OP-ED: Innovations in Fashion, Moving Beyond Solutions Searching for Problems

As an advocate for the seamless integration of innovation and sustainability in fashion, my journey from traditional fashion to the niche that is fashion innovation has been driven by a quest to find meaningful solutions in an industry often criticised for its environmental footprint and ethical challenges.

I cannot deny that advocating for a harmonious blend of innovation and sustainability is not easy- take it from a well seasoned “connector”. Some of the lessons I have learnt on my journey is that despite the potential for transformative change, the fashion industry’s venture into innovation often seems to stagnate, starkly contrasting with the dynamic advancements seen in other sectors.

In the this op-ed I will dive into why, despite the influx of groundbreaking technologies, fashion struggles to redefine its traditional business model and ask the question of whether some of innovative technology are solutions looking for problems and not necessarily solving the problems.

The Elusive Quest for Meaningful Innovation

The journey of integrating technology into the fashion industry often leads to innovative yet superficial solutions that don’t address the sector’s fundamental challenges. This pattern is not just about missed opportunities; it underscores a significant misalignment between the technological advances being made and the actual needs of the fashion industry. In contrast, fields such as healthcare, finance, and manufacturing have seen profound transformations thanks to technology, achieving leaps in efficiency, sustainability, and customer satisfaction. The fashion sector, however, remains trapped in a cycle of minor adjustments that rarely disrupt or improve the underlying system.

The fashion sector remains trapped in a cycle of minor adjustments that rarely disrupt or improve the underlying system.

One reason for this discrepancy is the fashion industry’s focus on trends and aesthetics over functional and systemic innovation. For example, while healthcare has embraced technologies like telemedicine to expand access to care, fashion’s tech initiatives often revolve around enhancing retail experiences with augmented reality (AR) dressing rooms. Though AR dressing rooms offer a novel shopping experience, they don’t address deeper issues such as waste reduction or supply chain transparency.

Moreover, the fashion industry’s complex and fragmented supply chain presents unique challenges to implementing technological solutions. While the finance sector has successfully integrated blockchain to enhance security and transparency in transactions, similar attempts in fashion, like tracking the lifecycle of a garment to ensure ethical production practices, have been slow to scale. The difference lies in the readiness of each industry to adopt and adapt to new technologies; finance’s infrastructure is inherently more conducive to digital innovations than fashion’s dispersed and varied supply chain.

Another factor is the industry’s slow response to sustainability. While manufacturing has turned to automation and smart technologies to reduce waste and increase efficiency, fashion’s sustainability efforts often get limited to marketing strategies rather than fundamental operational changes. Real-world examples include the use of recycled materials in limited product lines, which, while commendable, do not significantly move the needle towards the industry-wide adoption of sustainable practices.

So what to do? Well if the fashion industry is to integrate meaningful technological innovation, companies need to stop prioritising short-term trends over long-term value. All it does is expose a fragmented supply chain resistant to change, and a tepid approach to sustainability. To truly revolutionise the fashion industry, stakeholders must shift their focus towards innovations that offer substantial improvements in sustainability, transparency, and efficiency, mirroring the transformative changes witnessed in other sectors.

Great Solutions That are Not Necessarily Solving the Problems

In my exploration of the intersection between technology and fashion, I’ve encountered numerous innovations that, while groundbreaking, often feel like solutions in search of problems rather than genuine answers to the industry’s pressing challenges. This observation is not to undermine the potential of technology to revolutionise fashion but to highlight a misalignment in priorities that sometimes characterises the sector’s approach to innovation.

For instance, consider the advent of blockchain technology in fashion. Its potential for enhancing transparency and traceability in supply chains is immense, promising a future where consumers can verify the ethical and sustainable credentials of their clothing with a simple scan. However, in practice, the adoption of blockchain has been sporadic and, at times, superficial. Brands may tout blockchain initiatives that track a limited range of products or materials, but these efforts can feel more like marketing ploys than substantial moves toward systemic change. The real issue at hand—overproduction and its environmental impact—remains largely unaddressed by such technological applications.

This observation is not to undermine the potential of technology to revolutionise fashion but to highlight a misalignment in priorities.

Another example is the use of virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) in retail. These technologies offer exciting possibilities for enhancing the shopping experience, such as virtual fitting rooms or immersive runway shows accessible from the comfort of one’s home. Yet, when I reflect on the core issues plaguing fashion—like waste, unsustainable consumption patterns, and labor rights abuses—these digital novelties, though impressive, don’t tackle those problems head-on. They improve customer engagement and may even offer a novel way to shop, but they do little to encourage more sustainable or ethical consumer behaviors.

