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Digitalization: the key to reducing material waste in the fashion industry

Digitalization: the key to reducing material waste in the fashion industry


If fashion is by nature ephemeral, its environmental impact is long-lasting. Regularly criticized for the waste it generates on a global scale, the fashion industry is also called out for the pollution caused by clothing production. Attention to these issues is increasing, not only among consumers, but also among industry players, for whom limiting material waste, overstocking and unsold goods is also a financial concern. By integrating new technologies, including artificial intelligence, Industry 4.0, and better connections between supply chain players, the fashion industry can considerably reduce its consumption of materials and limit the risk of unsold goods.

Less material to produce a garment: the challenge of the cutting room

Material consumption has a significant impact on the environmental footprint of fashion manufacturers. For most production models, materials account for more than 90% of CO emissions2 emissions generated during the entire life cycle of a cutting room. When we think of textile waste generated by the fashion industry, it is unlikely that we first think of fabric scraps during clothing production, yet these represent between 10 and 15% of total material consumption.

Every millimeter of fabric saved counts for manufacturers looking to limit fabric waste to reduce their environmental footprint. For example, by reducing the spacing between the pieces of fabric to be cut and by optimizing the arrangement (nesting) of these pieces on the textile to be used, significant material savings can be made.

For large volumes, even the smallest additional percentage of fabric used represents much less waste. It is therefore essential to adopt the right technologies, with software and equipment enabling material savings throughout the workflow.

During production preparation, artificial intelligence can be used to optimize the nesting of parts to be cut. Fashion companies that rely on automated nesting software can not only reduce the amount of material used, but also estimate, ahead of production, the exact quantity of fabric they will need, thus avoiding excess waste. stocks and material shortages. These technologies offer the ability to use 3D prototyping to encourage remote collaboration and avoid unnecessary material consumption and transportation.

During the cutting process, the same software can be used to limit or even eliminate the required spacing between parts. The most technologically advanced cutting machines also play a key role in material savings. A wide range of functions are available to manufacturers to reduce material waste. Featuring integrated scanners and state-of-the-art image sensors, the equipment is able to facilitate the management of patterns on printed fabrics and anticipate possible distortions in the material to optimize cutting and reduce waste.

Finally, by adapting to all spread thicknesses (i.e. the superposition of folds of material, or layers, awaiting cutting), the cutters facilitate the adaptation of production volumes to fluctuations in demand and volumes ordered.

On-demand manufacturing to combat unsold inventory

Reducing material waste also involves reducing the volume of unsold clothing, or produced in excess of demand, which will either be stored for a long time before being purchased (called “dead stock”), destroyed (incinerated), or thrown into waste. neighboring countries. a world where regulations do not yet prohibit it. In the United States alone, 11.3 million tons of clothing waste are thrown away each year. The financial and environmental impact of this waste is colossal and unacceptable. The industry must rethink its way of manufacturing, and stick as closely as possible to real demand, that is to say, only produce what will be sold, or even what has already been sold (production on demand).

Technological advances are opening up previously unthinkable possibilities. Automated competitive analysis solutions, which operate using artificial intelligence algorithms, provide fashion brands with an abundance of accurate information that could not be obtained with manual benchmarking alone. They can discover which categories, styles and colors of clothing and accessories are selling best, allowing brands to optimize their positioning and pricing relative to the competition and make the most informed decisions. This comprehensive monitoring is essential to avoid overproduction.

Solutions to automate on-demand production, from order receipt to cutting, and to manage personalized, tailor-made and small series production, are now available. The key lies in the flexibility of production systems and equipment capable of adapting to any type and volume of order. Automatically detecting fabric defects as early as possible in the manufacturing cycle will also help avoid using unsuitable parts to assemble a garment, the final product of which would most likely end up being thrown away.

Adopting these technologies is crucial for fashion companies who want to increase their margins, reduce their environmental footprint and reduce their unsold inventory. These solutions will also help them make the most of trends, detecting them early, increasing the agility of their supply chain and reducing their time to market.

Leonard Marano is President, Americas, of Lectra.




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