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Fashion Technology, Digital Innovation & Scaling Sustainability in 2020

At A Glance – Technology is Redefining the Face of Fashion

The events of 2020 are giving the fashion industry a bit of a Matrix make over. Technology has the ability to democratise fashion at scale, increasing access, promoting sustainability, accelerating innovation and redefining the face of the industry.

The fashion, luxury and the retail sector have been some of the most wound inflicted following COVID-19. Business models have had to hasten their shift to online channels, identify supply chain inefficiencies with AI and embrace social media more to remain connected with customers.

Technology is the tool for designers, creatives and brands to transition to the ‘new normal’. The rise of phygital experiences which incorporate augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR) or mixed realities (MR) are raising the value of brands’ digital assets.

Meanwhile, fashion organisations are capitalising on innovative technologies to match customers increased interaction with their devices, at a time when we constantly expect new refreshed experiences to engage with our favourite labels and communities. Rapid integration of these new technologies will give organisations a competitive advantage as those slow to adopt will risk becoming irrelevant, outdated, as well as less sustainably sound.

Most recently, partnerships between Google and WWF to further textile supply chain transparency are evidence of cross industry collaboration with technology at the epicentre.

Scaling innovation in the fashion arena is also reshaping what Fashion Months will look like, as demonstrated by June’s inaugural digital London Fashion Week. The connection between digitalisation and sustainability efforts will mitigate the threat of environmental degradation and social injustice traditionally associated with apparel production and distribution.

This feature weighs in on the urgency of scaling digitalisation for business prosperity but also how it promotes action surrounding sustainable development. It evaluates current trends and examples of what the digital fashion landscape will soon become. I have provided numerous cases of forward-thinking organisations and underline the solutions they are providing to pivot the global fashion marketplace.

In Focus – Digital Escalation

The rise of fashion entertainment, unlimited digital experiences and augmented realities have altered the state of play. The convergence and affinity to digitalisation within the industry has in part been catalysed by the pandemic as travel, production and shopping remain restricted. Fashion houses and retailers have had limited channels of communication to their customers which has given way to active brand participation in social media to engage their audience. Deviating to digital mediums provides an opportunity to retain the storytelling of brands and scale this globally to maximise revenue opportunities.

Current Trends

The fashion and creative landscape is an essential tangent of the British economy. In a recent interview with the Guardian, London Mayor Sadiq Khan noted that fashion is “our golden egg” with one in six jobs within the UK is involved in the industry.

To retain its competitive scale, the UK fashion forces must heed the urgency of digitalisation at scale.

According to the Business of Fashion State of Fashion COVID-19 report, composed in early April:

“Lockdowns have elevated digital as an urgent priority across the entire value chain but, unless companies scale up and strengthen their digital capabilities in the recovery phase of the crisis, they will suffer in the longer term.”

Their analysis draws attention to the increased digitalisation of customer journeys as customers embrace new technologies and has even seen traditional bricks and mortar shoppers switching to their screens. Supporting evidence includes the fact that 13% of European citizens browsed online e-tailers for the first time throughout the first month of the pandemic.

Luxury bands faced widespread store closures during the height of COVID-19

Storytelling is an indispensable avenue of a fashion organisation’s business strategy. Digital platforms are transcending how brands communicate their stories through virtual galleries, curated interactive playlists and videos. London’s first ever Digital Fashion Week focussed less on clothes, more on culture and equality with fewer household names on show.

London’s inaugural Digital Fashion Week

Instead, it was a stage for new designers to experiment with unorthodox communication channels. For example, Indian and Nigerian designer Iya Ahluwalia presented a digital 3D exhibition and photography book on Britain’s first Punjabi community.

Similarly, Osman Yousefzada presented a moving short film called “Her Dreams Are Bigger,” which took clothes with “Made in Bangladesh” labels bought in Britain back to their country of origin. The garment workers then tried these clothes on and imagine the women who had once worn them.

The narrative surrounding ethics in production and reducing waste throughout supply chains saw Martine Rose collaborate with a poet Kai-Isaiah Jamal to promote her capsule collection that used her studios dead stock fabrics.

Just last week, Burberry announced that their September show will host a “live physical presentation that is open for all to experience digitally.” Furthering my sentiment fashion weeks are becoming increasingly democratised and no longer limited to the industry’s editors or influencers.

