After the Hype Cycle
In the fall of 2012, Belgian designer Diane Von Furstenberg made headlines when she sent models down the runway at her spring 2013 show wearing Google Glass. The glasses, which wouldn’t become available to the public until almost a year later, seemed to compliment the shimmery and silver-lined aesthetic of the collection. At the end of the show, Furstenberg took her final bow not with a model, as is customary, but with Google co-founder Sergey Brin. The show marked a moment in history when wearable technology crept onto not only the catwalk but also into our collective consciousness.
We’ve come a long way since then. While the hype cycle for fashion technology may have risen and fallen already, we’re no longer in the trough of disillusionment, and there’s plenty of evidence to suggest we’re well on the way to a plateau of productivity surrounding innovative apparel, retail, and manufacturing technologies.
With changing consumer behaviour, new business models are emerging that thwart the idea of ownership as we know it. At the same time, clothing is being embued with a new kind of digital life, and new materials are being developed that challenge the traditional agrarian mode of production. Technology will continue to disrupt the fashion industry—although it may not be as obvious as wearing a computer on your face. Here are just a few reasons we believe 2020 will be a big year for fashion tech:
1. IoT Companies are Making Connected Clothing a Reality
In November of this year, American fashion company Ralph Lauren announced they’d be digitizing tens of millions of products starting with the Polo brand in an effort to boost supply chain visibility and combat counterfeits. A QR-based tracking system will embed each garment or accessory with a Digital Product ID that can be scanned by retailers and consumers to verify its authenticity and learn about product details and styling recommendations.
Innovative IoT companies like Blue Bite are well on their way to “waking up” thousands of consumer products and bringing them to life with digital technology. In the not-so-distant future, products will tell you where they came from, how they were made, how to use/wear them, and more.
Connected clothing doesn’t just have implications for consumers, but for retailers, too. Clothing that can be digitally accounted for can better match inventory with sales. In a world that’s rampant with fast fashion that doesn’t sell, supply chain efficiency is key to a sustainable fashion future.
2. The Fashion Industry Needs Sustainable Solutions Fast
While activism may have been on the fringes before, 2019 was the year that fashion—and perhaps the world— got “woke” about sustainability. The Global March on Climate and its champion, Greta Thunberg, made clear the next generation is seriously concerned about the planet—and for good reason. The Fashion industry is experiencing a kind of reckoning when it comes to accounting for its role in the climate crisis.
It’s often cited that the textile and apparel industries are the second largest polluters of the environment next to oil and gas. According to a 2018 research report from Quantis, the apparel and footwear industries generate between five and 10% of global pollution impacts annually.
In response, business models are cropping up that leverage software to tackle some of the fashion industry’s biggest challenges when it comes to sustainability. In 2018, the clothing rental marketing reached $1 billion with newly-horned unicorns such as Rent the Runway.
Fast fashion retailers are taking note: Banana Republic and Urban Outfitters launched rental services earlier this year. Just last week, Swedish fast-fashion retailer H&M announced they’ll be testing out a clothing rental service where consumers can select from a capsule collection of 50 garments that can be rented for 350 350 kronor ($37) a week.
But it’s not just new business models that are responding to the climate crisis. New materials such as yeast-based silk and vegan cactus leather are promising new manufacturing methods that save not only worms and cows but water, too. The fashion industry is seeing the beginning of a biotechnological revolution where living organisms will grow and dye our clothing.
With sustainability top-of-mind, technological innovation can be directed towards creating a cleaner, greener fashion future in 2020 that caters to a new generation’s values and purchasing patterns.
3. Volumetric Video is Augmenting the try-on Experience and Turning us all into Avatars
In November of this year, the performance artist Marina Abramović launched a first-of-its-kind mixed reality art experience at the Serpentine Gallery in London. During the exhibit, which is on until the new year, attendees are invited to slip on a Magic Leap headset in order to watch Abramović’s avatar float in and out of sight. The nineteen -minute piece is called “The Life” and is made possible by volumetric video capture technology. While the idea of graphical representations of people isn’t new, what’s new is the ability for avatars to exist in—and interact with—the three-dimensional world around us. The impact of spatial capture technology on the fashion industry can’t be understated.
Startups from Shanghai to Silicon Valley are jockeying to solve the problem of fit when it comes to online shopping. According to a recent article from CNBC, online shoppers return 5 to 40 per cent of purchases. As eCommerce grows globally, the amount of returns from online shopping is going to be over a trillion dollars a year, with “incorrect size” being the top reason for sending items back.
With advances in 3D scanning and volumetric video, our avatars will soon stand-in for us to try on clothing virtually as we shop online. Or, better yet, clothing can be ordered on demand to our size and style specifications, as is being done with companies like Denim Unspun.
Volumetric video isn’t just augmenting the try-on experience, it’s also capturing hundreds of human bodies and rendering them into avatars. As graphical representations of users become ubiquitous and more sophisticated, so too will digital goods for avatars.
Right now, millions of people pay real money for clothing and accessories in online games such as Fortnite. The clothing (called “skins”) adds no value to the player’s performance but are only a form of digital self-expression within the gaming ecosystem. This same kind of consumerism is happening in fashion, with digital goods being created and sold entirely online.
In November, a digital-only dress created by The Fabricant was sold for $9,500. The dress, which does not exist in physical form, was rendered onto an image of the buyer and subsequently shared to social media. In October, Scandinavian fashion house Carlings released a digital streetwear collection as a part of an online marketing campaign. For around $11 per item, consumers could purchase garments that were digitally tailored onto photos.
The Future isn’t Flashy
When we first imagined the future of fashion, it was flashy, like LEDs on a dress. While light-up garments certainly had their time and place, the fashion-tech of the future won’t be as obvious. Instead, the technology will work behind-the-scenes to empower new business models, generate new materials, and create new consumer experiences. It may not be the future Von Furstenberg imagined while peering through the Google looking glass, but now, seven years later, this is the rabbit hole we’ve stumbled into with fashion technology.