Technology leads us to the future of the fashion industry

We are always inspired and astounded at the constant development of technology moving the fashion industry into a more efficient and creative future. Refining and developing manufacturing processes allows designers limitless possibility. The ever growing digital world opens up new opportunities, both in the creative process and the way we interact with and discover fashion. Incredible products are growing out of interdisciplinary collaborations, using the skills of scientists, computer engineers, manufacturers and designers.

Technology changes the way we experience fashion

Technologies are changing the way people shop, through social media apps, retail shops and augmented realities. Brands are adapting to changes in order to get their products in front of their customer. Creating a new and different experience can set a retailer apart from the rest in an over catered fashion world.

Reformation, an eco-focused fashion brand based in LA, has recently embarked on a restructuring of their in-store experience. With their brand new San Fran store opening this February, founder Yael Aflalo plans to solve the problems recognised in their other stores. Due to high volume of foot traffic (which is great for retailers), the experience in store has become unpleasant for the customer – bustling to get to the clothes, garments strewn everywhere and the changing rooms less of a focus. Their current system leads assistants to spend more time cleaning up than directly helping customers. The new store addresses these issues – displaying only the top 20% selling garments in a minimalist way, touch screens for customers to browse, selecting the garments they want to try on as they go. Once ready they can go to the dressing room where the assistants will have brought the garments in their size. Aflalo sees this method evolving to the point where people can choose the garments at home, then come in to the store to try them on when they are ready.

GAP similarly wants to improve customer experience, which is stemming from declining sales across their portfolio. In collaboration with Google and San Fran tech startup Avametric, GAP is launching DressingRoom by GAP – an app using augmented reality for shoppers to see what the garments would look like on their body shape. The shopper inputs their measurements then when they want to “try on” a garment, a mannequin to their proportions will pop up wearing the garment, illustrating the fit. At this stage the app will only be available on Google Tango devices as they focus on making the app successful on Google’s augmented-reality platform.

Pinterest is another app service shaping the way people experience fashion. With 150 million monthly users, Pinterest allows the opportunity to advertise to a targeted audience, and they are rolling out new features to address this. Although still in beta, the app is working on a search tool that allows people to use their camera lens to search for an item, giving them similar styles or what to wear with it for inspiration. It is pretty incredible technology for the app to recognise what something is, search for other options and give styling advice. They have also released ‘Shop The Look’, enabling specific things within the pin to be selected, taking the consumer through to purchase.

In store set up with virtual reality headsets for customer to explore the latest collection at Tommy Hilfiger. Photo source: Tommy Hilfiger

Virtual reality is another technology that is on the cusp of mainstream. Wearing a headset, consumers can be fully immersed in an alternate reality, adding a depth of experience to a brand or product. Tommy Hilfiger utilised this tech in 2015, adding VR headsets to his stores which enabled the consumer to “attend” a fashion show, seeing the collection on the runway and even going backstage. In the alternate reality version of the show, you can walk amongst the models and see the garments up close. The consumer can then purchase from the collection in store.

Connecting with the consumer is no doubt imperative to a brands success. With the development and efficiency of chatbots, brands can provide personalised help to their customer while they are on their website. Chatbots in this context are essentially digital sales assistants that use artificial intelligence to help the online shopper. David Fischer, CEO and founder of online publication Highsnobiety, says using chatbots to assist with their online store can deliver news faster than ever before. Currently using the chatbots exclusively to keep customers up to date with new sneaker releases, the bots aim to build a loyal relationship with fans who visit the site everyday. However, brands need to be careful not to “spam” their customer. Fischer explains, “If you overuse this tool, you can alienate the user.”

The fashion industry draws inspiration from tech companies as consumer needs change

Karen Harvey is a consultant working in the realm of fashion and luxury, providing strategic planning with a focus on future goals. Her expertise lies in collaborating between fashion and technology industries to develop and learn from each other’s strengths. In this interview with business media brand Fast Company, Harvey explains what the fashion industry needs to learn from the tech industry. She says that traditionally, the fashion industry has created beautiful things and expects the consumer to follow them, whereas now, millennials have grown up in a world where technology is calibrated to their needs, so they expect their needs to be met by the brands they follow. Harvey’s Fashion Tech Forum is an event where brands from the fashion and tech industries can come together to share resources and collaborate.  Fashion brands are now opening up to the idea of being more consumer-centric and meeting somewhere in the middle.

Another aspect fashion brands are improving, according to Harvey, is speed and transparency. The ‘see now, buy now’ fashion show concepts and one day delivery times are evidence of the moves towards faster service for the consumer. Expectation of openness around supply chains and labor conditions are important to the consumer in order to decide if the brand fits their personal values. Brands need to articulate their brand culture in a way that is honest and enticing to their consumer.

Screenshot from F is For… website with images from their latest event.