A final note on digitalisation of fashion weeks – this will spur the ‘see now, buy now’ trend pioneered by Burberry ago. Now, more than ever before digitalisation will simplify with a single swipe the ability to purchase the collection whilst its on or hot off the runway.  

Opportunities for Digital Fashion

Scaling technologies ignites a myriad of opportunities to further fashions sustainability narrative. Digitalisation can reduce carbon footprints, wasted stock and increase efficiencies in inventory management.

A huge market opportunity for brands in the digital space exists through the use of experiences and data. Ryan Holloway from MX-R, a company pioneering 3D, estimates that the value of digital only assets stands at close to $100 billion and emphasises that stakeholders shouldn’t neglect digital asset ownership.

Customers are slowly shifting their perspective so organisations must find the optimum equilibrium between developing new ideas at pace yet not releasing them too much ahead of the curve.  

The future of fashion also toys with the intersection of gaming and film as a key strategic tool where brands are building online communities and cultures. Take for instance, the collaboration of Fortnite and Travis Scott, an unlikely pairing, that was used to garner interest around certain products or services.

Brands are experimenting with online retailing technologies

Innovators at Work

The Fabricant

The digital fashion house that ‘wastes nothing but data and explores nothing but our imagination’.  The Fabricant create digital couture and fashion experiences that promote endless possibilities on the spectrum of 3D. Launching in November 2020, their business model explores the gamification of fashion with digital avatars to alter the way we shop, allowing us to experiment with style, without the actual product.

Credit: The Fabricant

Adrianna Hopenbrouwer – Pereira, Partner at The Fabricant explains there are three tangents to their work

  1. Passive – brand campaigns that focus on all touch points including video and stills as creative expression
  2. Interactive – these elements look at phygital, AR, VR and MR
  3. Immersive – UGC 3D realities where user directs and actively participates which is a fun way for brands to engage.

How does it work? Users create their own digital assets via their LEEVA platform. In their beta testing they had results that demonstrated:

  • 52% would share their personal style with social media
  • 64% were willing to pay for the service
  • 86% would return when there were an increased number of options/cosmetics available

What’s more – The Fabricant are quantifying their sustainability impact. For example, the production of a standard t-shirt accrues a carbon footprint of 80 kilograms per item. To create the same item digitally, accrues a tenth of the footprint, purely based on materials and logistics. Below, you can view their recent collaboration with Puma.

M-XR

MX-R use 3D to bring realism to brands, studios and creators.  They focus on AR, VR and MR. To distinguish:

AR = A digital layer in front of the real world

VR = A closed environment and digital world (this could be a 3D 360-degree video)

MR = A convergence of both of the above.

Their research has involved developing a precision scanning system used by many of their luxury fashion partners and has been used to promote the Nike AR shoe. Their systems use custom optics and machine learning to measure material properties, textures and transparency of a garment. This allows accurate 3D conversion into real world objects and makes them more lifelike. Their 3D models are converted into AR/VR, film and games.
Part of MX-R’s objective is to provide industry players with the highest possible quality AR assets, unifying the creation process which will allow brands to deploy this technology at scale.

Credit: MX-R

Amongst their numerous collaborations are Mulberry and their laudable work with Hypebeast and Samsung that focuses on real-time 3D interactive garment stimulation.

HoloMe

HoloMe use human holograms in augmented reality to increase effectiveness of communication strategies. They convert videos into lightweight holograms which can be used as an instrument for brands to create engaging, interactive content. Designed for marketers, influencers and educators the HoloMe services are creating immersive virtual learning environments or interactive promotions that can integrate with Instagram, WordPress, Shopify et al. Thus far, they have partnered with the likes of YNAP, ASOS, H & M and Esquire. At a time when we aren’t able to be with some of our favourite humans, HoloMe is bridging this gap. They have even created a touching project with the British Army to create Christmas holograms for families.

HoloMe’s partnership with YNAP

TextileGenesis®

TextileGenesis® is a traceability platform designed to create radical transparency within the apparel eco system. From each stage of the product life cycle, from fiber-to-retail, they are working to ensure authenticity and provenance of sustainable textiles against generics.

Did you know up to 30% of branded ingredients such as organic and sustainable fibres are said to be fake?!

Built for premium and sustainable textiles including wood based fibers, premium cotton, silk, wools and cashmere, they are driving value chain inventory optimisation.