Similarly, the buzz around 3D printing in fashion has been considerable. It’s heralded for its potential to reduce waste through on-demand manufacturing and for enabling customisation at unprecedented levels. However, despite these advantages, the widespread adoption of 3D printing faces significant barriers, including cost, material limitations, and the technical skills required for design and production. While 3D printing offers a tantalising glimpse into a more sustainable and personalised fashion future, it currently serves more as a niche within haute couture and high-end fashion than a practical solution for the industry’s mass-market and fast fashion segments.

In reflecting on these examples, it’s clear to me that while the fashion industry is not short of technological innovations, the critical task lies in aligning these advancements with the sector’s most urgent needs. The challenge is not merely to adopt new technologies for their own sake but to strategically apply them in ways that address the environmental, ethical, and social issues at the heart of fashion’s contemporary crisis. True innovation, in my view, should not just captivate our imaginations with what’s technically possible but should guide us toward making the fashion industry more sustainable, equitable, and responsible.

Is there a Path to Sustainable Innovation?

Yes of course there is there is a path to sustainable innovation. I say this not because I am an optimistic person (most of the times, anyway) but because I believe that the integration of sustainable technologies in fashion could potentially help the industry shift towards a more conscious approach when it comes to environmental impact and ethical responsibilities. Innovations like biodegradable materials, waterless dyeing, and digital manufacturing are paving the way for a future where fashion not only coexists with nature but actively contributes to its preservation. However, the journey towards this future is fraught with challenges, particularly in reconciling these technologies with the prevailing fast fashion model. Here, we examine the pros and cons of these sustainable innovations and propose actions to facilitate their adoption.


Reduced Environmental Impact: Sustainable technologies significantly lower the ecological footprint of fashion production by minimising water usage, reducing chemical waste, and cutting down on carbon emissions. For instance, waterless dyeing technology can save vast amounts of water, a critical consideration in an industry that is one of the largest water consumers.

Promotion of Circular Economy: By employing biodegradable materials and processes that enable recycling and reuse, these technologies support the transition to a circular economy. This not only helps in waste reduction but also in extending the lifecycle of garments, thereby diminishing the need for constant production.

Enhanced Brand Image and Market Competitiveness: Adoption of sustainable practices can bolster a brand’s image, appealing to the growing segment of environmentally conscious consumers. It positions brands as industry leaders in sustainability, potentially opening up new markets and customer bases.


High Initial Costs: The shift towards sustainable technologies often requires significant upfront investment in new machinery, materials, and training. For many businesses, especially small and medium-sized enterprises, these costs can be prohibitive.

Supply Chain Complexity: Integrating sustainable practices into existing supply chains can be complex and challenging. It demands rigorous standards and certifications, along with the need to educate and sometimes reconfigure relationships with suppliers and manufacturers.

Consumer Perception and Demand: Despite a growing awareness, the demand for sustainable products is still not at par with conventional fashion items, primarily due to higher prices and limited availability. Changing consumer habits remains a significant challenge.

Actionable Steps

Government Policies and Incentives: Governments can play a pivotal role by introducing policies that favor sustainable practices, such as subsidies for sustainable technologies, tax breaks for eco-friendly products, and penalties for environmentally harmful practices. Such measures can lower the barrier to entry for sustainable innovations.

Industry Collaboration: Brands, manufacturers, and designers need to collaborate more closely to create shared platforms for knowledge and resource exchange. Industry-wide standards and certifications can be developed to ensure transparency and accountability in the adoption of sustainable technologies.

Consumer Education and Engagement: Increasing consumer awareness about the environmental impact of their fashion choices is crucial. Brands should invest in marketing and educational campaigns that highlight the benefits of sustainable products, thereby gradually shifting consumer demand towards more eco-friendly options.

Investment in Research and Development: Continuous investment in R&D is essential for improving the cost-effectiveness and efficiency of sustainable technologies. This can lead to the development of new materials and processes that are both environmentally friendly and economically viable for mass production.

Supply Chain Transparency: Brands should strive for greater transparency in their supply chains, leveraging technologies like blockchain to provide consumers with traceability and proof of sustainability. This can build trust and encourage more informed purchasing decisions.

The Digital Divide

The integration of AI, blockchain, and digital realities such as AR/VR into the fashion industry offers a broad spectrum of opportunities and challenges. These technologies have the potential to redefine consumer experiences, enhance operational efficiencies, and foster sustainable practices. However, their effective adoption is hampered by systemic issues within the industry. Below, we explore the pros and cons of these technologies in fashion and outline actionable steps for overcoming obstacles.


