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Consumer, Food & Retail Insights

| 6 minutes read

Tailor made temptations: Navigating fast fashion’s ESG woes with Tech

In a dynamic retail landscape, technology and sustainability form a powerful alliance, reshaping how consumers shop and brands operate. In a connected world, where ideas flow freely and content is ever-present, fashion brands find themselves on an incessant quest to keep pace with evolving consumer preferences. The relentless pursuit of relevance has intensified fast fashion, as brands and retailers seek to differentiate themselves in an increasingly crowded marketplace. At the same time consumers are hyper-sensitive and have continual access to publicised concerns around sustainability, environmental impact and ethical practices. This article explores how cutting-edge technology is providing brands with innovative ways to strike a balance between consumer demand for personalisation and sustainable solutions. 

  1. AI-Couture: Crafting personalised retail experiences for trend setting consumers

Technology has transformed the consumer shopping experience. Aside from creating new routes to market, where consumers can now express their preference for traditional retail, online shopping, or purchasing directly from social media platforms, consumers now expect a personalised multi-channel experience where AI-powered algorithms cater to individual preferences to enhance consumer loyalty and satisfaction. A large social media platform’s “For You” page is a good example of this, using AI to advertise products based on consumer interests/behaviours which can be purchased in-app. H&M is another example, asking consumers to answer style-related questions and using AI-powered personalised styling app “Sorted” to give recommendations that match individual preferences[1]. Fashion brand, Zara, has even introduced AI-driven kiosks that allow customers to personalise denim items[2].

Similarly, consumers care about efficiency and convenience and many brands are utilising AI and augmented reality to allow consumers to “try on” products at home. For example, Sephora’s virtual assistant uses AI and AR to allow consumers to virtually try on makeup products and uses AI to predict the best products for an individual based on skin tone, facial features and product preferences[3].

But with the connected world and a consumption culture comes constant access to new ideas, creative content, and change. Brands are required to keep up with ever-evolving customer preferences, changes in fashion trends, new technologies, and increasing demand for personalised experiences and fast, efficient delivery. Retailers are under pressure to meet these needs while maintaining affordability in a “cost-of-living” environment. 

These pressures have poured further fuel on the fast fashion phenomenon, where the requirement for rapid production and consumption comes at a significant, and well-documented, cost in terms of environmental impact and the prevalence of unethical business practices. In this sense, technological advancement has contributed to a consumption culture which raises critical ESG-related concerns that call for urgent transformational change. 

2. Tech-driven sustainability: Fashioning a greener future

In response to the ESG challenges facing the industry, forward-thinking brands are leveraging technology to their advantage. While technology has played a pivotal role in fuelling fast fashion, it also presents an opportunity for transformation. Brands are now harnessing technology’s power to not only streamline the purchasing processes but also to enhance sustainability. This includes initiatives such as bolstering supply chain transparency and adopting circular fashion models. Technology now stands as a potential enabler for the industry’s journey towards more ethical and sustainable practices. 

Retailers are increasingly turning to technologies like blockchain and the internet of things to establish transparent and traceable supply chains. By recording each step of the supply chain on an immutable blockchain ledger, a retail company can provide insights into a product’s journey from raw material sourcing to manufacturing and distribution. Transparent supply chains promote ethical sourcing, assuring regulators and customers that products meet sustainability standards. Patagonia[4] is a good example of a retail company that is embracing such technologies – customers scan a QR code on a product label to access a digital ledger containing information about the materials used, the factories involved and the journey from production to store shelf. Similarly, some brands are leveraging AI algorithms to analyse data from various sources, including social media, weather forecasts, and historical sales to optimise inventory management and predict demand. By optimising inventory levels, brands can reduce overproduction and minimise waste.

And in a “buy now, return later” world, companies are adopting interesting new ways to tackle the ESG challenge posed by direct-to-consumer models. One world leading online marketplace, renowned for its commitment for fast and convenient deliveries, is rolling out the use of electric delivery vehicles in a bid to achieve net zero emissions. ASOS has also changed its returns policies to allow it to block “serial returners” from its website where technology tracks multiple returns from a single user[5].

We’re also seeing an increase in clothing rental platforms and garment recycling platforms, such as DePop and Vinted. Technology facilitates the efficient operation of these models by providing user-friendly interfaces, real-time inventory tracking and personalised recommendations. By embracing circularity, brands extend the lifetime of a garment and reduce their overall environmental impact. 

