“During the crisis, companies turned to artificial intelligence (AI) that delivers insights into real-time customer and market trends; they deployed 3D design, merchandising and inventory management tools so they could keep product selling, and prepared for the near-term; they utilised solutions that enabled closer engagement and understanding of customers across channels, and innovation that supported newly honed sustainability narratives,” says Debra Langley, Venture Partner at Lyra Ventures and Fashion Technology Consultant.
Shopping habits also shifted as we were forced to shop online, having no other options available during lockdown periods. In some respects, it was the push needed to show thousands of people who weren’t comfortable shopping online just how convenient and easy it is. This change solidified in brands that the purchase journey is anything but linear. Adoption of digital channels is a necessity if they’re to be seen by their target audiences.
“Brands and retailers need to be clear about where they are creating internal (and thus customer) value,” suggests Langley. “This provides the framework for choosing the tech that provides them with the capabilities, data and insights, helping them enhance their products and services to keep customers engaged and excited about what they are doing.”
As fashion gears up for post-Covid retail, we can expect more businesses to adopt innovation that is both technologically advanced and designed for circularity. Consumers are demanding retailers change the way they operate and openly voice their values, as it has become widely known that fashion is the second-most polluting industry in the world.
From Langley’s perspective, significant advancements occurring in fashion technology include materials innovation, circular (closed-loop) processes, 3D virtual assets on product processes, customer engagement (XR in e-commerce, gamification, NFTs and blockchain) and solutions tailored to customer engagement across online.
A combined international effort is needed in tackling fashion’s problems head-on. The largest fashion companies with the most money aren’t necessarily who we should rely on to instigate change. There are many people in fashion incredibly passionate about contributing to its future.
Helping to shift the dial are five of my fashion tech brands championing change.
The omnichannel leader in luxury, Farfetch is a remarkable platform catering to more than just the savvy online shopper. As one of the world’s most favoured luxury shopping destinations, Farfetch is progressing fast in offering a premium omnichannel experience.
From a seamless online presence to physical retail via its recently acquired Browns boutiques in the UK, it’s clear Farfetch dominates in retail and has also developed technology to support other retailers. Its suite of retail operating technology is offered as white-label solutions to brands and retailers worldwide. Starting with Chanel, Farfetch aims to enhance interactions between consumers and sales associates.
It has all bases covered, from unique virtual interactive experiences to selling pre-loved luxury clothing and accessories. Additionally, Farfetch is infiltrating the Asian luxury market by partnering with Alibaba’s TMall. It proves that one company can successfully speak to multiple audiences and cultures. It’s a matter of deeply understanding the needs of the shoppers in those markets and creating an inimitable shopping experience.
Farfetch epitomises the future of retail.
Los Angeles-based fashion technology startup DressX has created a digital clothing marketplace that superimposes fashion onto a photo and returns the file to you within a day. These become assets in your digital wardrobe and used as content for social media.
As technology evolves, we’re inching closer to an era in which shopping online and wearing those items become a completely virtual experience. A digital world where you won’t pick up an item of clothing from a rack, hold it against your body and wonder, “What would it look like on?”
With several large technology companies working on building the metaverse, digital fashion will play a big part in collecting and wearing virtual clothing across various platforms, environments and games.
DressX recently launched an app using Snapchat’s augmented reality technology to try on and buy digital fashion. It’s a positive step forward in making digital fashion immersive and accessible to people with smartphones.
In a world-first, Unspun is a fashion brand that makes jeans exactly to your body shape and measurements. As a robotics and digital apparel company, Unspun manufactures jeans on demand, with a mission to cut carbon emissions by one per cent.
It’s not just an apparel brand solving a significant sizing problem; Unspun has also developed proprietary software that other global brands are leveraging to reduce waste in manufacturing.
The process to order a custom made pair of jeans is straightforward. First, a quiz to get an idea of your favourite style, preferred fit, denim and colour. Once an order goes through, shoppers open the Unspun app to take photos of their legs. A bit different from your usual shopping experience, but this is a guaranteed way for the jeans to model your shape perfectly. The Unspun technology uses algorithms to analyse a 30-second body scan then translating the data into a digital 3D model of jeans made just for you.
The technology uses algorithms to scan body images creating a digital version of jeans. These initial stages of design and production eliminate the need for inventory, significantly reducing waste in current production methods. A customised shopping experience like Unspun motivates an emotional connection to clothing rather than purchasing several items of clothing that don’t quite fit.
A sustaintech company based in Sweden, Renewcell has developed a method to decompose cellulose in cotton and viscose. Renewcell built a dedicated plant to support large-scale textile recycling in order to produce the first recycled textile, called Circulose.
In 2014, a model wearing a yellow dress made from recycled blue jeans walked the runway at a prominent fashion show. Renewcell’s debut on the world stage, displaying to the entire industry that recycling fabric was not only possible — it looked stunning, too.
Following the success of Renewcell’s patented technology, the first plant to service the industry opened in 2018 and continues to be a leader in textile recycling technology. Its second plant is under construction and will ensure hundreds of millions of garments avoid landfill and incineration.
Material solutions company Bolt Threads is one of the leaders in progressive textiles. Bolt Threads has developed sustainably produced silk spun from the same proteins as a spider’s web.
It was 2017 when I first came across Bolt Threads during SXSW in Austin, Texas. The CEO, Dan Widmaier, unveiled one of its first products: human-made unisex spider-silk ties. The session titled “Nature: The Future of Fashion and Tech” was incredibly fascinating as Widmaier shared insights about its proprietary technology and the future of manufacturing. More than 200 characters over seven years worked on researching and developing sustainable textile alternatives for commercial use.
Additionally, Bolt Threads has developed a sustainable leather made from mycelium and a versatile biomaterial incorporating sugar, water and yeast, which is being used in beauty, textiles and biomedicine.
Lab-grown textiles are fast becoming a preferred alternative, as our reliance on the environment and animals to make textiles is wearing thin. The effects of climate change are increasing, and finding new ways to produce materials is imperative, ensuring the future of fashion leans less on the planet and more on intelligence.
Whether the industry realises it, fashion technology companies are critical now and in the future. Langley believes “we’re no longer in a situation where the industry doesn’t get technology. We’ve moved on to a conversation about how each company must deploy the tech that is most relevant for its business.”
The research and development going into replacing expired methods, which better suit the way we live and avoids harming the environment, is a must. As brands become aware of the innovative solutions available, they can start making incremental changes to their supply chain and evolve.
Brands will develop stronger unique value propositions built on honesty backed by innovation, creating renewed trust in customers as it’s clear the market is big enough for everyone. The industry is better off sharing infrastructure and resources than monopolising players, as this is largely what has gotten the industry in its current predicament.
By continuously growing and supporting new and innovative solutions, we’re inching closer to the next evolution of fashion and look forward to it being personalised, sustainable and traceable.