How will technology affect the future of fashion? We asked BOMBYX CEO Hilmond Hui for some answers
By Chere Di Boscio
The fashion industry is changing fast, thanks to the strict coronavirus measures put into place by governments.
Such extreme actions have affected not only consumers, but producers of fashion.
While we, as consumers are more aware of the effects on our end, we may not be too familiar with what’s happening on the business side.
To find out, I interviewed Hilmond Hu, who leads the team at BOMBYX in defining the way ahead for sustainable silk.
Following in the footsteps of his parents, who worked in the silk industry too, Hilmond has been immersed in the world of fashion production his entire life. From his family legacy and experience, he’s witnessed the challenges with vertical production methods in making conscious silk.
Of Bombyx, he said the company “was created to change the way people think about silk. As a vertical material manufacturer, we start at the farm and implement sustainability at all stages, all the way to the manufacturing of the fabric.” But how has coronavirus affected all those stages?
We asked that question, and more, in our interview with Hilmond Hui about the future of technology in fashion.
Hilmond Hui On The Future Of Technology In Fashion
Tell us a bit about how Covid has affected your company
Regarding the business side of things, we have seen a steep decline in demand as retail continues to be at a halt and some countries remain without clear standards in dealing with COVID. However, we have changed some details of our practices and production to cater to more current needs.
For example, we are working on things like producing face masks and partnering to create loungewear, etc. Flexibility is key for us and we believe it can help us weather this storm with all the uncertainties we are all facing.
Currently, our construction and business practices remain the same and we continue to push forward in our sustainability initiatives, while also having a little time to slow certain things down to re-evaluate best practices as well as latest technologies.
Due to the interrupted supply of construction materials, we expect the construction costs to increase by about 10%.
Specifically, how has the virus affected your employees?
We have taken steps and implemented several measures to protect our workers’ health and safety. At our farms, social distancing has always been practiced due to the nature of the job and the size of the land. With the lack of demand in silk, we are actually able to utilize our sustainability protocols, specifically regenerative agriculture principles, to make up for lost income that resulted from the halt in retail.
What are you doing to ensure your employees don’t lose their livelihoods as economies begin to crash?
Bombyx’s silk supply has been largely unaffected by the pandemic. We intentionally decreased silk-farm output as demand declined, instead choosing to focus on other crops. Our farmers now have a chance to maintain their income via other crops that we work with in intercropping and rotational cropping. That’s part of what we do with regenerative agriculture, and the beauty of this particular aspect of that is that the intercropping and rotational cropping allows for many different crops to thrive on the same land through encouraging biodiversity.
Are you managing to stick to long term sustainability plans, despite suffering some short term financial loss?
We have a 3-5 year sustainability strategy in place to complete verticality in the silk supply chain. With Bluesign and LEED Certification, our silk is already ahead of the industry. Today, our silk is grown with Regenerative Organic Agriculture methods, and made without toxic dyes as well as less energy waste. This is only the beginning. In the coming two to three years, Bombyx is building the rest of the supply chain, all within Sichuan Province with as much sustainability ideology as we can. Facilities like filament extraction, yarn spinning, weaving, and dyeing will all include things like LEED, Bluesign, Solar Power, Water Recycling (where possible), and be built to GOTS standards.
You say “machines are not meant to replace workers, but used as a tool to increase their income.” How could this be so?
We do believe that machines are not meant to replace workers, but used as a tool to increase their income. We also believe that there will always be things that only humans can do and machines cannot without human aid. When you introduce efficiencies, you can increase output.
Machines can normally do tedious, time consuming, simple tasks, and execute them with higher accuracy. When machines allow workers to make the same quantity in a shorter time span, they have the opportunity to both continue using the machines and create more than what they would have by hand, as well as use the extra time to go through training and increase their skill set by adding things that can only be done by hand.
One example of this is already before our eyes. If we never implemented sewing machines, workers would still be sewing each line by hand. If the dyeing machine was never invented, it would take much longer to create the quantities we’re now used to seeing. These technologies allow workers to make more in a shorter amount of time, equaling more frequent income for them.
Furthermore, with the menial tasks out of the way, workers can utilize their extensive experience not just for delicate and complicated manual labor, but they have the opportunity now to prevent construction mistakes as opposed to fixing them, think of new creative techniques, improve on themselves to add more value, and ultimately increase their own income.
Finally, what role do you think technology has to play in the future of the fashion industry, if any?
Fashion manufacturers should look at all available technologies that can be applied to their processes, particularly those technologies that help harness the power of renewable energy, energy reduction, as well as increase efficiencies. Bombyx is currently exploring automation to reduce energy consumption per unit and increase output for each worker, in addition to new technologies for recycling and achieving circularity.
For more info about Hilmond Hui and BOMBYX, click here.