Fashion 4.0, No. 4: Visioneering the Future of Waste in a Circular Economy
There are 1,614,202,699 (and counting) tons of waste being dumped globally this year. What can we do to lessen it? At last weekend's XPrize's Visioneering Conference at Paramount Studios, our founder and CEO Garrett Gerson and Jeff Holden, cofounder and CEO of San Francis-based startup Atomic Machines, and unveiled the challenge to address The Future of Waste in a Circular Economy What is an open loop waste system? We extract raw materials from the earth, make products with them, sell them, throw them into the garbage, and repeat. The waste that accumulates in landfills emits major greenhouse gasses (70% of all the methane in the U.S. comes from landfills). Places in the world without landfills are dumping garbage directly onto the land or into oceans. How do we close the loop? With one breakthrough technology that will decompose the contents of a heterogeneous landfill down into useable feed stock materials that can go directly into a production process. Imagine making plastics without have to do factional distillation, which consumes 25% of the world's energy. Imagine being able to take things out of our landfills and inject them back into manufacturing processes. It sounds like a moonshot, but people figured out how to make space travel happen, so.... Above: Atomic Machines CEO and cofounder Jeff Holden (left) and Variant founder and CEO Garrett Gerson present the Landfill Harvesting challenge at XPrize's Visioneering Conference. Landfill Harvesting Challenge: Reverting the world's garbage back into the raw materials it came from to be reused to make new products. Purse: $50 million Milestone 1: $25 million to be awarded to several team In 2 years, will process post-consumer garbage with the highest yield of usable feed stock with all renewable energy. Want to encourage large companies and entrepreneurs Milestone 2: $25 million to be awarded to the winning team The first team to achieve at least 75% yield, elimination of all toxic outputs, and greenhouse emissions. The goal is to bring the winning concept to full commercialization. What made this past weekend such a major moment for us at Variant was the opportunity to lead the conversation about the future of waste in fashion, among a small but mighty group of XPrize board members, innovators and entrepreneurs. It's a fashion moonshot, so to speak, to propose a zero-waste, circular alternative to current apparel and accessories manufacturing processes. But it's what we're doing at Variant: using 3D knitting and digital printing to create customizable fashion, with recycled or recyclable materials, manufactured locally. The bags we created for Visioneering were made with fibers derived from recycled nylon carpets. Each one was 3D knit and customized with each board member's name, at our headquarters and partner factories less than 30 miles from Paramount Studios. The material waste from the production of 150 of these bags barely filled a small Ziploc bag. Ditto for the custom pillows adorning the couches at the event. Our story, told on a giant LED cube, has elements that everyone can apply to their own businesses and lives: Let's make things with lasting appeal and beauty, and let's be more thoughtful and conscious about how we make them. Instead of ending up in landfills, we hope our products will be enjoyed forever, but if they aren't, let's break down the materials and make them into new things. Let's stop mining new materials from our environment and rethink how to use existing waste. The old saying goes, "One person's trash is another person's treasure." The world's trash might just be the most valuable asset we're overlooking. With Gratitude, The Variant Team Have a tip? Email us at email@example.com. Interested in collaborating with Variant? Fill out an application here.
Fashion 4.0, No. 3: How Innovation Can Help Fix Fast Fashion's Fallout
By now, we’ve all heard about or experienced some form of backlash from “fast fashion,” whether it’s devastating news stories about underpaid garment workers losing or risking their lives toiling in unsafe overseas factories, losing jobs at home as apparel industry work has gone off-shore, or the collective realization that we have too much stuff that ends up in landfills and pollutes the planet. Veteran fashion journalist Dana Thomas’ new book, “Fashionopolis: The Price of Fast Fashion and the Future of Clothes,” out this month from Penguin, spells out exactly what’s ailing the apparel industry today, why it happened, and how new companies are using innovation to solve the problem. In her well-researched and compelling read, Thomas begins by making an example of Zara, the world’s largest fashion brand, which produced more than 450 million clothing items in 2018. Last year, she writes, U.S. shoppers bought an average of 68 garments a year. If you totaled up that figure for everyone in the world, that would be 80 BILLION apparel items annually. How did we go from the Industrial Revolution 250 years ago, when the invention of mechanical loom heralded progress, to this? As Thomas explains, up until the Seventies, the U.S. produced at least 70 percent of the apparel that Americans purchased. In the Eighties, when inexpensive, trendy clothes became popular, companies began off-shore manufacturing in less-developed countries to keep prices lower. In 1991, only 56.2 percent of all clothes purchased in the U.S. were made domestically. By 2012, it was 2.5 percent. