How Blockchain Helps Sustainable Fashion
Updated: Oct 15, 2020
What does blockchain have anything to do with sustainable fashion?
That was the question I had when my mum told me about this event called Blockchain and Fashion: Growing Local Industry Through Sustainable Fashion.
In short, the blockchain technology can be used to trace the production of garments all the way from the supply chain to retailers. This gives the consumers the knowledge of the process and materials as well as keeping the companies accountable.
This discussion, however, didn’t address the underlying consumerism issue.
Let’s start from the start
I was there at half-past one, half an hour earlier than the intended start time. As expected of the infamous “Malaysian timing”, it only began 17 minutes after two.
The audience was predominantly female and I soon made sense of it––this event is organised by the International Women’s Federation of Commerce and Industry Malaysia (IWFCIM).
What does IWFCIM do?
They provide women entrepreneurs access and resources to participate in business and networking opportunities
They are a part of the global IWFCI with 2 million affiliated members
I quite like their ethos and that in Malaysia they are open to exploring topics such as sustainability and wellness.
Setting the tone
The opening speeches presented a mix of concern and hope.
Dato Yasmin Mahmood, CEO of FutureReady Consulting, highlighted a worrisome quote by Maxine Bedat:
“The fashion industry is the second most polluting industry in the world and the largest employer of slave and child labour”
This wasn’t news to me but it still strikes a nerve.
How are the fashion companies getting away with this horrific humanitarian and environmental crisis?
But it’s not a lost cause (yet).
And this is where blockchain comes in.
Dato Yasmin introduced us to Provenance, a company that uses blockchain “to help brands and retailers build customer trust through transparency.”
I think that the need for this technology shows that more and more consumers are demanding to know where a product comes from and how it’s made. It means that the people are becoming aware of the issues within the fashion industry and want to make sure that they aren’t complicit in an unethical production.
This sounds hopeful.
Yasmin Rasyid, the founder of EcoKnights, echoed the hope that blockchain could bring to the rather destructive but lucrative fashion industry.
Making profits as much as $800billion a year, the fashion industry is not only rife with inequality but also throws out 92 million tonnes of solid waste each year.
It’s not hard to imagine, really.
Many of us would buy more clothes than we actually need. We buy bags as often as the season changes. We buy a dozen pairs of shoes to match each outfit.
What Yasmin said is our consumerist and indulgent reality:
“What was once basic is now in excess”
The panel discussion moderated by Kristina Teow weaved together the three themes of this event.
FASHION + SUSTAINABILITY + BLOCKCHAIN
SUPPORTING LOCAL BATIK FASHION
Masrina Abdullah, a batik artist, shared with us the importance of keeping local traditions while being practical about it.
She admitted that batik is a sunset industry with its many challenges, including having to compete with Indonesia batik which is actually painted textile and not the real deal.
I guess her part of the panel was to show that fashion is an art form that would not die anytime soon even though there may be forgeries and cheap duplicates.
To many, it’s a form of self-expression.
But fast fashion has somewhat made it more of a mindless consumption habit than true artistry.
So it’s our responsibility as citizens to support local producers and be more mindful of our fashion choices.
DON’T BUY NEW THINGS
I’m so glad that they invited Ambika Sangaran, a managing partner of Biji-Biji Ethical Fashion.
Unlike the other panellists, she refused the plastic water bottle (even though the organisers would take them back for recycling) as she had brought her own. This is not the point of this discussion but I often notice this kind of small action that brings a huge impact if done collectively.
Ambika’s main message was to support local products and go to secondhand shops if need be.
She was probably the only one to say don’t go to shopping malls or online stores to buy new things that we most likely would not truly need. She knows it’s a difficult thing to do for most people but she encourages people to make small changes every day.
ETHICS BEING THE BIGGER PICTURE OF SUSTAINABILITY
Dr Cordelia Mason, the Director of Yayasan UniKL, was another figure whom I was impressed by.
She emphasized the importance of ETHICS in sustainable living.
To live sustainably is to consider whether an action brings good or harm to the environment or a living being.
I guess this is why I am drawn to sustainable or minimal living in general as a vegan. It aligns with the vegan concept of being compassionate towards others. And living sustainably is essentially that.
When we think of sustainable living, we mostly think of not wasting things away so that it doesn’t destroy the environment and our own health.
Simply put, it’s just an act of being kind to mother nature and her inhabitants.
And I think veganism, the non-exploitation of animals, is one crucial component of sustainable living.
Dr Cordelia also believes that a more sustainable world would mean less greedy people.
This could be true if greedy people don’t misuse the idea of sustainability for their material gain, and that more kind people approach life in a childlike manner; curious about how to repurpose old things yet mature enough to choose not to buy new things.
REMOTE WORK = SUSTAINABLE LIVING
One might think that a co-working company like Workana seemed an odd feature in this panel. But it soon made sense to me.
Besides being one of the sponsors of the event, Workana sent Alejandro Kikuchi, the Head of International Growth, to talk a bit about the future of the workforce.
He believes that work-life balance is starting to become important.
So the way we do things will be different in the future.
I believe that too and I guess most people do too.
The difference is that I have been lucky and courageous enough to take the leap from work that does not fulfil me and work that does.
In my case, the latter looks like working freelance so that I can have full control of my time and potentially do more of what I enjoy.
I’m grateful for people like Kiku who is spearheading this movement despite the odds.
In one of Workana’s posts on Instagram, they explained how remote work contributes to meeting two of the Sustainable Development Goals:
Helping fight climate change and protect the planet
reduces transport emissions
reduces urban overcrowding
lowers irresponsible consumption due to lack of time
Putting an end to poverty and inequality
creates work opportunities for everybody everywhere
increases financial independence
work flexibility promotes continuous education and training
I understand that remote work is not for everyone, but I believe companies should take it more seriously as an option for those who want and can do so.
HOW BLOCKCHAIN HELPS TO MAKE FASHION MORE SUSTAINABLE
Cris Tran from Infinity Blockchain Ventures presented the role of technology in solving problems.
In this case, blockchain.
A blockchain is a time-stamped series of immutable records of data that is managed by a cluster of computers joining into that blockchain.
It enhances transparency as all the information stored cannot be altered.
It reduces frauds as the nature of its immutability increases confidence in data integrity.
It eliminates the need for a third party thus reducing overhead costs.
So in the case of the fashion industry, blockchain can track the product’s journey from supply chain to retailers.
But data in itself wouldn’t mean much if it’s not communicated well.
Knowing humans, we are drawn to stories.
That’s why Cris believes that with the data from blockchain technology, companies can create a story behind a product to build trust with consumers.
End compulsive consumerism?
What they missed out on was a Q&A session after the panel.
I wanted to question them––“what if fast fashion is halted completely?”
I understand that blockchain can play a role in keeping brands accountable but it still doesn’t address the compulsive and unethical nature of fast fashion.
To me, fast fashion can’t be sustainable or ethical because the economy behind it demands fast production and large resources. This would put a toll on workers and the environment.
So I think blockchain should help local companies who uphold the sustainability mantle.
But this is difficult to justify because greenwashing could sneak into the belief system.
And I also wonder if local brands should just be limited to their locality and not go global as brands are wont to do.
These are questions that I don’t have the answers to yet but I’m sure I’ll find out someday.