How do they do this? TextileGenesis® combines blockchain with a GS1 (the first fiber-to-retail traceability data standard ) to leverage the full potential of block chain solutions.

TextileGenesis® have been awarded the 2020 Winner for Global Change Award Initiative by the H & M foundation and have partnered with the likes of Lenzing, the Textile Exchange and Fashion for Good to scale their mission.

Their enterprise technology is based around five core principles outlined below:

  1. Cross industry platform (open network for apparel ecosystem that covers the entire value chain)
  2. First fiber-to-retail traceability (global textile traceability standard at each SKU level)
  3. Fibercoins®, are a blockchain based digital token which is able to digitize any textile asset. They are a digital twin to mirror the flow of physical goods along the change to capture the results from audits on textile assets. They are NOT based on any crypto-currency (Bitcoin, Ethereum, etc) to eliminate the financial and legal risks, and drive ease of adoption for the business-to-business users.
  4. Plug and play implementation – easily accessible cloud based platform and app for mobile transparency at the retail point of sale (POS), integrated through existing IT systems through APIs, data feeds
  5. Transparency rankings & incentives – real time transparency ranking of supply chain partners, incorporates existing sustainability credentials, strong incentives to close the chain and stimulate transparency
Source: TextileGenesis

Unspun

I am obsessed with Unspun’s concept. A concept that is pioneering zero touch fittings and reinventing how apparel is designed with mass customisation and automated manufacturing. This US based company is using a proprietary digital fit platform to craft your dream denim! Each item is unique to your body shape derived from a 3D scan. This zero-inventory, low waste process is pinned to make seismic waves in the denim industry due to its sustainability mission.

How does it work? Unspun use 50,000 data points from a body scan. This crafts your garment to fit your actual body shape and generates optimal patterns. A feature I particularly like is the element to choose the color of your threads. Be sure to read up on their zero waste commitments, dedication to reducing energy and supply chain transparency focus.

Credit: Unspun

&Wider

This organisation has harnessed the power of technology to address humanitarian issues as well as to maximise operational efficiencies across supply chains. They aim to make the invisible visible through three simple actions of ‘listen, response and improvement’. Through their online platform, they have designed a virtuous cycle and continuous feedback loop that connects workers in factories to management within organisations to scale positive impact for all stakeholders. It includes using anonymous mobile phone calls and surveys to collect data and unique insights to foster improvement across the production process.

Read the spotlight feature on & Wider with an exclusive interview with founder Lea Esterhuizen here.

Credit: Unspun

Sozie

Sozie translates as doppelgänger, a real person that looks like each and every one of us. Founded on the principle that “Models don’t look like shoppers”, Sozie have devised an online technology platform that creates and sources content for shoppers, from shoppers!

It curates content from shoppers during their in-store or at home shopping journeys, which can subsequently be used by retailers to display on their website which creates real life engagement and sales conversions.

Their goal is to become the marketplace and one-stop destination for shoppers that aggregates content from our fellow customers. Sozie has been recognised by Farfetch’s Dream Assembly, are part of the Fashion for Good accelerator programme and have won the Fashion Innovation Award from the Canadian Arts & Fashion Awards. Early clients include Target and Adidas, demonstrating Sozie is poised for global success.

Poignantly, Sozie addresses one of Elon’s problems:

Final Thoughts – the Essential Tool for Sustainable Fashion

There is an innovation imperative if we are to firmly engrain sustainability into the fashion mindset. Technologies are helping to minimise unnecessary production, promote a virtual ‘try before you buy mentality’, reduce surplus inventory/samples as well as create individually tailored garments. This in turn fuels the inclination that loved clothes last longer and reduce landfill waste. Blockchain and data insights, as demonstrated by the likes of TextileGenesis® and &Wider are invaluable in the pursuit of transparency along the apparel value chain. Finally, for fashion houses that want to remain competitive, early adoption and investment in research and development to engage their customers across new digital mediums will prove essential. Digital asset ownership cannot be shunned in the post pandemic fashion world and failing to adapt will jeopardise long-term bottom-line growth.

As the new world order focuses on digital disruption and the phygital customer experience, both brands and digital architects need to level up to dream big and create a future the fashion industry is hungry for.

If you enjoyed this article, take a look at the future of fabric innovation, blockchain technology, the power of fashion accelerators, and the spotlight on &Wider.

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