Building a sustainable fashion ecosystem: Meet Natasha Franck
The fashion industry is one of the biggest industrial polluters in the world. But founder Natasha Franck is using IoT (Internet of Things) technology to usher in a new era of sustainability in the fashion world.
Natasha Franck isn’t as interested in fashion as she is in trash—perhaps atypical for the CEO and co-founder of a fashion technology business. In the early days of her company EON, it was almost an obsession: “I read everything I could about waste and possible solutions to this global epidemic.”
After learning that the fashion industry is actually one of the largest industrial polluters in the world after big oil, Natasha became determined to do something about it.
“In fashion, where there are 150 billion articles of clothing made every year, and 90% of these textiles are ending up in a landfill—the consumption of resources and production of waste is never-ending.” says Natasha. “And when burning trash is still the main means of disposal, we’re left with some serious air quality concerns worldwide.”
Think: pollution “white-outs” where people can’t see their hand a mere foot from their face; mandatory “inside days” where schools are closed on account of the harmful air; and general ongoing health concerns including dizziness and nausea, breathing difficulty, skin and eye irritation, and extreme headaches and fatigue. These issues are especially prevalent in developing nations, where most fast fashion garments are produced.
So, what’s the solution? For Natasha, the key is linking the fashion industry to the circular economy and the Internet of Things, using technology to mimic the circular ecosystem we see in nature.
“In nature, the system is entirely closed-loop. Everything that nature produces, it utilizes.”
As she was looking for ways to make an environmental impact with her work, Natasha developed a keen interest in trash—and even visited waste management sites on the weekend.
Natasha brainstorms at her live/work space in Manhattan.
Quality playtime with her pup, Eames.
There's a lot more room for Eames (and Natasha) to enjoy nature upstate.
“Sustainability” is a popular buzz word these days, but Natasha came to it authentically, thanks to a background in smart city planning. Early in her career, she worked to establish an international building code for healthy and sustainable cities. It was her time in developing countries surrounded by what she calls the “unimaginable heartbreak” of extreme air pollution that inspired her to launch EON, a startup dedicated to creating a sustainable fashion ecosystem.
EON exists at the intersection of the circular economy and IoT, helping to identify a garment at every point in its life cycle.
“Lack of transparency is one of the biggest barriers to a circular fashion industry. We can’t recycle it if we don’t know what’s in it,” says Natasha.
Collaborating with global fashion brands, Natasha and her team work to integrate digital identification (RFID tags) into garments to create a “material passport” for each product. RFID tags, in the form of a thread, are woven directly into a garment at its inception, giving the piece a unique ID and linking it to the IoT. The RFID tag communicates with the cloud, which stores relevant info like what materials the garment is made of, where it was made, who made it, and more.
- Natasha FranckLack of transparency is one of the biggest barriers to a circular fashion industry. We can’t recycle it if we don’t know what’s in it.
Natasha developed a curiosity and passion for nature when she was little, spending weekends upstate at her parents’ lake house. Compared to her life in New York City, at her mom’s bustling downtown studio, this was an idyllic escape—without many modern amenities or distractions to keep her from appreciating both nature’s power and its fragility. "Growing up, I didn't have TV or computers or wifi. So I developed a real appreciation for the magic of [nature]... I realize now the impact that had on me."
Building greater transparency directly into a garment opens up incredible opportunities for supply-chain tracking, consumer engagement, recycling, authentication, and even smart check-out. Understanding the component materials allows for recycling or upcycling the garment; it streamlines shipping and receiving methods across the supply chain; and it’s a boon to luxury brands looking to thwart the flow of counterfeits hitting the market.
But to effectively change an entire industry, Natasha faces the challenge of getting major brands to opt in. Fortunately, they’re now starting to see the possibilities of the circular economy: Natasha won the H&M Global Change Award in 2016. And with Microsoft tools, she’s able to build and showcase on a broader scale the change that EON is effecting with its products, leading to greater adoption industry-wide.
It’s the first step in what’s likely to be a long and transformative shift. The rest of the industry—along with consumers—still needs to get up to speed with the advancements in IoT technology, which is expanding and improving almost daily.
For Natasha, given what’s at stake, it’s a change she believes the industry is ready to adopt.
- Natasha FranckIf there’s any industry that can inspire a more beautiful future, it’s fashion.