As we close out on 2023, from where we stand now it’s pretty clear that we’ve come a long way since the year began. Even just a quick glance at FUTUREVVORLD’s Best of 2023 list is proof of that.
We’ve seen innovations of all kinds – progress across fashion, footwear, design, and in the material building blocks that make all of those things possible. We’ve seen changes that could revolutionize how we use plastics and what we use them for, major developments in plant-based leather alternatives that outperform the “real thing” in more than just ethics, and legislation that could well put a stop to the industry’s worst impulses.
It has, in many ways, been an absolute game changer.
Of course, that’s just our perspective. And so, knowing all of that, we’ve reached out to the wider FUTUREVVORLD community – to innovators, investors, thought leaders, designers, media commentators and experts across the board – to see if they share our thoughts and to get a feel for how they see the next twelve months taking shape.
Now, the past is one thing. But, in terms of predicting the future, that’s a whole other story. We don’t have a crystal ball – how much energy do you think those things use? – so we put together two simple questions in the hope of putting together as clear a picture of 2024 as possible.
And, you know, it’s fair to say we learned a lot – not least of all that there’s no such thing as a simple question, and there’s certainly no such thing as a simple answer – although it’s also fair to say that predicting the future is a risky business.
Still, what ever gets done in this world without a little risk? And so, to that end…
LET’S START BY LOOKING BACK.
WE’RE NOT INTO NEGATIVITY, BUT PROGRESS REQUIRES REFLECTION.
In 2023, with everything on the line, our biggest collective failing as an industry has been…
Alexandra Plante – Vice President, Advanced Concepts at Arc’teryx:
“In 2023, with everything on the line, our biggest collective failing as an industry has been… a lack of speed and urgency in implementing real solutions.”
Alan Lugo – Product Strategy Manager, Footwear at Natural Fiber Welding:
“In 2023, with everything on the line, our biggest collective failing as an industry has been…a non-willingness to accept some level of discomfort to bring needed change in environmental impact.”
Eric Liedtke – CEO and Co-Founder of UNLESS:
“In 2023, with everything on the line, our biggest collective failing as an industry has been… that while big brands have shifted more of their collections to sustainable materials / circular solutions, we are missing the road map. What is the roadmap to transfer their business over time?”
Chase Kahmann, CEO and Co-Founder of ESG Brands:
“In 2023, with everything on the line, our biggest collective failing as an industry has been a lack of urgency to equitably support early stage start-ups.”
Lauryn Menard, Co-Founder and Creative Director at PROWL Studio:
“In 2023, with everything on the line, our biggest collective failing as an industry has been follow-through.”
Daniel Mitchell – Founder and Creative Director at Space Available:
“In 2023, with everything on the line, our biggest collective failing as an industry has been…not seeing waste as a resource.”
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“In 2023, with everything on the line, our biggest collective failing as an industry has been…prioritizing growth. This year, as is the worrying trend, the industry faced persistent and continually deepening challenges including subdued economic growth, inflation, and weakening consumer confidence. As the industry attempts to firefight these in order to drive profits, it has once again lost sight of the bigger picture. As I write, COP negotiators are still working on the final agreement but the industry’s participation has been largely illusionary. As ever, there’s talk and a few vague promises but very little meaningful action.”
Arnaud Lalanne – EMEA Design Team Leader at Mizuno:
“In 2023, with everything on the line, our biggest collective failing as an industry has been…not reducing the overall production of goods of poor quality or educating our consumers towards better quality items. Fast fashion and low quality products are still flooding markets all over the world, and there is still no clear awareness in the consumer’s mind on the real impact of a product.”
Francesca Perona – Head of Product at Modern Synthesis:
“In 2023, with everything on the line, our biggest collective failing as an industry… has been measuring next-gen materials by a yardstick that was designed for legacy materials. Next-gen materials are fundamentally different from leathers and plastic-based materials, and the brands that will learn to leverage their unique strengths in bespoke products are the brands that will stand out in the market in 2024.”
