Tech – it’s a huge buzzword at the moment.
Technological innovations are having such a profound impact on everything from our morning beauty routines through to our daily commutes. Not to be left out, the fashion industry has created its own wave of fashion-tech innovations. Tech innovations are really opening up doors for exciting and extensive possibilities within the fashion industry. Not only are they are enabling us to unify a previously fragmented global industry, but with venture capitalists itching to get a stake in fashion’s next unicorn, tech is also creating lots of new opportunities for entrepreneurs and future professionals alike.
The biggest impact, however, maybe in the way that we shop. Through tech, brands may be able to create shopping experiences that appeal to our consumer concerns such as sustainability, transparency and, of course, buying something you are truly happy with. Here are three innovations that come with the hope of a better, more meaningful shopping experience.
The Superhero: Blockchain
Blockchain is essentially a digital passport for an item or product. The technology works as a system of record or “blocks,” with each block being linked to the previous one through shared computer systems. The very nature of the technology means that each “block” is unique and once a “block” has been created its data is then incorruptible. Additionally, the “shared” nature of the network means that data stored in a blockchain is available as soon as it the “block” is created, allowing companies to view data in real-time.
In relation to the fashion industry, this could have far-reaching impact in helping brands prove authenticity and protect their brand from counterfeiting. The provenance data or blockchain of each product could then be accessed by customers and companies through something as simple a QR code. As an example, Chanel could use blockchain technology to ensure that Chanel bags aren’t counterfeited by giving each bag its own digital passport. Customers could then scan a QR Code provided with each bag at the point of sale to see if it is in fact authenticated by Chanel.
However, the uses for blockchain need not stop there. By creating a digital passport for their products, brands may be able to further their sustainability goals by tracing exactly where their products were made and by whom. Brands may also use the incorruptible and real-time nature of the technology to improve worker welfare.
As this brilliant Vogue Business article explains, many start-ups are already capitalising on the broad capabilities of blockchain technologies and using it to solve some of the fashion industry’s most concerning issues.
Tackling the issues of Waste and Sustainability: On-Demand Production
From collecting and preparing raw materials such as cotton; the environmental impact of shipping goods from far-flung places; the huge amounts of waste caused by unsold inventory and our constant need for the latest thing, it’s hard to deny the environmentally harmful effects of the fashion industry. A recent surge in the demand for greater transparency around sustainability and an increased consciousness about our environmental impact has put a lot of brands in the hot seat.
Tackling issues of waste and sustainability are no easy task. Brands can’t really control how much demand there is for their products in any given season, however they need to ensure they have enough goods to achieve their sales forecasts. Unfortunately, the volatility of consumer demand means these forecasts can be inaccurate or may even be revised down part-way through the season, resulting in lots of unsold product.
On-demand production, although it is more of a business model that a technological innovation, it uses technology to tackle the issue of overproduction and waste. One example of this is the use of 3D Body Scanning to create bespoke garments that are tailored to the particular client’s body measurements. Garments are then only produced for a particular client rather than the mass market – think of it as Made-to-Measure 2.0. In doing this, brands not only reduce the guesswork associated with creating clothes according to standardized sizing but they also reduce waste by not over-producing for an undefined mass-market. A great example of a brand using this model is Unspun; they use 3D body scanning and on-demand production lines to make you the perfect pair of jeans!
Reducing Returns: Augmented Reality
Augmented Reality technology alters or enhances the users real-time surroundings through the use of computer-generated images and information. Through the use of smartphones, tablets and even glasses, the user can experience an alternative reality which is partially their real-life surrounds and partially computer-generated images or information.
Augmented reality could offer a solution to the difficult challenge of increasing footfall in brick and mortar stores. Brands like Zara and Burberry have already tapped into this use, employing Augmented Reality as a marketing tool to create engaging in-store customer experiences. However augmented reality could also help brands tackle a big issue that’s eating into their revenue: online returns.
Online shopping has taken the fashion industry by storm, in fact, leading strategy consulting firm, McKinsey & Company, suggest that Luxury Fashion E-Commerce sales will more than triple by 2025. Shoppers can now order their favourite fashions without ever needing to step foot inside a busy brick and mortar store or battling with fluorescent lights and the unpredictable changing room temperatures. Cutting out the in-store experience may be good news for you as a customer, but it means that clothes can actually be purchased and paid for before they are tried on. This leads to higher returns and lower overall revenue for brands when online orders are refunded. Augmented reality, however, may present a way for brands to bring the changing room to the customer. This could allow customers to virtually try on clothing items before purchasing them, improving the brands’ revenue (fewer minuses on the balance sheet) and also improving customer satisfaction. Hooray for less queuing at the post office to return your ASOS parcel.
The above list is merely the tip of the iceberg as fashion industry stalwarts are only just getting to grips with the impact and opportunities available through technology. Nevertheless, blockchain, augmented reality and on-demand production offer solutions to some of the industry’s most pressing concerns whilst also creating a more meaningful and satisfying experience for us, the customer. Blockchain might allow us to purchase a second-hand Chanel 2.55 without the fear of it being a knock-off; Augmented reality may allow us to sleep easier knowing that the last-minute dress we ordered for that special event is probably going to look good on; and on-demand production and body scanning means that we’re not having a colossal environmental impact every time we want a good pair of jeans.
Words by Martha Ngatchu