Brands are also adopting sustainable product development practices using spatial computing. For example, Adidas has embraced virtual prototyping to design and refine its products. Through virtual iterations, the brand can experiment with various materials and designs without physical samples, significantly reducing material waste and carbon footprint associated with the traditional product development processes. This forward-thinking approach aligns with Adidas' sustainability goals and resonates with environmentally-conscious consumers. 

Technology is also driving innovations in sustainable materials, providing viable alternatives to traditional fabrics and materials. Manufacturers are exploring bio-based textiles, which are derived from renewable resources, reducing reliance on resource-intensive practices. However, its essential to approach these developments with a critical eye to differentiate genuine innovation from marketing “spin”.  Inferior quality synthetic materials masquerading as “vegan leather” should not detract from genuinely eco-friendly innovations like Mylo™, a material pioneered by Stella McCartney which is made from mycelium, the root structure of mushrooms[6]. The challenge for brands lies in empowering consumers to discern authentic advancements in sustainable fashion from instances of greenwashing. As alluded to already, there is great potential for technology to enable that.

Is it worth the hype?

But while technology presents an opportunity for improvement in the ESG space, the question for many brands is: “Is it worth it?”. Recent years have taught us a valuable lesson: consumer priorities can change. While many consumers express concerns about ESG-related issues, their purchasing habits don’t always algin with these values. One factor influencing this misalignment is the ongoing cost-of-living crisis. 

As the cost of essentials like housing, fuel, transportation and food continues to rise, consumers often find themselves grappling with tough financial choices. In such challenging economic times, affordability becomes a paramount concern, and individuals may compromise their values to make ends meet. The cost-of-living crisis has created a tension between a consumer’s desire to make ethical and sustainable choices and their immediate financial constraints. 

This complex interplay between financial pressures and ethical considerations highlights the importance of not only advancing sustainable technologies but also using technology to make sustainable products financially accessible to a wider audience. It is incumbent upon both retail brands and policymakers to address this challenge, ensuring that sustainable options are not perceived as cost-prohibitive luxuries but as accessible choices that align with both consumer values and economic realities.

In this context, technology’s role extends beyond providing innovative solutions; it also involves democratising access to these solutions, making ethical and sustainable products more affordable and within reach. Patagonia is again an example of this, encouraging customers to buy and sell Patagonia clothing in its Worn Wear programme, providing sustainability but also affordable access to high-quality outdoor gear. 

How can we help?

As brands embrace technology's potential, they forge a path towards sustainability amidst the challenges posed by fast fashion, consumer demand and economic challenges. Leveraging tech-driven innovations empowers brands to optimise supply chains, embrace circular fashion models, and pioneer sustainable materials. However, in exploring tech-driven solutions, vigilant attention to upcoming legal regulations surrounding supply chain transparency, AI utilisation, and data privacy is vital. Upholding legal standards and implementing appropriate governance processes ensures compliance, safeguards the retail industry's integrity, and bolsters its commitment to sustainability. Similarly, it is important to consider how brands can reference their environmental credentials in an authentic and compliant way.

Navigating the complexities of product development in a virtual world requires careful consideration of intellectual property (IP) rights, licensing agreements, and robust contractual protections, with appropriate exit provisions that safeguard machine to machine transitions.

Expert legal advice can also support the achievement of resilient and compliant, yet agile, supply chains which are necessary to enable a business to react quickly to changing consumer preferences.

Through the conscientious adoption of tech-driven solutions, transparent supply chains, and global collaboration, the fashion industry has a valuable opportunity to evolve and lead the world towards a future where style and ethics co-exist harmoniously. Ultimately, the integration of cutting-edge technology is not just a choice but a collective responsibility to shape a more sustainable and responsible fashion landscape for generations to come.

[1] H&M launches AI-powered personal styling app "Sorted" - Latest Retail Technology News From Across The Globe - Charged (

[2] Zara to Roll Out Denim Customisation Pop-Up | BoF (

[3] Sephora’s Virtual Artist brings augmented reality to large beauty audience | Retail Dive

[4] Patagonia: Smart Packaging — Aaron Wu (

[5] Asos launches new returns policy in bid to block 'serial returners' | ITV News

[6] The world’s first Mylo™️ garments created from vegan mushroom leather (


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