Fashion, technology, sustainability and innovation, those were the key words of the seminar on ‘Innovation and sustainability in French fashion tech: opportunities for Dutch researchers and entrepreneurs’. The event, organized by the Innovation Department within the Embassy of the Netherlands in France and the Netherlands Enterprise Agency (RVO.nl), was held in Utrecht on Thursday 12 December 2019.
Nico Schiettekatte, Head of the Economic Department and Counselor for Innovation, Science, & Technology at the Dutch Embassy in Paris, kicked-off with a word of welcome to our audience, with over 60 representatives from the Dutch fashion and innovative textile sector from research clusters to innovative designers, and the French delegation of five fashion tech experts. He emphasized that: “Your presence here today shows the importance of sustainable and innovative fashion tech for the Netherlands and France and the keen interest in both deepening and widening our partnerships in this field, also in a broader European context”.
There is clearly a new movement taking place. In both countries we see that the fashion sector is increasingly embracing tech and becoming a field of exploration and co-creation for academia, designers, entrepreneurs, policy makers, and artists.
But what are the opportunities? Those were explained by the authors, Alice Gras and Claire Eliot, of the report ‘Innovation and sustainability in French fashion tech: opportunities for Dutch researchers and entrepreneurs’ – the centerpiece of this seminar! They mapped out the whole French fashion tech sector, who are the most important players in different regions in France, what are the latest (technological) developments and which challenges still need to be faced. You can find the full report here.
The key takeaway is the need to combine a variety of technologies and approaches (artistic, scientific as well as technical) to open up new possibilities for enhanced user experiences and to reduce the fashion industry’s impact on the planet. Since France has a well-established fashion sector and the Netherlands is known as a hub for innovative research and design, a multitude of collaboration opportunities lies before us! Our top 6 opportunities for collaboration are:
The second part of the seminar was dedicated to knowledge exchange and discussion with a panel of French fashion experts moderated by Rosanne van Miltenburg (project manager Dutch Circular Fashion Vally at Fashion for Good). The panel included:
- Aurélie Mossé, Researcher and lecturer, Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Arts Décoratifs (ENSAD)
- Pascal Denizart, CEO, European Center for Innovative Textiles (CETI)
- Robin Oddon, International programme manager, TechTera
Their expertise in textile development and recycling, creating new business models, bringing different stakeholders together in clusters, and driving innovation through education and research, together with the fact that they represented three of the most important French fashion regions: Paris, Lyon and Lille, resulted in a dynamic discussion. Let’s recap what was said:
It all starts with innovation, but the development of new textiles is not an easy task. As Pascal Denizart (CETI) highlighted: “When prototyping new textiles, we embrace failure, because that’s the only real way to innovate”. And Aurelie Mossé (ENSAD) added that to make sure innovation fits market demands and tackles real world challenges, academia and companies need to work side by side. In her education programmes, students work together with industry to frame their research topic. Importantly, the new generation’s interest in sustainability is bringing the topic forward with more force.
In sustainability, the question was asked which issue comes first. The panel emphasized that it takes a wide set of goals focused on people, planet ánd profit. Because without financial stability, no investments can be made in environmental sustainability. Or as Robin Oddon (TechTera) emphasized: “We need to prove that sustainability can be profitable”.
There are several examples of companies that achieve economic and ecological gains. Such as the fiber recycling spinners from the CETI, that can valorize textile waste and spin it into new yarn. Some challenges still remain though, such as the amount of spinners in Europe (which is low). But technology can greatly improve the efficiency of the recycling market. For example, artificial intelligence (AI) can analyze huge amounts of consumer data, which can be used to create more efficient supply chains. And when AI is combined with virtual fitting and online avatars, the market can even achieve mass personalization.
Moreover, the French government is pushing companies to deal with the waste they create. When the new anti-waste, circular economy law is put into force, it will be illegal to destroy excess stock. That means that fashion companies will have to find a different use for their unsold garments. Recycling of old items can be a solution, but this law should also result in more eco-design at the beginning of the process. If companies have better market insights and stock management, and eventually even mass personalization and on-demand manufacturing, there will be less (or no?) excess stocks!
These ambitions and challenges are what’s on the fashion sector’s mind in France and the Netherlands. In conclusion, technological innovations should be used to achieve sustainability goals, because on its own tech will not change the industry. We need it to better understand the supply chains, the consumer and the materials in order to make fashion sustainable. With these shared views, a whole range of collaboration possibilities between French and Dutch stakeholders from academia to business open up!
In 2020, the Embassy of the Netherlands in France will continue organizing knowledge exchange and facilitating collaboration. Stay tuned for upcoming events!