There are few things more toxic than cheap, fast fashion: a propensity to buy more than is needed and throw it away when finished, exploitative labour practices to justify artificially low prices and consistent environmental damage. Forbes reports that the equivalent of a garbage truck of textiles is buried in the ground or burned every second.
Yet, the market remains vibrant, propped up by everyone from millennial ‘influencers’ to fashion-conscious individuals committed to showcasing their latest styles online. The fast fashion industry remains willing to push this agenda to boost sales, as seen via a recent uproar about Missguided’s £1 ($1.30) bikini.
One obvious solution would be for consumers to cut back on shopping, or for limits to be placed on the prices at which clothing could be sold. Less obvious would be to take the trend for fast fashion and put it to good use—investing in outfits that don’t cost the earth, and from which profits are directed towards ecological objectives.
How? By encouraging people to spend their cash on ‘virtual fashion’—items of clothing that only exist online and, therefore, have absolutely no manufacturing, shipping or waste costs.
This seemingly zany idea has been dreamed up by Norwegian fashion company Carlings. The company offered people the chance to upload a picture of themselves to a website, then choose and pay for a particular outfit from the new collection called ‘Neo-Ex.’ Carlings’ team of computer experts—styled as ‘digital tailors’—would take the clothing and adjust it to the individual’s frame, returning an image that could be uploaded online or shared via social networking sites such as Instagram.
Items included a silverhood metallic track top or metallic pants for €20 each ($23), or a sky-blue neon puffer-style jacket short for the same price.
Carlings says that it acknowledges its responsibility when it comes to environmental issues and wants to “spark a conversation” about potential future solutions.
“Everything is digitizing. The gaming world is already in full bloom, digital influencers and models alike. Why shouldn’t there be a digital clothing collection?
“With this project, we wish to challenge ourselves and the entire industry into taking the next step. We really believe it’s an interesting issue to address – do all clothes need to be physical?
Neo-Ex was only a short-lived concept, but for all its wackiness, it’s perhaps the perfect solution to a fast fashion crisis. Should designers be paid properly, digital collections would end the practice of farming out exploitative working practices and reaping the financial benefits. It would also end many of the manufacturing processes for cheap, borderline-disposable fashion, prevent the release of countless emissions. And if there’s a social good element involved—Carlings donated all of the proceeds from the trial to charity Water Aid, and claims that all energy used in the process was generated renewably—so much the better.
If we’re to continue down a path searching for more and more attention online, with a particular image being the key goal, why not digitise this process altogether? After all, social media posts are no stranger to be tweaked through editing programmes such as Photoshop. What is real anymore?
The website Adage notes Carlings was successful in the Digital Craft section of the Cannes Lions awards, describing Neo-Ex as the most “mind-boggling” of the entries. “The idea was meant to raise awareness to the environmental waste created by fashion—the demand for which has been increasing with the rise of social media.”
The website quotes jury president Rei Inamoto, who said he loved “the potential impact this piece can have in 2019. It was the most intellectually stimulating piece of work in the entire category. It was the one piece that confused the jury in the most interesting way.”
In a nod to video game culture, clearly a big influence for the digital collection, Carlings says that ‘drop_one’—the first branch of the stock—has ‘expired’, but ‘drop_two’ is ‘loading.’