The fashion industry is estimated to contribute up to 20% of industrial water pollution in addition to millions of pounds of fabric waste.
Stephanie Benedetto, CEO and co-founder of Queen of Raw, is trying to fix this problem. Her company uses blockchain technology to reduce textile production waste.
“[The fashion industry] is the No. 2 polluter in the world, and it contributes to the No. 1 polluter in the world,” Benedetto tells Here & Now‘s Peter O’Dowd. “So it’s pretty bad, but where there’s bad, there is opportunity.”
It takes 700 gallons of water to produce one t-shirt and another 700 gallons of water to wash it over its lifetime, Benedetto says. More than 2 billion shirts are sold around the world each year.
“By 2025, two-thirds of the entire world’s population will face shortages of fresh water and be exposed to hazardous chemicals from textile production alone,” she says. “And one would think that it’s just in China and Vietnam and India, where we’re manufacturing, but this is actually having an impact on our water in Europe and in the United States as well.”
On why the fashion industry wastes so much leftover materials
“Those statistics are when you’re talking about finished goods. And what I have discovered and where we have focused our efforts have been up the chain, and that’s with the raw materials — the textiles and the components that go into making those finished goods. And the reason that these factories, brands, mills, retailers are sitting on all of these raw materials — and by the way, to quantify it is actually $120 billion worth of perfectly good stuff and raw materials every single year that’s made and sitting in warehouses unused.
“And it happens because designers are forecasting years ahead. They over purchase to make sure they can meet demand. Maybe then they change a pin stripe or a color, or they don’t end up using it all, or they shift production numbers — all this forecasting and planning creates on average 15 percent of every single production run ending up is waste.”
On how her company uses blockchain technology to identify and track waste
“Blockchain technology is revolutionary for supply chain. It means that we are able to verify data and know at every single step of a really complicated supply chain, millions of people across the globe being connected as products move from place to place. We can now use blockchain to verify data and know who said what when, who’s doing what when in that supply chain, and really in real time control the data and the analytics.
“An enterprise customer like an H&M, any of their vendors or suppliers in their supply chain, can verify data from an app on their phone, tell us what they’re doing with those fabrics. And for example, if they received 100,000 yards of fabric, but they only use 50,000 yards to make those H&M t-shirts, they can click a button and an alert occurs, and now we know that there is a waste of fabric sitting at that location. What do you, H&M, want to do with it? And I use H&M as an example of the use case not an active customer that I can say.”
On why she doesn’t blame companies for wasting so many materials
“From a sustainability point, sure it’s a problem, but you have to also consider that these are large enterprise organizations who run on profit. And so it’s great for something to be all standing for people and for planet, but it has to also make sense for a business’ profit. And that’s why we devised the solution that we did so that someone like an H&M or a Burberry can make money on their waste, minimize waste going forward, and shave up to 50 percent or more off their bottom line.”
On if consumers are to blame for the rise of “fast fashion”
“It is, but I think you’re seeing a powerful shift going on in the world today. Consumers, especially the millennials, the Gen Zs, they’re starting to demand transparency, traceability, visibility into what is going on their bodies. Look, we care about the raw food movement and the food that goes into our bodies. What about the materials that are touching our bodies? And so I think they’re starting to demand it now, and that’s why we are getting more and more enterprise customers coming to us because it gives them an economic incentive but also that great brand story.”
On how her family history in the fashion industry inspired her
“Well, look I had the fortunate pleasure of growing up with my great grandfather who came over on a ship from Austria in 1896, landed at Ellis Island and settled into the Lower East Side. And it’s funny, of course, he wouldn’t have talked about his business as sustainability, but the end of the day, that’s what he did. What did he do? He had to make a living. So he found materials and supplies nearby. He created everything by hand with minimal waste and minimal toxins because his bottom dollar depended on it. And he sold the local customers, and it was a very profitable, successful business.
“So as I’ve seen the world get more and more complicated, and obviously, supply chains get more and more complicated, love the industry, really disliked all of its waste and wanted to figure out what the future would look like and how we can use technology to get back to the way my great grandfather did — which did make sense for people, for planet, but also for profit.”