Giorgia Scetta – Materials Science & Accelerator Partner Manager at MassChallenge:
“In 2023, with everything on the line, our biggest collective failing as an industry has been…the insufficient commitment and progress towards sustainable practices, including the inability to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, adopt more sustainable practices such as re-use and recycling, and reduce single-use plastics, despite the significant communication and hype surrounding it.”
Casey Dworking – Founder and Creative Director at Sylven New York:
“In 2023, with everything on the line, our biggest collective failing as an industry has been a lack of cohesive messaging. No one can seem to agree on where to focus. Are we anti-leather, are we anti-plastic, are we solely focused on reducing carbon emissions? The brands getting the most attention for making sweeping changes are only cherry-picking what they can market. Even the major players working in the next-gen material space are only creating select products and are splitting their messaging based on their product campaigns. It leaves a lot of room for confusion, and ends up diluting the overall message that the fashion is ‘working towards’ sustainability vs. outwardly stating how and why they plan to move forward.”
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Stephan Stegeman – Co-Founder and CEO at Shop Like You Give a Damn:
“In 2023, with everything on the line, our biggest collective failing as an industry has been…letting the fast fashion industry outpace us and wear the collective slow fashion industry down. We’ve seen the fast fashion industry continuing to speed up the rate at with which they drop unrealistically low-priced new collections (these collections are ‘funded’ by the workers who make them for salaries that are often too low to live on), whilst the ethical slow fashion pioneers are having an extremely hard time to produce and sell their realistically priced items in these times of economic downturn. I strongly feel that we have failed the people, animals and our home planet by letting unethical companies continue to exploit them in 2023. I also feel we are not supporting our fellow ethical fashion pioneers when times got tough, I’ve seen too many amazing brands that are actually making a difference going bankrupt or call it quits because it is too heavy and lonesome to take on an industry that has been built on exploitation for centuries and defends it with all that is has. And lastly, I feel we failed by not educating our customers enough about how the industry actually works, or inspiring them to figure it out for themselves.”
Noa Ben Moshe – Founder, Style With a Smile:
“In 2023, with everything on the line, our biggest collective failing as an industry has been…systematically exploiting and subjecting animals to abuse in the name of fashion, perpetuating a cruel cycle of using animal-derived materials and conducting harmful practices, thereby neglecting the urgent need for ethical treatment and respect for all living beings. Concurrently, we have also failed to prioritize the fair treatment of workers and the environmental impact of our industry, perpetuating practices that harm both human and nonhuman animals and the planet we all share. We have failed to see and understand the interconnectedness of these things.”
Karoline Healy – Material Innovation Researcher:
“In 2023, with everything on the line, our biggest collective failing as an industry has been…not putting enough pressure on governing bodies to define and refine the materials and manufacturing regulations and certifications. For example, the UK plastic packaging tax introduced recently doesn’t seem progressive enough and nothing is mentioned about plastic for other industries. It seems like there is no clear path for where things are headed from the top. This impacts companies’ confidence in making decisions for how they invest and innovate in new systems and materials in case the legislation goes in another direction.”
Julie Crowe Willoughby – Senior Scientific Advisor at Circ:
“In 2023, with everything on the line, our biggest collective failing as an industry has been committing to innovations & and technology—commitment to be defined as binding offtake agreements and capital investments.”
Tina Funder – Founder of Alt.Leather:
“In 2023, with everything on the line, our biggest collective failing as an industry has been…criticism and the expectation of innovators to be perfect. Innovation is an iterative process; incremental progress should be celebrated rather than critiqued within an inch of its life.”
“The biggest changes that we can make that we have control of, (ie. no need to wait for new legislation or to embed radically new technology into the supply chain) are: Make less excess. We don’t even have to sell less per se, just really make an effort to stop overproducing. That stat we all read about 30% of all new products going straight to landfill – we should tackle that. And companies can bank the savings. Everybody wins.” – Jonathan Cheung, Design, Sustainability & Material Innovation Expert
Pavel Vergun – Head of Marketing at Balena:
“In 2023, with everything on the line, our biggest collective failing as an industry has been…the ability and courage to change on a big scale with major manufacturers unwilling to sacrifice profit over purpose and long-term benefits for people and planet .”
