Identifying similarities between food and fashion
The Mills Fabrica has been supporting techstyle innovation since its inception, nurturing startups and innovators working on material innovation, wearables and lifestyle brands and new retail experiences. Recently, Fabrica has expanded its innovation realm into AgTech and Food Tech. Food and fashion are two vital pillars within the lifestyle industry which are highly interrelated-from supply chain innovation, logistics, distribution and waste management to sustainable packaging, circular economy and new retail models, there is unlimited potential for both sectors to collaborate and share expertise.
Sustainable agriculture secures our future generations’ resources supply
From food to fiber, the agriculture industry provides all of the necessary resources that we need to maintain our daily lives. However, after having adopted unsustainable farming methods over the past few decades, the industry is facing a sequence of issues from soil erosion, land degradation and arable land scarcity to resource depletion, posing one of the greatest threats to our future generations. The current situation inspires startups and innovators to develop solutions to alleviate the risk.
Nitrogen is one of the most important nutrients for growing healthy plants- but only if we use it
correctly. The industry has long been utilizing an excessive amount of nitrogen-based fertilizer, not only contaminating the soil and drinking water, but also supplying the microbes more nutrients than they need, which will eventually induce the microbes to release more nitrogen dioxide depleting the atmosphere. Innovators see precise control as the key to enabling farmers to use water and fertilizer more sustainably. Earlier this year, Breakthrough Energy Ventures, an impact investor network convened by Bill Gates, led a whopping 100 million
USD Series C investment round in Pivot Bio. This Berkley-based Ag Tech startup creates self-sufficient ecosystems in the soil by genetically modifying the microbes, allowing them to release an optimal amount of nitrogen in the root to meet plants’ nutritional needs, reducing the use of nitrogen-based fertilizer.
Apart from farming methods, transportation also contributes significantly to carbon footprint.
According to a report published by Oxford University in 2019, the agriculture supply chain accounts for 16% of the carbon emissions of the entire farming industry, while transportation alone makes up 6% of the footprint. Hence, urban farming could be an alternative to cut down carbon footprint by reducing the distance between farms and end-customers.
Inform is a Berlin-based startup helping restaurants and grocery stores to set up indoor farms, allowing them to sell freshly harvested vegetables to their customers. Its indoor farms are remotely controlled by a cloud-based system, providing the perfect amount of light, water and nutrients to the plants. As a result, 5 million km of transportation and 8 hectares of land can be saved for every 2,000 indoor farms built.
Some of these agricultural solutions could also be used to grow fiber, empowering the fashion industry to build up a more sustainable supply chain at the source. The fashion brands featured on page 13 demonstrate a regenerative farming approach, fusing innovative agricultural practices with fashion design. Both the fashion and food industries are in need of innovations that can help achieve a truly sustainable ecosystem. A handful of proven solutions have been used to facilitate the supply chain to shift to sustainable practices. The London-based startup Provenance, develops a track-and-trace solution powered by blockchain, which has been used by coffee beans farmers, grocery stores, home textile producers and fashion brands. Its solution increases the traceability and transparency of products by providing every stakeholder-farmers, manufacturers, retailers and customers-detailed information at each stage of the supply chain.
Food and Fashion Production are on the same track
The conventional farming industry is facing enormous pressure on land scarcity, leading to competition for land between fiber, food and livestock. Although innovators have developed solutions to improve soil quality and farming practices, the food supply chain cannot solely rely on limited land resources – seeking for alternative food supply is a priority. While lnfarm’s urban farming solution is an exemplar of departing from on-field traditional farming, ingredient innovation and alternative foods are also paving the way for a moresustainable and renewable food industry.
As the awareness of sustainable living has been rising over the past few years, the demand for plant-based products is continuously surging. The global plant-based meat market is expected to reach 35 billion USD in 2027 (Food Industry Executive), and Beyond Meat is undoubtedly the leader in this space. According to a recent interview by the New York times, the American plant-based company is valued at 14 billion USD- proving that a plant-based diet is no longer a niche lifestyle choice. Beyond Meat produces plant-based meat using various types of beans, potato starch and plant-based oil, which consumes 99% less water, 93% less land and 43% less energy. Therefore, plant-based diets are not only kind to animals, but also to our mother nature by significantly reducing environmental footprint.
Ingredient innovation pushes the boundaries of Food Tech even further, subverting the conventional agri-food supply chain with disruptive ingredients. The Finnish startup Solar Food uses electricity to extract carbon dioxide and hydrogen from water, then feeds the extraction with bacteria, resulting in a single-cell protein called “Solein”. The wheat flour-like protein contains fat, carbohydrates and minerals, which can be used as an ingredient to produce baked goods, protein drinks, or even burger patties without using a kernel of bean – corroborating its profound statement “disconnect food production from agriculture.” Having said that, carbon dioxide is present throughout the process – in fact, it is captured as part of Solein during fermentation. Moreover, the electricity used is powered by solar energy, emitting 100 times fewer greenhouse gases than raising cattle. It also yields 1,000 times more than raising cattle using the same size of land, making it a highly resource-efficient ingredient.