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the U.S. textile and garment industry lost 1.2 million jobs while worldwide, the number of apparel and textile jobs nearly doubled. Fashion employs 1 out of 6 people globally, but fewer than 2 percent of them earn a living wage. Why? The average consumer, many of us included, liked paying less for clothes that they’d wear fewer times, and often didn’t think about how or where they were made. Thankfully, things are changing. New fashion entrepreneurs began to question why they were making more things and how they could do it differently. Part of the messaging brings the staggering statistics to light for consumers. Thomas notes that conventionally grown cotton is one of the world’s most polluting crops. Almost 2.2 pounds of hazardous chemicals are required to grow two-and-a-half acres. The resulting textiles are often dyed with more toxic chemicals that also get into the world’s waters, and once an item end up in a landfill, those same dyes again poison the earth. Synthetic fibers are no better: they can release microfibers when washed, up to 40 percent of which enter rivers, lakes and oceans. The World Bank estimates that garment production is responsible for nearly 20 percent of all industrial water pollution annually. Fashion production also releases 10 percent of all carbon emissions in our air. Where does it all go? Of the 100 billion items produced each year, 20 percent go unsold. In the last 20 years, the volume of clothes that American throw away has doubled from 7 million to 14 million tons. That's equal to 80 pounds per person per year of clothes that get thrown away. Thomas' book has clearly been a long time in the making, and it sheds more light for more people on the changes needed in our industry. The latter half of the book highlights the ways in which new companies are striving to clean up fashion's act. When we founded Variant last year, our aim was to create beautiful, lasting fashion with far less impact on the planet. We made customization our platform on the premise that consumers wouldn’t want to throw away a unique and high-quality piece made just for them. In making items on-demand only and local to our customers, we also hope to eliminate materials waste and inventory, and shorten the supply chain. What we make our items from is also an opportunity to support fellow innovators. With science and technology paving the way for sustainably-produced fibers and those created from upcycled, post-consumer “waste” like plastic bottles and nylon carpets, we can help to change the status quo, one garment at a time. Each day, we discover new changemakers and entrepreneurs who inspire us to be better. Recently, one of our younger team members came across a company called Modern Meadow, which is using science and technology for “Biofabrication,” or building textile fibers with biology, beginning at the molecular level with a collagen protein cell’s DNA. Those cells are grown and multiplied through fermentation, each one producing collagen proteins that can eventually become the building blocks for textiles when combined with other animal-free, natural or man-made materials. Pictured above and in our featured image is Zoa™, Modern Meadow’s first-gen material inspired by leather. While it’s not yet available commercially, we’re excited by the possibilities of creating fashion with textiles that are healthier for the planet. It’s worth noting that many innovations of the past still hold plenty of value today. Stoll, the German company that created the first automated knitting machine 100 years ago exactly, is still a leader today. The Stoll 3D knitting machines we use at Variant now knit forms to shape, eliminating materials waste and enabling customized fits. If that’s not the opposite of fast fashion, we don’t know what is. With Gratitude, The Variant Team Have a tip? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Interested in collaborating with Variant? Fill out an application here.
Fashion 4.0, No. 2: Raw Materials, Sci-Fi to Reality
Raw materials are the foundation of almost everything people consume – not the least of which is fashion – so it’s no wonder that materials innovation is a hot topic. Led by science and driven by an imperative to stem pollution and use of the planet’s natural resources, we’re seeing inventions that just a few years ago seemed “far-fetched," like something out of a sci-fi movie. There’s lab-grown spider silk and leather-like textiles made from mushroom cells created by California biotech startup Bolt Threads; outerwear fabric grown from fermented protein particles at 12-year-old Japan-based Spiber Inc., and yeast-based biolplastic developed by scientists with the Finnish design studio Aivan. In addition to being animal-friendly, these materials don’t require large amounts of land to produce. We founded Variant with “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” top of mind, so we endeavor to use materials from many sources, from sustainable and cruelty-free plant and animal fibers to bio-tech alternatives and those made from things that people normally throw away (aka "up cycling"). On our recent visit to fiber manufacturer and innovator Unifi in North Carolina, we found some amazing yarns made from recycled nylon carpets. We also admire what Bloom Algae Foam cofounder and SoCal native Rob Falken is doing to collect toxic green-blue algae biomass from waste streams in the U.S. and Asia and convert it into a polymer to produce all kinds of foam-based products, from sneaker soles to surfboard traction pads. As part of the fashion-tech startup community, we wholeheartedly support these visionaries bringing products to market because it's the only way that they can flourish, and continue to grow and innovate. Working together helps bring us all closer to our goal near-zero environmental impact. As our founder and CEO Garrett Gerson likes to say, “Everything is ‘far-fetched’ until it becomes mainstream.” There might only be one successful company out of every 100 that launch, but we support them all because you never know which one could be the breakout. Our friend and mentor Peter Diamandis, founder and chairman of XPRIZE Foundation and Abundance 360, once told us, “The day before something is truly a breakthrough, it's a crazy idea.” It’s the same ethos behind the limited-edition Moon Parka developed for The North Face by Japanese sports apparel manufacturer Goldwin and Spiber. Its name refers to “shooting for the moon," or attempting an extraordinarily difficult task that can also have an extraordinary impact. Pursuing dreams isn’t always easy. As we grow the Variant platform -- empowering individuals and brands to express themselves through tech-enabled, customized fashion -- our mission remains clear: to make desirable and lasting pieces with mindful manufacturing practices. With Gratitude, The Variant Team Have a tip? Email us at email@example.com. Interested in collaborating with Variant? Fill out an application here.
