The fashion sector has recently emerged as one of the front-runners in the race to adopt cutting-edge technologies and scale its implementation. Over the course of the years, and even more significantly as a result of the pandemic, as fashion has grown more digital, certain parts of technology and innovation in the field of fashion have experienced a tremendous pickup, while numerous others continue to go on their similar trajectory. Over the course of the past few years, the industry has placed a greater emphasis on developing strategies to better understand consumers, both in traditional brick-and-mortar stores and in online formats. Additionally, the industry has come to the realisation that fashion can become more environmentally friendly.
The use of blockchain and cryptographic technology to solve legacy problems in the industry, the use of AI-based recognition techniques to make digital fashion more environmentally friendly, the use of AI to revolutionise physical fashion retail, and bridging the sustainability gap through materials innovation are some of the relevant trends that could bring about a tremendous change in the industry as they see greater pickup moving forward.
ALGORITHMIC FASHION DESIGNING AND CONSUMER FEEDBACK
Many professional fashion designers and computer scientists have taken on the task of bridging the human computer disconnects that are present in conventional fashion designing. As a result, over the past five to six years, there has been some experimentation with the use of AI-based software in the design of clothing. Much though the use of computer-aided design (CAD) software has been around for even longer, the function of technology has traditionally been restricted to the stage of design conception only. Traditionally, the concept, the philosophy, and the context of the designs still originated from the designer (human) themselves, and this is how it earned its validity among both the community and the followers. On the other hand, due to cognitive and emotional biases, the goal of innovating in design while yet keeping the designer’s authenticity was traditionally considered to be a more difficult one.
The technology that is used today to make designing less subjective is called Generative Adversarial Network, or GAN for short. This technology is an artificial intelligence algorithm that takes inputs in the form of previously available designs and uses neural networks to churn out similar designs that may have aspects that differ in colour, shape, or texture from the input.
1 This might also be directed by the designer themselves, who would bring in a variety of other characteristics that keep the fundamental aesthetic value intact. Using this technology, the digital-only fashion company The Fabricant was able to develop a line of digital couture in partnership with the designer Amber Joe Slooten. The collection is called “Digital Couture.” 2 On the other hand, major firms like Zalando and Amazon have just relatively lately begun experimenting with the use of this technology to better assist customers in their search for certain designs. Many different iterations of this algorithm are currently being put to extensive use in order to provide users and businesses with greater insights into which garments (or ways of wearing them) are more appealing or fashionable. This, in turn, helps reduce design waste by having a greater product-market fit. Various other versions of this algorithm are also being used extensively in order to provide greater insights. 3
Techniques similar to AI are being utilised more frequently in order to obtain real-time feedback from customers, as well as to gain an understanding of what is more appealing and what kinds of designs are more preferred over others. Consumers are gaining a better grasp of how a particular article of clothing will fit them thanks to a number of other applications of artificial intelligence. Consumers can select products that are a better match for them with the assistance of solutions such as StyleScan and TrueFit. Instead of depending on past data, brands can now spot trends as soon as they emerge and develop sizes that are much more in demand on the market as a result. This helps reduce waste and is another way that this helps brands.
PHYSICAL FASHION AND AMAZON’S ENTRY
It is anticipated that Amazon will make its official debut in the fashion industry this year with the opening of its first real fashion store, Amazon Style, in the city of Los Angeles. This is not a technology feature in the industry in the traditional sense, but Amazon anticipates that the opening of its shop will bring about a change in the way that retail fashion retailers carry out their business. Customers will be using the Amazon Shopping app to select items of clothing to try on while they are inside the store. The store and the app will then work together to send the client’s chosen items to a personalised waiting area for them, and they will also present the customer with further curated recommendations based on the customer’s selections. It is noteworthy to note that multiple types and sizes of a product would not be required to be put up on the racks. Instead, they could be selected easily from within the app, and they would then be placed in the waiting area. 4
This will be Amazon’s first foray into the world of brick-and-mortar fashion shopping, and it comes after the e-commerce giant surpassed Walmart in the United States to become the largest clothes retailer in the country in 2021.
