The ephemeral nature of fashion might seem an odd companion for blockchain, a networked ledger designed to be permanent. But the industry is finding ways to use it and other digital tools to reduce waste and push fashion into the future.
Italian company Lablaco works with fashion houses and brands to digitize their collections in the growing “figital” 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 the metaverse .
Lablaco was founded in 2016 by Lorenzo Albrighi and Eliana Kuo. Both had backgrounds in luxury fashion, but sought to improve the industry’s sustainability credentials and promote circular fashion — the practice of designing and producing clothing in a way that reduces waste.
The pair launched the Circular Fashion Summit in 2019, and Lablaco collaborated with retailer H&M to launch a blockchain-based clothing rental service in 2021.
Pushing fashion into digital spaces helps generate data that is critical in efforts to move toward circular fashion, they argue. With Lablac’s model, physical and digital items remain paired even after a sale, so if the 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 data to measure and you don’t know what the impact of fashion is,” Albrighi tells CNN Business.
The textile and fashion industry generates approximately 92 million tons of waste per year, and digital fashion could play a role in reducing that number.
Kuo says digital spaces could be used as a testing ground for the physical world. For example, a designer might release a digital garment in 10 colors in the metaverse and use sales data to determine 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 clothing returned in the physical world, Albrighi says. He adds that fashion shows in virtual spaces reduce the fashion world’s need for travel. Both interventions have the potential to reduce the industry’s carbon footprint.
But for these innovations to become widespread, Albrighi says encouraging designers is key. Along with the phygital model, the blockchain’s transparency could allow brands to receive royalties when an item is resold during its lifetime — a way to “produce less and actually make more.”
“It’s the start of a whole new industry,” he says.