Fashion and Print On-Demand Trends Are Shifting Slowly
Turning this ship won’t be easy
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Many estimates show that the fashion industry forecasts overproduction by approximately 30%. Imagine an industry so large that it can continue to operate with 30% excess production. Fashion manufacturing produces approximately 20% of global wastewater per year, making the fashion and textile industries among the most polluting on planet Earth.
The high-volume manufacturing model used in the fashion industry is very similar to the newspaper industry in the 80s. In those days, newspaper production was based on the classic industrial model, where economies of scale were used to bring unit costs down. Huge printing presses printed vast quantities at minimal unit cost. Until online competition for readers forced a change, overproduction was justified by the high-volume model. Today, the fashion industry is following a similar path with custom, individualized, and on-demand fashion that is turning this massive ship around—or at least in a more sustainable direction. The idea of a fully on-demand production model is gaining traction, but the question remains: How fast can this shift take place?
Advocates of digital textile printing are confident that the on-demand model—combined with innovative printing technology and more-efficient production techniques and equipment—can do to the textile industry what it once did to the newspaper industry. On the plus side, online and on-demand fulfillment for clothing should lead to fewer unwanted items being produced. Couple this with circularity (the next frontier in sustainability) and a growing second-hand marketplace, and things start to look very favorable.
According to data obtained from Kornit, their systems can cut greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 82%, reduce water use by 95%, and energy use by 94% when compared to traditional manufacturing methods (rotary screen, dyeing, etc.). In its 2020 Impact and Environmental, Social, and Governance Report, the company predicts that direct digital production will save 4.3 trillion liters of water per year and reduce GHG emissions by 17.2 billion kilograms. The company expects to produce some 2.5 billion “apparel items” by 2026, with zero overproduction.
|The data in the chart above is from 1960 to 2018, showing the total tons of textiles generated, recycled,
combusted with energy recovery, and landfilled.
(Sources: American Apparel and Footwear Association, International Trade Commission,
the US Department of Commerce's Office of Textiles and Apparel, and the Council for Textile Recycling.)
Water savings will come from transitioning away from dying processes (and the tremendous amount of water used) over to printing inks. The sign and graphics industry transitioned to digital nearly 25 years ago. Add to this the reduction in carbon emissions associated with shipping textiles and clothing around the globe as well as a move to on-demand digital fashion, and it all begins to look very positive. Digital printing also has the benefit of making clothing production more accessible for small and mid-size businesses that are eager to deliver services to their local economies.
But the challenge of pulling consumers away from the traditional high-volume fashion model will not be quick nor easy. Clothing production has more than doubled since 2000 and the average consumer purchases 400% more clothing today than in the 1960s. Half of the population throw their used clothing in the trash instead of handing them down or donating them, causing nearly 65% of the total volume of garments produced each year to end up in landfills.
Keypoint Intelligence Opinion
To change a behemoth industry like fashion, a plan must be developed and executed. We know what needs to change—we need OEMs to collaborate and change the mindset of fashion manufacturers. Right now, the speed of digital printing is the biggest hurdle to overcome. Yes, single-pass inkjet for fabrics has been around since 2012, but adoption has been slow given the price point and the enormous complexity of the technology. Print speeds on more affordable scanning head printers need to be much faster.
In almost all sectors of the printing industry, digital printing technology has been embraced in favor of laborious make-ready and pre-press activities associated with analog printing. However, these industry sectors have seen run lengths decline whereas the population of the earth continues to grow. Established analog printing may be simpler to convert than initially predicted as more printers are seeing the benefits of digital printing and on-demand production. It is time for a concerted effort by OEMs to educate and enlighten fashion manufacturers to bring about positive change for one of the largest industries on the planet.
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