Instagram vs. Reality
Instagram: Fashion operates in a perfectly closed-loop manner. 100% of brands use 100% recycled and renewable materials to create new things. Consumers buy less but without sacrifice. They share, swap, rent, and mend their things for longer use. At the end of a garment’s life, it can be fully recycled into something new. There’s no such thing as an incinerator. We don’t face a global climate crisis.
Reality: Fashion has always run on a linear model. The average New Yorker tosses ~50 pounds of clothing into the trash each year. Brands manufacture clothing from problematic fibers using problematic resources that pollute the planet. Consumers buy 60% more clothing than they did 15 years ago yet 84% of clothing ends up in landfills or incinerators. As a result, the fashion industry is responsible for 10% of all greenhouse gas emissions and 20% of global wastewater.
Consumers are increasingly concerned about how their behavior perpetuates the climate crisis. Yet this reality exists because it is very difficult for consumers to know what impact their purchases are having on the environment. Even the most conscious shoppers face an inundation of imperfect and opaque information.
Introducing Changing Room
Luckily, there are founders out there who refuse to accept this as the status quo. Changing Room exists to help people shift toward more sustainable behaviors around fashion consumption. It all started in an ideation class at Columbia Business School where founder Jeremy Yao and his peers came together to drive a solution to fashion’s role in the climate crisis.
Last week, Changing Room launched its Chrome extension, Eco-Index, which provides consumers transparency at the point of purchase as well as actionable steps to opt for more sustainable substitutes. The extension works on large fashion retailers like Zara and H&M and can be downloaded easily here. You can see the demo video of the extension’s functionality here.
Eco-Index in action
Creating the extension is not as easy as it may seem. The fashion industry notoriously lacks transparency at every turn. As a result, Jeremy and his team had to develop a complex proprietary algorithm as part of the product development process.
Changing Room’s Google Chrome Extension & Scoring Methodology
Breakdown of the Eco-Index scoring system
Changing Room’s scoring system involves many attributes under a two-pronged approach focusing on both 1) social and ethical and 2) environmental responsibility. Social and ethical responsibility considers wages, workplace safety, animal rights, and corporate governance. Environmental impact considers water usage, wastewater and pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, and circularity potential. The goal of the extension is to empower consumers to choose their impact and make a #CHNG toward more sustainable fashion choices. All of the scoring categories contribute to a final product score ranging from 1 (Let’s Avoid) to 5 (Great). A product with a rating of 5 is made of materials with the smallest possible environmental impact (e.g., organic or recycled fabrics) and was produced using low-impact manufacturing processes. In most cases, this represents a brand that has implemented environmentally and ethically sustainable practices across its supply chain. A product with a rating of 1 is made from materials with large negative environmental impacts, such as energy-intensive growing and manufacturing, high pollution capacity, and limited circularity potential. In most cases, a brand with this type of product shares little to nothing about the sustainability of its supply chain with end consumers.
Changing Room’s rating system is extremely comprehensive. It gathers and organizes over 130+ material impact data points and 2,000+ brand data points from publicly available audit reports. The data sources used in Eco-Index come from a variety of third-party sources, such as Good on You, the HIGG Materials Sustainability Index (MSI), the Business of Fashion Indices, and the Fashion Transparency Index. Additionally, the algorithm weights academic papers, government reports, and industry certifications (e.g., Fair Trade) as well as information directly from brands and retailers. All of this publicly available information is incorporated into the proprietary scoring system to score both the brand and the individual product. In the spirit of transparency, Changing Room hopes to make its current algorithm open source over time. For more detailed information on the scoring system, check out the comprehensive overview on the company’s website.
Jeremy Yao is the co-founder and CEO of Changing Room. He hails from Paris and has studied at both University College London and Columbia University. He has worked on industry projects for both Louis Vuitton and Rent the Runway across the supply chain and inventory analytics. The idea for Changing Room started at Columbia Business School in the Summer Startup Lab, where Jeremy and his team first started working on the idea and ultimately won $10,000 in a startup competition.
What’s Next for Changing Room
A large component of Changing Room’s vision is consumer education. Be sure to check out Changing Room’s Instagram (@changingroom.eco) and TikTok (@changingroom.eco) accounts where you can learn more about greenhouse gasses, renewable fabric movements, and how much water your washing machine uses. Jeremy is spearheading his vision to capitalize on the drastic mindset change occurring with millennials and Gen Z-ers around fashion consumption. He envisions incorporating a gamified experience that celebrates good action and increasing transparency and collective responsibility with an open-source algorithm. Jeremy raised a pre-seed round last January and expects to raise a seed round from institutional investors later this year. To get in touch and learn more, email Jeremy at email@example.com and visit the website at https://changingroom.eco/.