Fendi, although one of the oldest European luxury fashion houses, is dedicated to enticing the younger generation of consumers, with a fresh approach to their new customer. Launched earlier this month, Fendi now has a dedicated brand culture blog style website attached to their existing website. “F is for…” opens the door to the consumer to see the inspirations and aspirations of the brand with a focus on youthful energy. Features include interviews, collage style mood boards, restaurant and holiday reviews and also photos of parties and events hosted by “F is for…”, outside of the online forum.

Fashion and technology industries creating hybrid products

The collaborations that come out of the combinations of skills from both tech and fashion backgrounds, creates a new type of product that sits between the two industries. Last year, Levi’s and Google’s Advanced Technology and Products group announced their collaboration on a jacket designed for the urban cyclist. Technology concealed in the weave of the fabric syncs with their phone or device, allowing the wearer to change music, volume, answer and block calls or access navigation information. Keeping the tech side of the jacket well disguised was intentional, seamlessly making tech fashionable and wearable. The collaboration has a lot of potential, both to expand with the Levi’s commuter consumer, and to move into other fashion sectors including formalwear, luxury and athleticwear.

One of the problems of the with tech wearables in the past is that it has failed to be something people want to wear everyday. To really integrate these products into the mass market, the items need to be less obvious and more fashionable.  Fitbit, a well known fitness tracking accessory has teamed up with fashion designers including Tory Burch, The Public School and Vera Wang to create more fashion forward bands that make the fitness tracker something people will wear everyday.

The integration of technology into sportswear makes a lot of sense. With fitness tracking technology such as measuring heartrate, distance, breathing depth and now using these analytics can give the wearer workout suggestions. Ralph Lauren has released a workout shirt with silver thread woven into the garment combined with sensors that relays information including breath depth, heart rate and movement, as well as the relationship between these and how to improve your workout. David Lauren, executive vice president of Ralph Lauren, said the technology could be incorporated into everyday polos, suits or even babywear. “This fabric, this material can be used to help you live a better life at any age,” said Lauren.

Textile manufacturers refine technologies to create exciting new fabrics

Perino by Woolyarns combines high quality Brushtail Possum fibre with other luxurious fibres including cashmere, silk and fine merino to create endless possibility. Customizations of the woolen spun machinery in their family owned factory in New Zealand has enabled these unique blends that have incredible warmth, breathability and low pilling properties. Born from a passion for innovation, the research team at Woolyarns is continually trialing new blends and applications using Brushtail Possum fibre. Marketing manager Jimad Khan says “Woolyarns have always pushed the boundaries when it comes to engineering great yarns. Our machinery has been customised and adapted to allow the creation of unique yarns such as our brushtail possum blended yarns.”

Perino by Woolyarns has engineered luxury yarn blends that cater to designers that want elegance, warmth and unique technical properties.

There are several manufacturers exploring the use of bioengineering to produce new fibres and fabrics. Japanese company Spiber and American company BoltThreads are two manufacturers creating innovative new fibres and fabrics that replicate spider silk. By creating new technology they are able to make a synthetic fibre using a fermentation process that has strength, stretch, softness and warmth properties. Also in the realm of biofabrication, Modern Meadow is a leading manufacturer creating leather without the use of animals. The are growing living collagen cells in their laboratory, then creating a leather ‘hide’ that has the same structural and aesthetic properties of animal leather. Their technology enables their customer various customisable options as they offer any size or shape, no nicks or defects as found on natural leather and the ability to replicate any animal species’ leather, without harming the animal.

Countless opportunity for technologies in the fashion industry

With companies and brands expanding in so many different areas of the fashion industry, there is a true trend towards using technologies to create positive customer experience. With refining processes in manufacturing there are emerging new fibres and blends to create diversity of product offerings. We are seeing a real focus in the retail sector of the fashion industry to make the shopping experience easier and more exciting for the consumer. Collaborations are leading to exciting new products by utilising the skills of different industries to create something inventive and efficient. These infinite possibilities have more space to evolve yet, with a continuous stream of the new and exciting pushing the fashion industry towards the future.

Further Reading:

This list from Forbes gives you ten fashion brands that are fusing fashion and technology in a way that makes consumers want to get on board. From heat technology in outerwear, clothing that brings you closer to the action while watching live sports and fabric with sensitivity to the elements, changing the colour of the product, there really is limitless opportunity in the realm of fashion and tech.

As technology flows into the fashion system and gains popularity, there will be a parallel trend of real experiences that encourage community, sensory feeling, soul and emotion. In a world where everything is connected to tech, the visceral experience becomes a true novelty. A connectedness to nature, the world and people around us is a real human need and it is predicted to make a comeback in the wave of technology for a refreshingly tech-less experience.

A cyclist reviews the Levi’s wearable tech jacket made in collaboration with Google. “The jacket feels like one of the first truly practical pieces of wearable tech”.