AI (Artificial Intelligence):

  • Personalisation: AI enables highly personalised shopping experiences by analysing consumer behaviour, preferences, and trends, leading to improved customer satisfaction and loyalty.
  • Efficiency in Supply Chain: AI can optimise inventory management, demand forecasting, and logistics, reducing waste and improving the speed to market.
  • Sustainable Operations: Through predictive analytics, AI helps in reducing overproduction, one of fashion’s most significant environmental impacts.


  • Transparency and Traceability: Blockchain technology can provide a transparent record of a product’s journey from raw materials to the end consumer, enhancing trust and accountability in sustainable practices.
  • Anti-counterfeiting: It ensures product authenticity, which is particularly valuable in the luxury segment, combating counterfeit goods.

Digital Realities (AR/VR):

  • Immersive Shopping Experiences: AR/VR allows consumers to try on clothes virtually, improving online shopping experiences and potentially reducing return rates.
  • Creative Marketing: Brands can use AR/VR for innovative marketing campaigns, providing engaging and interactive content that enhances brand perception.


Common Challenges Across Technologies:

  • High Implementation Costs: The initial investment in these technologies can be substantial, deterring small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).
  • Lack of Technical Expertise: There is a shortage of skilled professionals within the fashion industry to develop and manage these advanced technologies.
  • Fragmented Industry Structure: The fashion industry’s decentralised nature makes it challenging to implement cohesive technological solutions across the entire value chain.
  • Data Privacy Concerns: With the increased use of personal data, there are growing concerns about privacy and data security.

Actions for Adoption

Developing a Cohesive Digital Infrastructure:

  • Industry Collaboration: Encourage partnerships between tech companies, fashion brands, and academic institutions to foster innovation and share best practices.
  • Investment in Education: Enhance educational programs to include digital skills relevant to fashion technology, preparing a new generation of professionals.
  • Government and Industry Support: Financial incentives and support programs from governments and industry bodies can help SMEs overcome the high cost of technology adoption.

Fostering a Culture of Innovation:

  • Pilot Projects and Test Beds: Brands should engage in pilot projects to test technologies in real-world scenarios, learning and adapting before full-scale implementation.
  • Consumer Education: Educate consumers on the benefits of these technologies, such as the importance of sustainability and transparency, to build demand for innovative products.

Addressing Privacy and Ethical Concerns:

  • Data Protection Policies: Implement robust data protection measures and transparent policies to address privacy concerns and build consumer trust.
  • Ethical Use of Technology: Ensure that the application of AI, blockchain, and AR/VR adheres to ethical standards, particularly concerning data usage and environmental impact.

Why Does Fashion Falter? And What is The Path Forward?

The question then arises: why does the fashion industry falter in the face of innovation, while other sectors flourish? The answer lies in a complex web of challenges unique to fashion. Firstly, the traditional business model of fashion, with its fast-paced cycles and volume-driven economics, is inherently resistant to change. The industry’s reliance on trends and seasonality, coupled with a fragmented supply chain, complicates the integration of technologies that demand upfront investment and a long-term perspective.

Moreover, the subjective nature of fashion, where value is often derived from intangible elements like brand identity and aesthetic appeal, poses a distinct challenge to objectively measuring the impact of technological innovations. Unlike industries with more straightforward metrics for success (such as cost reduction, speed, and precision), fashion’s success criteria are multifaceted and harder to quantify.

For fashion to truly embrace innovation and move beyond the superficial application of technology, a paradigm shift is required. This shift involves rethinking the traditional business model to prioritise sustainability, transparency, and consumer engagement over mere production and sales volume. It demands a collaborative effort across the industry to build a digital infrastructure that supports this new model, fostering an ecosystem where technology and creativity coalesce to address the pressing issues of our time.

As we venture further into this technological landscape, it’s imperative that the fashion industry adopts a more strategic approach to innovation—one that is rooted in purpose and aligned with the broader goals of sustainability and social responsibility. Only then can we hope to see an industry that not only adapts to the future but leads the way in shaping a more sustainable and ethical world.

In conclusion, while the challenges are significant, the potential for positive change is immense. By reevaluating our approach to innovation and aligning it more closely with the industry’s core challenges and opportunities, fashion can break free from its cycle of stagnation and embrace a future where technology serves as a catalyst for meaningful transformation.