The son of a factory manager in a small town in India, Pawan Gupta knew how easy it was to fall through the cracks. He saw a hidden layer of people – small factory owners, textile and fashion designers, assembly line workers – who couldn’t access the large suppliers to make better choices about how their products were made. As a young adult and entrepreneur, he began to witness another problem in dire need of a solution: the horrendous waste generated by fast fashion. Mountains of unwanted clothing, rotting in landfills or washing up on distant shores. Environmentally destructive fabrics that squander millions of gallons of water in production.

Enter Fashinza, Gupta’s new platform that enables independent producers to innovate and automate smart factories with a mobile app and smartphone camera. Workers digitize their processes, capture production data, and quantify output, inventory, and quality control – increasing the efficiency and speed of the factory. “We help them manage the logistics, supply chain, even the financing.”

Gupta’s broad engineering vision and platform-scale thinking developed during his studies at the Indian Institute of Technology Delhi. A fateful Silicon Valley trip was the “trigger” that inspired him to launch a startup and set out to change the world. He worked out the kinks of entrepreneurship in his first venture, Curofy, an AI-based network for medical practitioners in India. When he sold the business in 2020, he’d been troubled for years by another pain: the fast fashion trend of the past two decades exacerbated the problems of excessive waste and the dysfunctional supply chain. A life-changing mission emerged.

Fashinza bridges critical gaps in the supply chain – bringing small producers the ability to cost-effectively manufacture better products at smaller quantities. Organic or recycled cotton are “better for the environment, waste less water, are better for the workers” but require technologies traditionally only available to giant retailers. Fashinza is “trying to transform the supply chain by making these technologies cheaper and more accessible.” Today the company works with over 80 brands across the world and more than 100 factories across India, Bangladesh, China, and Vietnam.

The economics of manufacturing also dictate that clothes are created in larger quantities than needed. “Because the factories are large,” Gupta says, “they won’t work for anything less than a hundred thousand pieces.” If you’re a small designer, “the best factories won’t take your order at all.” Or they will demand cost-prohibitive prices. Rampant over-production leads to retailers needing to throw clothes away.

The benefits are both environmental and societal. Ninety percent of employees in the apparel manufacturing industry are women, and the majority of Fashinza’s suppliers are owned or co-owned by women. Improving their access to financing helps them succeed at business, improving working conditions in the factories, and attracting more women into their companies. Gupta says it’s a virtuous cycle, with many women opening their own boutiques or their own small factories. And because they provide a vital source of income for their families, they are gaining new respect in Indian society.

Education is also key. “We are working with our manufacturers to educate them about how they can transition to such materials and practices, not just to get a premium out there in the market, but also to create a brand for themselves, which effectively means the customers, the retailers are now tied to you.”

The next step is to educate the consumers to make better, more sustainable choices. “The best way for the consumer to force change in the industry” is to reject non-organic cotton and polyester or non-organic cotton, and demand transparency from the manufacturers, Gupta says. “Then the companies would have no choice but to offer these more sustainable products. “If a brand does not stand for what the consumers want, they will lose out in the long term.”

The good news is that the future is trending toward better communication, more transparency, and a collective sense of stewardship of the earth. Pawan Gupta and Fashinza are in the right place at the right time, and we’re proud to follow along. Check out the Fashinza blog for success stories and news of future developments.

About this content: I’m writing for Donna Loughlin’s Before It Happened podcast, crafting weekly profiles of innovators, and showcasing their aha moments. This post originally appeared on the Before It Happened Blog. Be sure to listen to the related podcast!