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You don’t have to spend much time on Instagram admiring all your friends’ pretty pictures to realize it’s also one of the greatest shopping suggestion engines ever invented. My colleague Kristen Bellstrom got to the bottom of what makes Instagram’s shopping experience so powerful in a great feature story a few months ago.
Lately, my feed has filled with ads for clothes that are organic, sustainably made, resulting from fair trade, or some combination of all three. That made me curious about what’s going on from a tech angle.
Sure enough, behind the environmental movement in the fashion industry, which is responsible for somewhere between 5% and 10% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, a bevy of startups is developing innovations to reduce that impact. The startups are attacking every link in the supply chain, from manufacturing clothes with recycled materials to making dyes without petroleum-derived chemicals to creating biodegradable packaging. Another segment of startups are selling these lines direct to consumers via, you guessed it, Instagram.
I didn’t get very far in my research before I came across Maxine Bedat and her New Standard Institute. Although a human rights lawyer by training, Bedat started an apparel selling company a few years ago called Zady. Coming a little ahead of today’s sustainability movement, its big idea was to tell the story of where the clothes came from and how they were made. Bedat soon started to see firsthand the fashion industry’s harmful environmental and social impacts. As she tried to use Zady to offer products with a more positive impact, she also became a source of knowledge for many other companies.
“I was really torn between the work of reforming the industry, getting people educated to be more engaged citizens, and the work of a fashion brand and selling more stuff,” she told me this week. “I decided to move on in my work and just focus on the educational side.”
That meant selling Zady and opening the institute. As more consumers have made sustainability and fair labor a priority in their buying decisions, the industry has woken up to some degree and pledged to make changes. With many partners, the institute’s goal is to make sure those changes are real. Bedat calls it a “think and do tank.” In the realm of startups, she’s concerned that companies are making claims not supported by rigorous science. And some green automation efforts may be taking away needed jobs.
The biggest elephant in the room, however, is overconsumption. Fast fashion seems to be on the decline, but people in the wealthiest parts of the world still buy and discard too many clothes. “If we don’t address that, incremental reductions of these other impacts are not going get us to where we need to be,” Bedat warns.
It’s yet another reason to stop scrolling through feeds and put your phone down. Have a restful weekend.
In this week’s Brainstorm podcast episode, Fortune‘s Aric Jenkins offers his insight on who is benefiting from the pandemic in entertainment. We also speak with industry veteran Andy Forssell, who now heads HBO Max, and Rob Bredow, chief creative officer of Lucasfilm’s Industrial Light & Magic. Bredow talks how the company is producing content under current restrictions (the answer is a newish technology called StageCraft, which was used to shoot much of The Mandalorian). And, of course, Baby Yoda. Listen to the episode here.