The fashion and food industries have always been on the same trajectory, embracing a more sustainable approach by using similar technologies. Like Bolt Threads (page 12) and Evocative Design (page 17), we have seen many examples of adopting bio-design and additive manufacturing in fashion or industrial design. And now, the food supply chain is also probing into these technologies, aiming to increase annual yield alongside a lower environmental footprint. While raising cattle usually takes at least one year from birth to slaughter, cultured meat developed by the Israeli-based startup Future Meat only takes 14 days to grow, providing a more time efficient solution for the food supply chain. Besides its efficiency, cultured meat is cleaner than regular ranch-raised meat as it uses 90% less water and emits 80% less greenhouse gases. Another Israeli startup, Redefine Meat, also develops animal-free meat using 3D printing technology, allowing retailers and restaurants to produce meat on-demand. “Future Meat” sounds like science fiction, but these are not far-fetched innovations as both startups are expected to launch their products by 2021, pushing the agriculture industry one more step towards a farm-free era.
Innovative e-retail solutions improve the customer journey
E-commerce has been thriving for years as most lifestyle retailers have built up their online channels to create a ubiquitous presence for their brands and products. But the e-grocery sector was an exception —customers used to be skeptical about the quality of online grocery shopping because they are not able to choose the products in person. The lack of trust between retailers and customers was one of the major setbacks for thee-grocery sector. It also requires a multitude of resources for traditional grocery stores shifting from the brick-and-mortar model to the e-commerce arena. Despite that, the current pandemic provides customers and grocery startups a second chance to re-explore the online grocery shopping experience. Startups are also taking this opportunity to introduce sustainability to their businesses.
For example, the London-based startup, Good Club, focuses on selling local sustainable products using reusable and non-plastic packaging, setting an example of a zero-waste and closed-loop e-grocery business. Meal-kit subscription is another disruptive model that has changed the operation of the grocery sector. In addition to saving customers’ travel time to the grocery store, it provides an all-in-one service to their customers – from developing recipes and calculating the nutritional value to recycling meal-kit boxes. The competition within this field is very fierce -while Blue Apron lost 30% of its users in just one year, another leading mealkit service provider HelloFresh recorded a 42% y-o-y growth in 2019, suggesting a promising future for the most adept and competent players.
Retail technology such as payment and fulfillment solutions also enable e-retailers to improve the customer journey. Amid the pandemic, it plays an even more important role in engaging online customers in times of social distancing, facilitating retailers to operate business as usual. The British retail tech startup Smartzer develops a solution that allows retailers to lay an interactive tag over campaign videos, increasing the conversion rate of retailers’ social media campaigns. Initially mostly used by luxury fashion brands, its founder Karoline Gross told us in the previous issue of Fabrica.Weave that its solution can also be applied to enhance the customer experience of buying food and beverage online. We’ve mentioned that the lack of trust and infrastructure were the major hurdles for the online grocery sector. In fact, according to McKinsey’s report, unstable supply was also an obstacle for the grocery sector to develop online channels. Stable supply reduces the bounce-back from customers, but COVID-19 is causing disruptions throughout the supply chain. These startups’ solutions enable retailers to predict demand effectively during and after the pandemic: Crisp is an American tech company that forecasts food supply by collecting and analyzing yield and sales data. Its solution helps the food supply chain better predict the demand, resulting in less food waste. Similarly, Chain of Demand, a Fabrica incubatee, has developed an Al-powered forecast technology that allows retailers to reduce excessive inventory by predicting future demand more accurately.
Food and fashion: a holistic sustainable lifestyle
Sustainable or plant-based living are not just about eating vegan meat or using cruelty-free products,
but a full embodiment of one’s lifestyle choice. Consumers with a higher consciousness of sustainable consumption expect retailers to provide them with a full range of sustainable offerings. Outdoor clothing brand Patagonia (page 15) is known for being a long-time supporter and advocate of sustainability. They have launched a spin-off food brand, Patagonia Provisions, to celebrate the regenerative farming practices adopted by both its garment and food production, providing its customers a full experience of sustainable living.
Fabrica is supporting a few Singaporean startups that empower consumers to celebrate a plant-based lifestyle through their digitized platforms: Green is the New Black is a media company that provides their readers with stories about conscious living and an online marketplace to buy sustainable products. While abillion is a plant-based version of Yelp or OpenRice – a review platform, where its users can search and write reviews for plant-based restaurants and products, creating credentials for the yet-to-be-seen plant-based market. Vikas Garg, CEO of abillion tells us more about his company’s mission in his interview on page 22. In this article, we have explored various examples of how fashion and food are closely tied together. We believe there are countless opportunities for both industries to join forces to spur innovation in the future when we take a holistic approach of the lifestyle industry.