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Stating the obvious, rather eloquently…

Adrian Wilson

Innovation in Textiles editor Adrian Wilson talks to ChatGPT about the future of the textiles industry.

6th November 2023

Adrian Wilson
 |  United Kingdom


The implications of AI (artificial intelligence) were discussed at length during two recent nonwovens industry conferences.

At the 27th Nonwovens Network UK conference, which took place in Leeds, West Yorkshire, UK, on October 12th, Steve Westland professor of colour science and technology at the Leeds Institute of Textiles and Colour, quoted Stephen Hawking, who predicted that AI will either be the best or worst thing to happen to humanity.

Westland added, however, that AGI – advanced general intelligence capable of accomplishing any intellectual task that human beings can perform – is still on the distant horizon, with even driverless cars unlikely to be commonplace until the 2030s.

Steve Westland. © A.Wilson

In the meantime, a number of useful AI tools are arising, most notably OpenAI’s ChatGPT – Chat Generative Pre-trained Transformer – which by 2024 will be capable of processing text, images, sound and video.


AI programmes are also already having a profound impact on manufacturing, in areas such as improving quality control via predictive maintenance, automated inspection and factory automation.

Predicting raw material prices and improving logistics are further ways AI is now helping businesses, while chat bots promise to completely revolutionise customer services.

“Chat bots already have a massive ability to know much more about products and customers than humans possibly can,” Westland said. “They can instantly read and analyse every single product manual and know every customer decision taken over the past ten years.”

AI is also enabling better product design through both being able to more accurately predict consumer demand and providing generative tools to designers.

“In China, some companies have already laid off all of their designers, because AI can explore a much wider range of potential designs and make creative decisions instantly,” he said. “Trend and colour forecasting by humans will disappear as a consequence of machine learning, because it’s quickly becoming not fit for purpose.”

Forget the Killer Robots

At EDANA’s Outlook conference for the absorbent hygiene products (AHPs) sector held in Vilamoura, Portugal, from October 18-20, futurist Matt O’Neill’s presentation was entitled Forget the Killer Robots – AI is your Friend.

Matt O’Neill. © A.Wilson

He spoke of cultivating a “synthesising mindset” and “enhancing antifragility”, supplying tip sheets and a huge list of current apps to explore, with the aim of “becoming superhuman”. It all seemed a little exhausting, to be honest, and surely something AI should be able to do for me instead?

With this in mind, I took the opportunity to interview ChatGPT directly. At both October conferences, the dominant theme was inevitably sustainability, so it seemed logical to start there.

AW: The clock’s ticking. It’s 2023. What is the simplest way to decarbonise the planet, given all available options?

ChatGPT: Decarbonising the planet in 2023 is an urgent and complex challenge that demands a multifaceted approach. There is no single ‘simplest’ way to achieve this goal, but a combination of strategies and actions can collectively make a significant impact.

One crucial step is transitioning to renewable energy sources, such as solar, wind, hydro and geothermal power. These clean energy alternatives can significantly reduce carbon emissions when adopted on a large scale. To ensure a reliable power supply from renewables, investment in energy storage technologies is essential.

The transportation sector is another major contributor to carbon emissions. Electrifying transportation is key, with the promotion of electric vehicles (EVs) and the expansion of EV charging infrastructure. Encouraging the use of public transportation and active transportation, like cycling and walking, can also help reduce emissions.

Energy efficiency plays a pivotal role in decarbonisation. Implementing energy-saving measures in buildings, industries and appliances can significantly reduce energy consumption and emissions. Carbon pricing mechanisms, such as carbon taxes or cap-and-trade systems, provide economic incentives for emissions reduction.

Protecting and restoring forests, along with planting new trees, contributes to carbon capture and storage. Sustainable agricultural practices can help reduce emissions from the agriculture sector.

Carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies capture and store carbon emissions from industrial processes and power plants, offering another tool in the decarbonisation toolkit.

Investment in research and development is vital for developing new technologies and innovations for cleaner energy and sustainable practices.

It’s important to recognise that decarbonisation is a long-term process that necessitates commitment, investment and collaboration at various levels, from individuals and communities to governments and businesses. The specific mix of strategies and actions may vary by region and depend on local conditions and priorities. Time is of the essence, and urgent action is needed to mitigate the effects of climate change and transition to a sustainable, low-carbon future.