Ana Oliveira – Sustainable Footwear Designer:
“In 2023, with everything on the line, our biggest collective failing as an industry has been… the lack of awareness and the misconceptions that still exist around alternative leather materials, especially in the footwear industry. Factories, suppliers and clients must be educated in order to make a change in our present and our future – for the NOW world.”
Samantha Mureau – Founder of Planet of the Grapes:
“In 2023, with everything on the line, our biggest collective failing as an industry has been too much talking and not enough real action.”
James Roberts – Writer and FUTUREVVORLD Contributor:
“In 2023, with everything on the line, our biggest collective failing as an industry has been… our continued complicity towards the problem of overconsumption, production and waste. We are all ignoring it. It is the incredibly large, filthy, toxic elephant in the room. Take back programs are not enough and are often making the problem worse by an elaborate system of smoke and mirrors. We’ve all got to take that elephant head on (dangerous but the alternative is worse).”
Cathryn Wills – Founder and Creative Director of SANS BEAST:
“In 2023, with everything on the line, our biggest collective failing as a fashion industry has been… thinking we can continue with legacy growth models – more volume, more sales, more profit, more executive bonuses –.and simply add a few sustainability initiatives into the mix versus striving for real change.”
Vanessa Cinquemani – Womenswear Head of Design at hessnatur:
“In 2023, with everything on the line, our biggest collective failing as an industry has been…that we have worked more to demonstrate we are better than to actually improve. There is also a big gap between sustainable professionals and “common” people, we should target them with innovative tools.”
Sira Dheshan Naidu – Founder of Disruptor London:
“In 2023, with everything on the line, our biggest collective failing as an industry has been…a lack of earnest dedication to minimizing plastic waste, examining consumption patterns, and adopting genuinely sustainable packaging alternatives.”
Vivian Paraschiv – Growth and Innovation Expert, Co-Founder of StartupMill:
“In 2023, with everything on the line, our biggest collective failing as an industry has been…to be too slow at transforming our business models. We know that we can’t continue producing and selling so much stuff and yet, companies are stuck because that’s still the main source of growth they currently are relying on.”
Elliot Luxford – Production Manager at Helen Kirkum:
“In 2023, with everything on the line, our biggest collective failing as an industry has been the ability to recreate from existing waste on an industry-wide scale.”
Jo Farah – CEO at Sneaker LAB:
“In 2023, with everything on the line, our biggest collective failing as an industry has been…that during turbulent times individuals( and hence businesses) tend to become fearful – there is a natural tendency to withdraw and protect, and try to control obstacles that are beyond our control – which all leads to further uncertainty. This can lead to the slowing down of innovation and businesses willing to take risks and potentially grow.”
“In 2023, with everything on the line, our biggest collective failing as an industry has been…to ensure affordability on sustainable products vs no sustainable.”
Alessandra Galo – Sustainable Fashion Consultant:
“In 2023, with everything on the line, our biggest collective failing as an industry has been to have not clearly spoken about a reduction (and phase out) of polyester.”
Michael Fletcher – Co-Founder of Drinkicks:
“In 2023, with everything on the line, our biggest collective failing as an industry has been education. We need to do a better job of engaging our community in unique and innovative ways.”
OKAY, NOW LET’S TRY OUR HAND AT PREDICTING THE FUTURE.
THIS ISN’T AN EXACT SCIENCE – BUT IT’S ABOUT AS CLOSE AS WE’RE GOING TO GET.
In 2024, [THIS] will change everything.
“In 2024, natures systems will change everything.”
“In 2024, the EU approving a ban on destruction of unsold clothing and upcoming digital passport legislations to improve traceability & transparency will change everything.”
“In 2024, AI will change everything.”
“In 2024, continued human health crises and scientific discoveries around toxicity of the everyday products we use will change everything.”
“In 2024, the businesses that took the risks in 2023, innovated and collaborated with conscious noble intentions with the will be the mark of successful business of the future this will change everything.”
