The end of the year is coming, and as any good tradition, also this year I would like to share with you my view about what happened in 2017 and what we will hear about in 2018, unsurprisingly considering fashion technology trends!
Playing the game of “select a few words to describe yourself…”, to describe fashion technology in 2017, I would definitely choose the following: omnichannel, connected retail, sustainability, influencers.
We saw indeed conspicuous investments from fashion brands and retailers to design and build customer journeys for a seamless experience across online (mobile and desktop) and physical stores. Related to this, new projects have been studied to bring a more engaging and immersive experience in store, but also to gather more information from in-store customers.
2017 has also been the year of sustainability, and some big events have marked this trend throughout the whole year. In Italy, the consecration was reached with the Green Carpet Fashion Awards, an event to award the most sustainable people and brand, which closed the Milan Fashion Week. The event saw the attendance of several key international actors of the fashion and luxury industry. Earlier this year two other important initiatives came out to advance the sustainabilitisation of the industry. In Amsterdam, there has been the launch of Fashion For Good, an organization sponsored by C&A Foundation and Kering to support startups developing initiatives for sustainability. In Milan, we have had the launch of Fashion Tech Lab by Miroslava Duma, an investment company with the aim to invest in sustainable business.
We will remember 2017 also for the explosion of influencer marketing and the large debate about influencers and the regulations around their commercial activities, aka #advertising. In April, the Federal Trade Commission in USA has launched the Endorsement Guide stating that the commercial relationships between a brand and an influencer, if present, should be clearly stated. Recently, Facebook and Instagram introduced also new rules to make even clearer if there is any particular link between a content creators and brands. We will see where this leads.
But, what will we hear about in 2018? Let’s try to have a fair guess.
Even if 2017 has been characterized by debates about AI, and AI was the key buzzword at this year Web Summit, next year will see the first major applications finally in place. We will discover AI applied to customers relationship management, where machine learning algorithm will help brands to interact on a 1:1 relationship with each customers, providing relevant customized recommendations and curated editorial for each one of them. However, most of the applications introduced will not be visible for the end customers, but will be applied to the supply chain: i.e. real-time demand and merchandising planning, automated production and delivery, returns predictions, stock optimization, competitors benchmarking, and so on.
Will blockchain solve the long-standing issue of counterfeiting? Most relevant technology experts are stating blockchain is the new revolution after Web boom (of 1997- 2006) and Mobile boom (of 2007- 2016). How will this technology be applied to fashion? Several startups are betting on anti-counterfeiting and traceability. Most of the previous technologies such as serial numbers, QR code, special inks etc. alone have not been successful, but this time blockchain seems to be much more reliable and disruptive. Moreover, the increasing pressure from customers to be more informed about the products they buy can be a driver to accelerating the adoption.
Mobile commerce is growing at a very fast pace. Asia is leading the game with China reporting more than 80% of e-commerce coming from mobile (cfr. Bof – McKinsey “State of Fashion 2018). However, in Europe and US the mobile customer journey is still not so easy and only 15% end a purchase via mobile. This is partially due to the difficulty in concluding a payment on mobile, sometimes indeed is still necessary to input credit cards data (seriously?…). Most likely, we will see next year integration of new mobile payments that allow to speed up the payment in a safe way. In addition, the integration between social media exploring and purchasing will be another space of opportunity. Finally, are the branded app coming back? After some years of uncertain results, it seems brands are coming back to release their own App to be closer to the customer.
If you believe, that sustainability approach is the major challenge for fashion brands to improve their impact on the environment, well this will not be enough anymore. Sustainability in one sense is about reducing damages, the new paradigm is the circularity: Circular economy is a system in which all activities, starting with extraction and production, are organized in such a way that someone’s waste becomes resources for someone else. Hence, we are talking about redefining the production systems so to take out waste by design. The transition will definitely not be easy.
After talking about wearable and smart textile, the new frontier I see is about bioengineering textile. What does it mean? To reproduce in labs textiles based on organisms and their behaviors as found in nature with the aim to replicate some of their greatest functionalities. A first example is Second Skin, launched by Lining Yao of MIT Media Lab. Second Skin is a new textile made by micro-organisms harvested in a bio lab, assembled by a micron-resolution bio-printing system, and transformed into responsive fashion. The synthetic bio-skin reacts to body heat and sweat, causing flaps around heat zones to open, enabling sweat to evaporate and cool down the body through an organic material flux.
A second example is Bolt Threads, a company which has developed a technology to replicate the natural process of spiders that produce silk fibers with remarkable properties including high tensile strength, elasticity, durability and softness. Their technology is programmable: that means they can tune their fabrics to deliver specific benefits.