physical items. The app is minted on the blockchain FLOW, which claims to use less energy than other blockchains, to let customers track the lifecycle of their purchases and, though it currently targets the luxury market, is one way to start thinking about the future of digital retail.

“No more questions about whether an item is real or fake, or how it’s actually made; it’s complete transparency from production to delivery to secondhand sale,” Hugo Renaudin, the founder and CEO of the decentralized exchange P00LS, told TechCrunch. “That’s the future of fashion, and it’s actually here and available to us, thanks to web3.”

Marina Raphael, the founder of an eponymous fashion brand, agreed. She dipped into web3 when she released a limited-edition NFT to the first few people who purchased one of her latest handbags; now, she’s looking to go further and is considering adopting supply-chain tracking to verify the sustainable origins of a product.

“Being able to utilize blockchains to verify the true sustainability and provenance of materials should be industrywide,” she told TechCrunch. “Ensuring a fully traceable supply chain ensures an ethical and responsible approach that can no longer be shrouded in opacity.”

This transparent and readily available information could help consumers make more informed decisions about what they buy. Brands can tag physical products with a digital ID so consumers can scan and track the item via, let’s say, an app. People can then see, written clear as day, the name of the person who threw that product item into the trash, which, at the very least, is an embarrassment consumers would want to avoid. It could also help gather enough information to quantify how big of a problem waste still is in fashion and perhaps aid the passage of legislation.

Recently, Kerry Bannigan, the executive director of the Fashion Impact Fund, has been throwing VR fashion shows. This trend accelerated during the pandemic, though many designers reverted to their old ways in a post-lockdown world. A standout has always been Anifa Mvuemba, whose brand Hanifa made headlines with a 3D fashion show that debuted on Instagram live. After that, it seemed the fashion world expanded a bit in terms of possibility, or, as one Twitter user wrote, they’ve “never seen anything like” it.

Bannigan said a pivot to digital fashion shows is important as physical ones are a significant source of waste and pollution. She said that web3 allowed her to reduce her in-person carbon footprint, energy consumption and waste.

“Ensuring a fully traceable supply chain ensures an ethical and responsible approach that can no longer be shrouded in opacity.” Marina Raphael, founder

“The fashion element required fewer resources than the manufacturing of garments, material, logistics, water, greenhouse gas, pollution overall, and could be seen to regulate the issue of current overproduction,” she said, adding that it “also allowed us to have a more inclusive engagement of our global community.”

Last year, investors splashed nearly $7 billion into web3 startups. Fashion, in the traditional sense, hasn’t, been the best fit for VC money, though the industry is still worth more than a trillion dollars. At the same time, blockchain-based avatars and digital fashion have a multibillion-dollar market cap, a number that Derek Edward Schloss, a partner at the firm Collab+Currency, only expects to increase, especially as demand from younger consumers continues to rise.

He said he believes blockchains will help usher in a “radical new era of fashion sustainability.” Though he believes that the biggest impact web3 will have on fashion is its ability to move physical spaces into purely digital ones, as seen by the efforts of SPIN and digital fashion shows. Schloss noted that 30% of physical garments per season are left unsold, which equates to nearly 92 million tons of textile waste a year. “In stark contrast, recent insights provide that digital fashion’s carbon footprint is 97% less than physical garment production.

“Blockchain applications for the fashion industry are certainly coming, and they’ll provide meaningful sustainability upgrades around our existing fashion infrastructure,” Schloss told TechCrunch, adding that it’s the most compelling database for tracking fashion objects.

“The ability to customize our digital identities has become more attractive for a far larger population today as we spend even more of our time working and socializing on the internet,” he added. “Customization of our identities through digital fashion will likely become an important second-order effect during the proliferation of immersive technology.”

However, despite its overwhelming potential and even being somewhat embraced by storied legacy brands, there are still hurdles facing fashion’s widespread adoption of web3. For starters, much of web3 is still too difficult to interact with, and its UX needs significant improvements.

“Seamless onboarding, wallet creation, and improved security and regulations are all lacking, which makes web3 technologies inferior to existing payment rails and Web 2.0 technologies used currently,” Raphael said. “Integrating web3 into existing businesses is also quite challenging due to the nascence of web3 and lack of understanding.”

Dimetri Hogan, the founder of the creative experiential agency Radiant Room, who launched an AR experience with an artist last year, said younger consumers, the tech-savvy top buyers of fast fashion, need to hear messages that conservation and digital retail are cool. “I think the missing component of web3 in fashion right now is the communication; a lot of brands and individuals haven’t had anyone that they respect or who has the cool factor really engage and tell them that web3 is cool.”

One way to keep consumer interest is to validate their behavior, like rewarding them with NFT gifts or digital tokens for buying vintage rather than new clothing or repairing rather than replacing an item, Renaudin said.

What would that look like in practice, for example, is if Net-a-Porter, which launched a resell service, gave out digital tokens for every item a consumer resold rather than discarded and then allowed those digital tokens to be used for a discount on future items. Ultimately, it’s the idea of circularity and encapsulating one in the cycle, which is, at least in one way or another, part of the endgame.

“Looking at the rate of adoption and penetration globally, web3 is already too big to fail as a technology,” Renaudin said. “It’s only a matter of time before it becomes ubiquitous, just like the internet is today.”