Fashion 4.0, No. 1: Welcome to Our Blog
Welcome to Variant Malibu’s blog, Fashion 4.0. Just as we founded our company to bridge technology and fashion, and change the way sustainability and creativity converge, we are launching this digital chronicle to further the conversation around these pillars. Here, we’ll share curated insights and intelligence with you, our fashion-tech community of dreamers, do-ers and game changers. We’re living in an exciting time when science and technology are being tested for consumer interaction and consumption, and like the potential we see in Variant, the possibilities are endless. We believe the circular economy is the future of fashion, from both an economic and an environmental POV. Adidas by Stella McCartney is one example, with its collaborative collection that unveiled two styles made with sustainable fibers that, in their very creation, push the boundaries of technology and science. The “Infinite” hoodie – which will go to market next year -- is made from cotton clothes reclaimed from landfills. Those fibers are broken down to a molecular level and remade into new ones which can then be disassembled and remade again and again. The prototype tennis dress is made with Microsilk, a lab-grown, spider-like silk developed by California biotech startup Bolt Threads. While established brands such as Adidas and McCartney have considerable means to walk the talk, they’re doing their part to move needle closer to the new reality for everyone. And here’s an earful: The House of Marley this month debuted its Liberate Air wireless earbuds made from bamboo and recycled plastic, and the Finnish studio Aivan and scientists, are using fungus and yeast-based plastic to prove concept with headphones. Will these innovationsreach critical mass sooner than later? Bolt’s product development lead is optimistic. This report in Sourcing Journal reminds us that we all can do our part – as makers and consumers -- to collectively move the needle forward. We also love the literal convergence of tech and fashion: MIT engineers have led advancements in embedding semiconductive devices into fibers, and as a result companies such as New Balance, VF, Bose, and 3M are seeking ways to use the technology in their products. Meanwhile, AI and robotics aren’t just future-proofing fashion, they’re changing our shopping experience IRL. Bricks-and-mortar, aka physical retail, isn’t going anywhere, but to thrive it has to adapting to the modern consumer. How many “Instabrands” that started as pure-play e-commerce companies are now opening physical stores? Too many to count. (A few of our favorites: Warby Parker, Glossier, Brandless and Cuyana). As technology can make world to seem smaller by giving us glimpses and access into other cultures, we’re keeping an eye on Europe and China for learnings and inspiration, particularly when it comes to sustainability and innovation. In the world’s most populous nation, finding ways to be more sustainable may seem even more pressing than it does Stateside. We were inspired by World Economic Forum’s post on Top 5 Sustainability Lessons from China. In another potential move to cut carbon emissions,India has approved a Mumbai-to-Pune hyperloop, putting the nation in the front-runner position to be the world’s first to implement the supersonic transportation system conceived by Elon Musk in 2013 and developed by Richard Branson’s Virgin Hyperloop One, among others. Silicon Valley isn’t the only startup incubator on the map attracting famous funders. After all, famous people are just like us. They buy stuff. Some also use their money and platforms to invest in ventures that benefit exponentially more people. (Case in point: Ashton Kutcher with Spotify and AirBNB). Last but not least, an easy way to be more eco-friendly: Remove some plastic from your daily routine by showering with bottle-less shampoo and conditioner. Beauty Independent profiles HiBar, a company making solid hair cleansing products that are both effective and fun. For the many of us who do our best thinking while in the shower, this is a win-win. Thank you for joining us on this journey. Together, we can create great things. With Gratitude, The Variant Team Have a tip? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Interested in collaborating with Variant? Fill out an application here.
Stylist Sara Dinkin's Sustainable Marketplace
Celebrity stylist Sara Dinkin recently became a retailer and entrepreneur with the launch of Canyon Goods, an online marketplace for luxury and ethical brands. During her launch event and clothing swap at Sawyer in Silver Lake, Dinkin discussed how she’s helping to create much-needed change in the fashion industry.
Creative Director William Anzevino at PI 2019
Variant’s creative director William Anzevino was in New York City last week to lead a focus group session at the PI 2019 Apparel conference, where he drew on his 15+ years of experience as a designer to highlight the ways in which innovations such as 3D modeling and knitting are reshaping the fashion industry.
Vitamin A's Amahlia Stevens on Making Sustainability Sexy
Designer Amhalia Stevens, founder of Made in California luxury swimwear brand Vitamin A, pioneered sustainable swimwear, and she's still pushing the industry to develop more eco-friendly fabrics.
How Do You Define "Eco-Friendly?"
There’s a lot of noise clouding the message when it comes to eco-friendly fibers and fabrics. We asked Hasan Erdal, vice president of the family-run textile agency Yarn Mavens what “eco-conscious” really means and whether it’s possible for the fashion industry to be truly eco-conscious.
Variant Spotlight: Strider Wasilewski
For those in the surfing world, Southern California native Strider Wasilewski is nothing short of a living legend. A child prodigy who made a career out of riding some of the biggest waves in the world, he’s still living his dream as a commentator for the World Surf League. He’s also a successful entrepreneur, having founded the eco-friendly sunscreen company Shade.