Changing the world through the ordinary
"We figure out ways to clean textiles and raw fiber. Nasty, dirty, oily, stinky textiles and raw fiber, and we do it without water." At TERSUS Solutions, we toil in soil.
This piece on innovation was written by our CTO and originally published in the CIO Review.
I was recently asked by a soon-to-be entrepreneur where the best opportunities in the technology business lie. I told her to identify mundane things that she hated to do and improve them.
At TERSUS, we don't make electric cars that propel people. We don't make rockets that will take people to space for a thrill ride. We don't make jetpacks, although I still want the one I was promised 45 years ago. We don't make social media apps that allow people to Twitter their lives away. Nope, we figure out ways to clean textiles and raw fiber. Nasty, dirty, oily, stinky textiles and raw fiber, and we do it without water. We think doing so will have a huge impact on people's lives, and the environment.
The global textile industry is the second largest polluter of fresh water sources, according to The World Bank.
Water is becoming the next hot commodity according to a New York Times article from September 2015. Water disruption, due to quality issues, or scarcity is becoming a major factor in risk assessment for investors and is a contingency that has to be planned for by brand apparel companies. Add to that the rising cost of water, and more significantly, the rising cost of wastewater disposal and you have a situation that can spiral out of control quickly. Throw geopolitics on top and you have a potential problem that requires a substantial investment in planning for alternative sources of raw materials, dyeing, manufacturing and so on. A plan that is in essence an expensive, necessary insurance policy. Using less water across the life of the garment is essential.
Brand apparel companies are increasingly proactive in reducing water usage on the manufacturing side, but the majority of water used during a garment's lifespan is done after it is in the consumer's hands. To date, this has rarely been addressed outside of Levi's CEO, Chip Bergh's message not to wash your jeans. This message can become confusing to someone who buys Levi's for their quality and proceeds to do a real day's work in them. Not washing your jeans in not an option.
The better course of action would be to offer an alternative.
Brand apparel companies spend billions each year crafting the message of their brand. They seek to touch their customers in as many positive ways as is conceivable. Product design, technical properties, fabric hand, color, the ease of use of the website, and the look/feel/smell of the storefronts are all studied, with data gathered to be used to enhance the customer experience. They then drop the ball when they sell the product by relying on the consumer to service their garments or technical gear properly. They cede their brand reputation to customers who don't know how to service/care for their garments properly, which can lead to dissatisfaction with the product even when it is not warranted.
The market exists for servicing these garments to keep them performing through an authorized vendor that has the ability to clean, repair, and in the case of technical garments, restore the performance back to the original specifications. Through these outlets, with real-time feedback, the brands could realize customer patterns in the care of their product and be notified of quality issues that might arise allowing them to make improvements to the product more quickly. This would ultimately cut down on warranty claims, and improve customer satisfaction. It will also cut waste in product and resources by being able to address these issues early on. The companies will also know when the garment is at the end of its useful life, and then be able to custom market to individual customers. Lastly, the service vendor becomes the drop off point for the garment to be processed for recycling as a step towards a closed loop system.
Fast fashion fills landfills. The concern for how items are made, and how they are disposed of is becoming ingrained in the way we buy things. The forward thinking brand apparel company will take a cradle-to-grave approach to their product, making it simple for the consumer to return the garment during, or, at the end of its life cycle for repurposing and recycling. While certain companies are doing this currently, it's a small group. It's a safe bet to assume at some point this will become mandatory via government regulation.
Through the implementation of technology we can bridge logistics, documentation - including pictures, repair history, cleaning and processing history, and performance stats of a garment - and make it all available to the customer and brand. Through this data the brand understands their customers' needs in real time, and we can do it with only a fraction of the water currently being used.
The market continues to change. The trend is towards owning fewer garments that are high quality. The consumer will spend money to own quality garments. They will also spend money to keep them in top shape if they understand the brand is backing the garment up through service.
So the challenge is, embrace the mundane. Find opportunity and change the world with the ordinary. By tackling the issue of cleaning textiles, we aim to expand the impact throughout the textile industry.