5 Amazon is going to capture a significantly larger percentage of its competitors’ market share over the next few years as a result of the fact that it most likely has the largest user base for clothes and fashion among all physical shops. With this idea, Amazon is also attempting to bridge the gap between its customers who shop online and those who shop in its physical stores, with the goal of making the two modes of shopping more complementary to one another. The timing of Amazon’s debut into this market is also quite important, as physical retail sales have largely recovered from the effects of the epidemic and are currently on the rise again. It will be interesting to see if Amazon Style is able to genuinely bring a technical revolution in the way that customers shop for clothing in brick-and-mortar stores because it is powered by a large amount of user experience and preference data linked to clothing and fashion.
INNOVATIONS IN APPAREL-RELATED MATERIALS
The second important facet of technology in the fashion industry is related to the element that forms the basis of the field, which is the material. The fashion business is not only looked down upon because it generates the most post-consumer waste, but also because it uses materials that come from methods that cause suffering to animals and have a substantial effect on the natural environment. The most current report on next-generation materials from the Material Innovations Initiative (MII) provides helpful insights into several materials (and the technologies that go along with them) that have the potential to be scaled up in the near future. These “next-gen” materials can be derived in a variety of ways, including from plants, mycelium, animal cell constructs grown in a laboratory, fermented proteins and biopolymers, recycled plastic or textile feedstock, and other sources. These “next-gen” materials can also be used in a variety of applications. It was anticipated that the potential market for next-gen materials for all traditional materials (leather, silk, wool, fur, down, and exotic skins) might account for anywhere between 54 and 66 percent of total procurement for each of the material subcategories. 6 This indicates that in mature markets such as the United States and China, there is already a large market for products made from environmentally friendly and ethical material, and once next-gen materials are produced at scale, have fairly similar quality, and are priced reasonably, consumers will prefer them over conventional materials.
It is believed that between seventy-five and eighty percent of the environmental impact caused by the fashion sector takes place during the stage in which raw materials are used. Early studies conducted by businesses that produce leather made from pineapple (Pinatex), cactus (Desserto), and other plant-based materials (Mirum by Natural Fibre Welding) have all reported lower carbon footprints and lower water use, while also having a much smaller impact on the ecosystem than traditional bovine and PU leather. Alternatives to typical materials derived from animals, such as silk, down, fur, and others, have been shown to have a comparable or even lesser impact on the environment or the ecosystem. Large organisations and companies that specialise in material innovation have entered into a number of groundbreaking partnerships in recent years as a direct result of the growing awareness of sustainability issues on a worldwide scale among customers.
Recently, a number of well-known fashion and athletic companies have teamed up with manufacturers of next-generation materials in order to make these products more widely available and acquire a competitive edge in the market. Apparel and accessories businesses such as Nike, Adidas, Lululemon Athletica, H&M, Hugo Boss, Stella McCartney, Ralph Lauren, and other luxury fashion labels such as Fossil, Karl Lagerfeld, and Modher established exclusive collections with sustainable materials in order to propel the market forward. Because of this, the usage of next-generation materials in high-end fashion has considerably increased over the course of the past few years. This trend has also spread to materials used in home decoration, furnishings, wearables, and luxury automobiles. On the other hand, a number of prominent fashion houses have also begun producing their own in-house materials, which are at this time exclusive to the products that they sell. For example, brands such as Gucci, Jord, and Von Holzhausen have developed their own in-house alternatives to animal leather. On the other hand, House of Fluff was the first to introduce the usage of a material called non-animal fur (BIOFUR). A third method of material innovation that has seen a boost is through rounds of investment from large brands into materials start-ups. The primary goal of these investments is for large brands to gain early access to newer materials and possibly also to gain a greater hold on the supply chain of sustainable materials.
However, the overall market for innovative and sustainable materials is now quite narrow and relies heavily on premium consumer categories. This is because the industry for innovative and sustainable materials is still in its infancy. To scale up in this industry, you will need to see a shift in the tastes of your customers as well as a considerable decrease in the unit costs of your products. According to the findings of the MII analysis, less than twenty percent of the next-generation materials are already available on the market in a commercial capacity. In addition to these issues, working with these materials can be difficult because bio-based materials typically have inferior performance criteria. This results in an increased use of PU and leads to mixes of bio-based materials, both of which are challenging to recycle but are better for the environment than conventional materials. However, it is anticipated that with major enhancements made to some of the next-generation materials, they will be significantly more suitable for usage in all commercial areas than what they currently offer. This is because of the significant advancements made to the materials.