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Stella McCartney and Google Cloud start machine learning and fashion-focused sustainability push

Stella McCartney and Google Cloud are embarking on a joint pilot project that will draw on the tech giant's machine learning and cloud-based data processing portfolio to help clean up the fashion industry's supply chains

Fashion house Stella McCartney is collaborating with Google Cloud on a machine learning and data analytics pilot project aimed at improving the sustainability of the fashion industry’s supply chains.

The partnership, which was announced at the sustainability-focused Copenhagen Fashion Summit, is geared towards giving the fashion industry greater insights into how the garments they create impact on the earth’s resources from a raw materials perspective.

According to the United Nations’ own calculations, the fashion industry currently accounts for 20% of the wastewater and 10% of the carbon emissions produced across the globe, which are the kind of environmental impacts the project is looking to address and drive down.

“Much of this impact occurs at the raw materials stage in the production process, where brands have little to no visibility. This is an industry-wide problem, where supply chains are highly fragmented and with little transparency,” said Nick Martin, head of retail at Google Cloud, in a blog post announcing the partnership.

“Many organisations and brands have been trailblazers in an effort to collect and surface data that can lead to better sourcing decisions, but gaps in the data continue to persist due to its complexity and global nature.”

First steps to sustainable fashion

The decision to partner with Stella McCartney came about after Google enlisted the help of a consultancy called Current Global, which advises fashion brands on how to go about achieving their sustainability goals.

On the back of this, the cloud giant came to the conclusion its cloud-based data collection, analysis and machine learning tools could help plug some of the industry’s knowledge gaps, but it needed input from fashion brands to prove its hypothesis.

Given Stella McCartney’s ongoing championing of fashion-related sustainability issues, it was determined that the brand would be the best fit to embark on an experimental pilot project with.

In a statement, the fashion house’s founder, Stella McCartney, said the project should help start a discussion that the industry as a whole has shied away from in the past.

“At Stella McCartney, we have been continuously focusing on looking at responsible and sustainable ways to conduct ourselves in fashion – it is at the heart of what we do. We are trying our best – we aren’t perfect, but we are opening a conversation that hasn’t really been had in the history of fashion,” she said.

New tool for the fashion trade

Initially, the pair will be working to create a tool that could eventually be used by the entire fashion community to gain insights into the inner workings of the supply chain, with particularly emphasis on the environmental impact of the industry’s cotton and viscose use.

“Cotton accounts for 25% of all fibres used by the fashion industry, with a notable impact on water and pesticide use. Viscose production is smaller, but growing in demand, and has links to the destruction of forests – some endangered – which are critical in mitigating carbon emissions,” said Google’s Martin.

“This pilot will enable us to test the effectiveness of the tool on these different raw materials, building out the possibilities for expansion into a wider variety of key textiles in the market down the line.”

The tool itself would, Google said, enable companies to measure key environmental metrics when producing their garments, including greenhouse gas emissions, land use and water consumption.

“Our goal is not only to be able to determine the impact of producing these raw materials, but also to compare the impacts of these in different regions where they are produced,” said Martin.

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