AW: Looking at a specific industry, what can the global textile industry do in the next five years, to help this change?

ChatGPT: The global textile industry has a significant role to play in the collective efforts to combat climate change and reduce its environmental impact. Over the next five years, there are several key strategies and initiatives that the industry can adopt to contribute to these goals.

One fundamental shift is to transition towards sustainable and environmentally friendly materials. This includes the use of organic cotton, hemp and recycled fibres, which have a lower environmental footprint compared to conventional materials. By choosing these materials, the textile industry can reduce its impact on ecosystems and reduce the depletion of natural resources.

A circular fashion model is another important concept. It encourages recycling, upcycling and the reuse of clothing and textiles. Manufacturers can design products with durability and longevity in mind, reducing the need for frequent replacements and minimizing waste.

Manufacturing processes must become more eco-friendly, utilising water and energy-efficient technologies and reducing chemical usage. Closed-loop water systems can be adopted to minimise water consumption and pollution. Transitioning to renewable energy sources for textile production facilities can reduce carbon emissions.

Transparency in the supply chain is crucial. The textile industry should track and disclose the environmental and social impacts of its production processes. This transparency allows consumers to make informed choices and encourages accountability.

Ethical labour practices are equally important. Ensuring fair wages and safe working conditions for textile workers promotes ethical labour practices throughout the supply chain.

Collaboration and innovation are essential. The industry can collaborate with research institutions and startups to develop and adopt innovative, sustainable technologies for textile production.

AW: Please name the five clothing brands you think are the best-place to effect this change.

ChatGPT: Within the fashion industry, several clothing brands stand out for their active efforts to promote sustainable and responsible practices, although it’s challenging to rank them definitively as “the best”. These brands have made significant strides in advancing sustainability and ethical fashion.

Patagonia, a well-known brand, has a long history of prioritising environmental and social responsibility. It uses recycled materials, upholds fair labour practices and actively works to reduce its carbon footprint.

Eileen Fisher places sustainability at the core of its mission. The brand uses sustainable materials and production methods, emphasizing ethical labour practices.

Stella McCartney is a luxury brand that stands out for its strong commitment to sustainability and cruelty-free fashion. It avoids using leather and fur and prioritises sustainable and ethical materials. Stella McCartney is known for its transparency and environmentally responsible practices.

Reformation is recognised for its eco-friendly fashion, focusing on sustainable materials and ethical manufacturing. The brand is transparent about the environmental impact of its products and works to minimise its carbon footprint.

H&M has introduced its Conscious Collection, featuring clothing made from organic and recycled materials. While H&M is a large retailer, this collection showcases the company’s commitment to sustainability initiatives and aims to mainstream sustainable fashion.

These brands have taken significant steps towards sustainability, ethical practices, and transparency in the fashion industry. However, it’s important to note that many other brands and emerging designers are also making noteworthy contributions to sustainable fashion. Ultimately, the “best” brand for effecting change may depend on your specific values and priorities regarding sustainability and ethical practices.

AW: What do you look like? Can you please provide me with an image I can use with your responses?

ChatGPT: I’m just a text-based AI model created by OpenAI, so I don’t have a physical appearance or an image. I exist solely as a computer programme that processes and generates text-based responses. If you’d like to use an image or avatar along with my responses, you’re free to choose any image or icon that you find suitable. However, as a text-based AI, I do not have an associated image or visual representation.

AW: Do you think you could be a useful consultant to the textile industry?

ChatGPT: I can certainly provide information, insights and suggestions related to the textile industry and sustainability. I can offer guidance on various topics, such as sustainable materials, production processes, supply chain management and consumer trends. However, it’s important to note that I am a text-based AI model, and my responses are based on information available up to September 2021. I do not have real-time data or industry-specific knowledge beyond that date.

AW: But do you think real-time data will be available to you soon?

ChatGPT: I don’t have the ability to predict when or if real-time data capabilities will be made available to AI models like mine. The development and deployment of new features and capabilities for AI models depend on the priorities and decisions of the organisations that develop and maintain these technologies, such as OpenAI. They also depend on advancements in AI research, technology and addressing potential challenges, including privacy and data security.

While real-time data integration is a possibility for future AI models, I don’t have specific information or insights about when or if it will become available.

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