Digital vs. Slow: The Future of Sustainable Fashion

Anna Liedtke is the digital design director at The Fabricant, and she spoke with fashion designer and pedal loom artist Nicklas Skovgaard.

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The last year has seen a lot of change in the fashion industry.

The Fashion Act was passed along with the Garment Worker Protection Act in New York. The fashion eco-system that is a bit closer to the goalposts is predicted to be brought to fruition in 2023. The path is a lot more than that. 

Digital fashion design could be a solution to many of the industry's problems. 

Digital garments created by leading fashion houses such as The Fabricant emit, on average, 96% fewer carbon emissions and can save up to 3,400 liters of water per garment. 

The rise of Metaverse Fashion Week is creating more space for mainstream brands and digital companies to showcase their designs

Others want the industry to focus on local materials and alternative business models instead of speeding up production. Fashion designers across the industry came together to write an open letter and pledge to simplify the fashion calendar. Independent brands are still leading the way.

The fashion designer who creates one-off fashion garments using only handwoven textiles and thrifted fabrics is in conversation with the director of The Fabricant about navigating the fashion system.

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Both of you represent how the fashion system operates for the better. Is it possible to introduce yourselves to our readers first?

Let's begin with you. The person is Nicklas Skovgaard. Three years ago, I began my brand. I wanted to work with my hands, even though I was in interior design. I have been making clothes since I was a child, so that made sense. I bought an old rigid flower loom and began making small fabric samples. My creative skill set evolved from a side hobby to a brand over time.

Even when I went full-time, it was still a slow process. It would take me a while to create just one jacket or a skirt. My designs started getting attention from people on the photo-sharing site, which has been an important part of showing my work as a young designer. The growth has been completely sustainable and organic because I never intended to start a brand in the first place.

I started out as a fashion designer, experimenting with crafting and producing garments, and Nicklas' journey is similar to mine. I didn't use social media at the time. I decided to work for Hugo Boss instead of making clothes because I was in my room making clothes. The role was more focused on development. CLO3D is a software that helps you visualize garments. I was excited about the creative freedom it gave me, which I felt was lost over the last few years when I would just hand over technical sketches. The Fabricant company contacted me to ask me to work for them, and I started publishing my stuff on social media. I began working in the 3D field after I said yes.

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It is great to hear that fashion design has worked for you, Nick, but I can imagine there are difficulties. 

I think this means a lot of financial investments from your side or finding other ways of financing parts of the operation.

There were not too many problems from the beginning because I was working in a very small space where only the people following me would want to buy a design. I began working with a sales agent who reached out to stores. One of the challenges is that I only have the ability to work with one store because everything is produced here. It only takes a long time to make a garment, from pattern-cutting to sewing to posting it on social media.

The biggest challenge for me is creating a business where I can make clothes that are sustainable but still profitable and where I don't compromise on my original idea of creating everything locally here in Copenhagen. 

I don't know what to say. It's difficult to build a made-to-order business in a fast-paced industry because magazines and retail customers treat my fashion brand like any other fashion label with the resources to create collections and stage shows. My main goal has been to carve out my own path in this industry. There are unique opportunities to build a brand. My followers can see that everything is made here in my studio if they follow me on the social media platform. 

It is rewarding for me because I get to meet a lot of people who share my love of fashion and craftsmanship.

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It's hard to build a made-to-order business in a fast-paced industry because customers treat my fashion brand like any other fashion label with the resources to create collections and stage shows multiple times a year.

The willingness to be transparent in our work is indicative of a new generation of designers. Everyone was fighting for themselves in fashion before. It seems that we are returning to the roots of fashion, where you create something from your heart that is beautiful and doesn't need a lot of money. Customers become a community in this kind of art. The fabricant is similar to it because it is a community. Sharing files with our community is something I like to do.

It was hard to start 3D design because there was so much to learn. Behind-the-scenes footage of how a brand or agency creates its products can be found in a brand or agency's videos on the internet. It was all about fashion recreation and co-creation, which was very different from the structures of the fashion industry. I wanted to be a part of it.

 We want to build a platform where fashion creators and fashion designers like Nicklas can team up with 3D artists on collaborative projects. 

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We want to create an online platform where you can explore digital fashion creation, where you can expose your own designs, and where can interact with other people.

If you aren't a fashion designer, you could co-create a style by changing colors and textures.

I like the idea of co-creation and designers collaborating. It feels old-fashioned because it is reliant on collaboration and, hopefully, it is leading the way for a nicer, more compassionate industry.

Maybe that is the point of building an industry where community and sustainable ideas are central to the creative idea. The industry has to listen to more people.

Change needs to be in order for it to happen. The new job can be done in new ways if the industry learns from young designers. If we are willing to change them, how we can communicate, how we style, and how we produce can be done. Big fashion corporations could ask how they do it. I don't use a lot of thrifted fabric because I only have two meters of fabric, and that's it. It can be done. It is about creating a one-off dress and then creating another dress that is part of a collection that I can now produce in larger quantities. Not everything in your business can be sold. I believe we should shift our focus to organic business growth instead of measuring success through profits, margins, or goals. It might be easy for me to say that, but I think there are lessons to be learned from that. The industry is impatient and could do with more patience. It isn't about taking the time to make something that lasts for a long time.

Digital design allows you to sample without buying and using a lot of fabrics

When I started this journey, my main goal was to reduce the amount and the shipping of samples. Hugo Boss has a single plane per month which is used to just ship swatches from A to B, and we had thousands of prototypes per year, which ended up in the trash. The problem doesn't just lie in what the fashion industry produces for the shops, and it goes far beyond that. 

Customer patience should be included in the future of physical fashion. 

Collecting cherished items is part of loving fashion. Customers buy a Birkin bag or a pair of shoes because they want to keep them in their personal collection. Digital online fashion can help us be more sustainable if people are willing to change their mindsets toward digital items. Maybe you have a digital identity that you can dress up. If you have an exhibition hall or a metaverse space, you could use it to show off your garments to other people. People can be more involved in this process.

We need to be open-minded about what fashion designs can be and how we want to express creativity when we are in the digital fashion space. We need to think about how this informs our physical wardrobe; maybe we only buy a few items that we really need when we have events in physical spaces. We can purchase from local designers.

When we are in the digital fashion space, we need to be open-minded about what fashion can be. At this point, we can only hope for a more sustainable fashion industry if we remain open-minded and speak with each other about the possible ways forward. The solution must be creative because we are in a creative industry. Talking to each other has never been easier, but that brings me back to what we discussed at the beginning of the call. We can talk to each other through social media.

I think we need to see more humility from the larger businesses in this industry by looking up to the newer generations and by creating space for them to experiment and lay the foundations for sustainable fashion. The focus on new talent is already happening.

I concur. In regards to education and the accessibility of creative tools, The Fabricant breaks down the industry's hierarchy. We want to make it possible for everyone to be creative. Nicklas said that with digital fashion, you need the internet to connect to YouTube and train yourself, and then you can be connected with others. You can show your designs on the platform.

Smaller designers like you, Nicklas, who are trying to make the industry more sustainable, have the chance to make more money from their intellectual property. A designer can make a base pattern or texture and sell it as a digital piece, and people can co-create it. The designer gets a 5% royalty for every 10 items sold. This is a great opportunity for small businesses to make money and for people to have a chance at becoming a designer or a creator.