“In 2024, determination will change everything.”
“In 2024, close collaboration between lawmakers, designers, and manufacturers will change everything. (especially with new (not aggressive-enough) legislation from Cop28).”
“In 2024, understanding how to effectively scale creating from post-consumer waste will change everything.”
“In 2024, AI and collaboration will change everything. We know that AI is developing fast and that its main use case for fashion is not only about creating visuals with Midjourney. I believe AI has the potential to bring efficiency, better collaboration and streamline a lot of the ways the fashion industry works. Last but not least, collaboration is still key to bring change to our industry faster than before. Because it’s not a nice-to-have anymore, but a must.”
Sira Dheshan Naidu:
“In 2024, there’s optimism for transformative change with a paradigm shift toward circular economy practices, emphasis on life cycle assessments and the adoption of innovative, biodegradable materials, heralding a more environmentally conscious era which could potentially change everything.”
“In 2024, Nothing will change everything. The process is too long to see a bold change next year.”
“In 2024, no one thing will change everything – it’s going to be another tough year in business, yet collaboration, creativity, kindness to our fellow earthlings + ourselves…all of these things can make a difference to how we respond to the challenges.”
“I’m careful with wishful thinking, so I would only say that I would love it if the extreme meteorological conditions of 2023 could trigger a reaction in people’s minds, raise awareness and change the priorities of our world.” – Arnaud Lalanne
“In 2024, awareness and a genuine governmental and industry commitment, especially to address logistical and manufacturing challenges, will change everything.”
“In 2024, anti-exploitation laws will change everything. Us ethical pioneers need to band together and work alongside governments to create and implement laws that prevent companies from exploiting people, animals and mama earth. Only by making mass exploitation illegal (or too expensive), we can turn the tide and level the playing field so small brands that do better actually have a fighting chance.”
Noa Ben Moshe:
“In 2024, adapting total-ethics fashion will change everything.”
“In 2024, synthetic biology & protein engineering will change everything. I think we are well on the way to a biotech revolution. Probably the most advanced in the medical and drug industry. But the advancements in Protein engineering will be big in 2024. Predominantly the biotechnologies that use proteins for material have been limited to existing ones found in nature ie spider silk, casein found in cheese etc. But, with synthetic biology, the ability to discover or create completely new proteins (with the help of AI) that can perform any way that we want will be huge in 2024.”
“In 2024, true cross-industry collaboration will change everything. Pooling expertise between innovators, academia, venture funding and industry will accelerate progress. More collaborative risk-taking to push the boundaries, please.”
“In 2024, systems thinking and approach to creating holistic solutions, meaning A LOT of collaborations and will to open up sources from stakeholder to stakeholder will change everything.”
“In 2024, positive action together will change everything.”
“In 2024 planning and commitment by the business leaders of the industry, to make it part of their financial goals, will change everything.”
Julie Crowe Willoughby:
“In 2024, meaningful capital investments for new climate-positive materials and processes will change everything.”
“In 2024, design will change everything. Design has always been the leader of fashion. As much as we all know how much industry-wide change is needed, at the end of the day we need fashion to speak louder than activism. We need products to get into the hands of cultural zeitgeist creators. And through innovation and stunning design, cultural change is just one moment away.”
“In 2024, forward-thinking brands investing in helping next-gen material startups scale up manufacturing will change everything.”
“In 2024, tehcnology able to separate fiber (polyester from natural) will change everything; this will give a huge input on the post-consumer recycling phase. It could bring three big changes to the market: 1) To help manage unsold garments, 2) To stop (or at least reduce) waste colonialism, 3) The development of recycling facilities that will create new companies and more jobs in the green economy.
”In 2024, NFC technology for sustainable products will change everything. By embedding NFC tags into products, consumers gain instant access to product features and benefits, such as the product life cycle.”
The fact is, we don’t know what 2024 has in store. Right now, the possibilities for what comes next are more or less limitless. And that’s just about as exciting as it gets. So, with that in mind, here’s to next year – to new ways of thinking, to new ways of working, and to new ways of approaching the problems we’re facing today.