By CHristian & Kathryn Birky

An Evolving Industry

The circular economy and Industry 4.0 are poised to drive seismic shifts in the fashion industry. Yet despite increasing demand from brands and consumers, sustainable innovation remains significantly undercapitalized.

We see 
a future that realizes the full potential of these technology breakthroughs. Responsive, distributed manufacturing and closed-loop

material systems will significantly reduce waste, emissions and water usage while providing meaningful employment.

This vision will require bold action across the value chain, and we are excited to support ventures at the forefront of innovation. Below we break down the current system and visualize an emerging model.

 

A 20th century model

Global Supply Chains

 

The current system is based on scale, not responsiveness, with long lead times and high minimums:

  • The rise of globalization drives a race to the bottom on price

  • The industry chases cheap labor overseas 


  • Factories are built in countries with lax environmental and labor regulations 


  • Distance and layers of subcontracting obscure exploitation 


  • The global transportation of products accelerates climate change 


Modern demands are exceeding the capacity of an antiquated system:

  • The rise of social media 
and ecommerce contribute to 
increasing market 
speed

  • Brands are forced to anticipate demand far in advance

  • Missed opportunity and excess inventory

  • Markdowns hurt overall margins and consumers are trained to expect discounts

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Typical Production Path: Designed in London → Grown in India → Spun in Switzerland → Milled in China → Dyed in Bangladesh → Sewn in Vietnam → Sold in NYC


 

Problems with the Take/Make/Waste SYSTEM

Linear Production

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Movement towards a Regenerative System

Circular Economy

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Data-driven circular economy production hubs  keep materials in local circulation, while a focus on  speed, technology and data  increases the viability of Made in the USA.

Data-driven circular economy production hubs keep materials in local circulation, while a focus on speed, technology and data increases the viability of Made in the USA.

Responsive and distributed production hubs

Industry 4.0

An integrated system of advanced manufacturing facilities communicates in real time:

  • Vertical integration and closed-loop material systems

  • Regional micro-hubs, similar to the microbrewery model 


  • Production happens as close to demand as possible in terms of time and distance 
environmental outcomes

  • Powered by clean energy


  • Fewer miles traveled


  • Less wasted inventory 


In the new model, machine learning, big data and automation lead to responsive production:

  • One system tracks raw materials,
 production schedules, inventory and point-of-sale

  • Inventory management through a mix of predictive and on-demand production

  • Options for mass customization brand outcomes

  • Unprecedented agility and efficiency

  • Increased margins