How Google Cloud and Stella McCartney aim to make fashion more sustainable

Google Cloud has started working with the major fashion house Stella McCartney, as it aims to use machine learning and data analytics to improve its sustainability efforts, and the vendor is eyeing the rest of the fashion industry next.

Announced at the Copenhagen Fashion Summit last month, Google Cloud is building a machine learning-powered analytics tool specifically aimed at helping fashion brands get a more comprehensive view of their supply chain.

This tool aims to identify the core areas of raw material production, such as cotton and viscose usage, where it can offer actionable insights to improve sustainability.

“Ideally, we’re aiming for almost real-time visibility because we know that we’ve got some data that is historical, about 10 to 15 years old,” Ian Pattison, customer engineering manager at Google Cloud told Computerworld UK. “We’re really interested in some indicator data, so we can get quicker time for insights.”

Google Cloud has been working with a specialist consultancy called The Current Global, "to identify where the gaps are, so we’re aiming to work on bringing retailers and industry partners on board to collect data or bring data they already have together so we can get that visibility of the supply chain,” Pattison added.

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Why Stella McCartney

Google has long been keen to push its sustainability credentials, including its own efforts to make its data centres more efficient using algorithms from its Deepmind subsidiary. Now it wants to support the fashion industry in the same way.

“This is not the first time we’ve done this in an industry,” Pattison said. “We’ve got a similar story we can tell around fisheries where with Global Fishing Watch we’ve worked on we're trying to protect marine environment centres to help save the local fishing practices.

“Stella McCartney herself, and as a luxury brand, do so much in the sustainability space already. They’re very big into sustainability already and they were our initial partner for this while also casting the net wide in regards to other retailers,” he added.

Pattison explained that Google Cloud will also be working with other retail brands as it promotes the importance of open data. Machine learning will play a significant part, as will data visualisations through satellite imagery.

What next

If everything goes to plan Google Cloud says the tool has the potential to be adopted widely across the whole fashion industry, providing insights into the global fashion supply chain.

“This is an experiment, we’re currently at the beginning and we’re hoping to have it all in place by early next year," Pattison said, "but what we’re doing at this stage is really pulling together a lot of different partners across the whole industry and trying to find out who’s got what data. Data visibility is really critical."

Google Cloud also has plans to include data sources that will enable companies and retail brands to measure the impact producing and moving their raw materials has, including environmental factors such as air pollution, greenhouse gas emissions and more.

“I think the fashion industry has to change. I think it’s the second biggest polluter behind oil and I think it accounts for around 20 percent,” Pattison said. “So I don’t think there’s any doubt that this industry is going to have to change and anything we can do to help facilitate that has to be a good thing.”

Editor's note: According to the World Bank the textiles industry is responsible for 20 percent of global wastewater pollution.

Copyright © 2019 IDG Communications, Inc.

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