• Scott Church


Updated: Sep 24, 2020

By Dan O’Connell & Jennifer Drury, co-founders BrandLab. 

Before Covid, ‘carbon neutrality’ was one of the key phrases on everyone’s lips. And despite the pandemic, this issue has not gone away – it remains a concern for everyone within the global fashion industry. The question is – how do we achieve it?

Prompted by the 2030 Paris Agreement, industries are being asked to curb emissions to align with the UN’s agreement, in an effort to limit the global temperature rise to 1.5°C.

While it is imperative that all industries work towards a circular economy (i.e. one in which maximum value is extracted from all existing resources), the fashion industry has a particularly important part to play. It is reported that the industry produces 150 billion pieces of clothing every year, with 87% of all textiles ending up in landfill.

The Covid pandemic has shaken the industry, with global sales expected to fall 28-38% in 2020 (across the textile, apparel and footwear industries). Many companies have been forced to physically pause, giving them an opportunity to reflect on their carbon footprint and refine their practices. Because of this, we’re now seeing the rapid growth of a new industry trend: digital samples.

The benefits here are two-fold. As an industry, we are reminded to avoid waste and assist with our own carbon footprint. We are also urged not to slow down, but to rethink and work smarter. For example, the decline of physical showrooms needn’t impact business growth; by working digitally, this £2tn global industry will be able to continue growing even if it takes several years for the world to recover from the pandemic.

In order to shift our global approach to climate change and produce less waste, we must adapt our thinking when it comes to the production line. While it is important that consumer demand is met, digitalising the wholesale experience and relying less, if at all, on physical samples, is the way forward. It means an end to wallflowers, with only the essential products getting the physical go-ahead.

Our virtual showrooms offer digital solutions for brands looking to run their businesses effectively without in-person meetings or events. Buyers are able to explore new collections without stepping a foot outside their office or home. This needn’t impact interaction, as the showrooms offer face-to-face video chat, meaning visitors can continue to network and meet relevant brand contacts and attendees virtually. It’s a time-savvy and eco-friendly move that requires no trains, planes or physical samples.

Up until recently, the digital showroom was generally a static affair and didn’t allow the user to interact with individual samples. To provide greater choice for how our clients choose to showcase their products, we have introduced an interactive digital rail for assortments. Buyers are now able to pick up specific items from various collections and add or save them to a virtual rail, saving time and eradicating the sense of urgency that often comes from pressurised in-person viewings. They can select as many garments as they like, save them and make key choices at their leisure, with other decision makers having the opportunity to provide input too.

Embracing a digital world

Never one to get left behind, luxury British brand, Barbour, is embracing these developments. Pre-Covid, it invested in virtual replications of its physical, international showrooms. In recent months it has also been hosting its live face-to-face appointments online. Others monetising this type of digitally-led approach include Unreal Fur and Mundi Westport. Both have introduced their own digital showrooms and have been connecting with clients through VR and digital samples.

Companies such as Miami-based Perry Ellis have gone as far as to say they are working towards a sample-free future. Whether businesses decide to take this approach or a more hybrid one, it is certain that the industry is now changing quickly for the greater good.

Within the next 12 months we will see further transformations. Pressures are mounting both environmentally and economically, and larger brands will need to embrace not only digital showrooms, but more digital samples too. Green growth alone is not enough. In order to reach demands for circularity, we must raise the bar and use greener technologies to develop post-growth, production methods and infrastructure.

Dan O’Connell and Jennifer Drury are the co-founders of BrandLab, an innovative digital software solution designed to streamline the wholesale fashion industry.

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