By Megan R. Nichols
When people think about technologically advanced industries, the fashion industry probably doesn’t immediately come to mind. While the business of shirts and shoes may not seem particularly high-tech, the fashion sector has always embraced technological innovation, at least behind the scenes. As the world moves into an age of digital retail, the industry is becoming more tech-centric than ever.
Retail is shifting as new technology expands marketing possibilities and provides answers to historical problems. As no stranger to trends, fashion retailers and suppliers are transforming faster than most. The trillion-dollar global apparel industry could become even more profitable as a result.
Here’s a closer look at the tech trends that are reshaping fashion retail and supply.
The Internet Of Things
Few technologies are as promising for retailers and supply chains as the Internet of Things (IoT). On the surface, the IoT is shaping fashion through the growing popularity of wearable tech. The most disruptive applications of this technology happen in the areas that don’t face customers, though.
Apparel companies frequently outsource production to foreign nations, leading to long, distributed supply chains. IoT sensors can track products throughout the logistics process, giving distributors and stores a better idea of when their orders will arrive. The data from these devices can also influence real-time decision-making, such as adjusting a shipment’s route in response to traffic or inclement weather.
Cargo theft dropped 22% between 2017 and 2018 as more retailers adopted these tracking technologies. The visibility improvements from IoT in the supply chain also mean fashion companies can offer faster shipping rates. Since 22% of apparel customers would abandon an order if same-day delivery weren’t an option, that’s a crucial improvement.
Fashion isn’t the only digital retail sector embracing IoT technology, but it’s a leader in augmented reality (AR) adoption. AR has potential in many areas, but its utility in the apparel industry is uniquely promising. Most notably, it enables customers to see what they’d look like in clothes without trying them on.
One study found that 57% of customers prefer online shopping and another 12% consider it equal to in-person shopping. Fashion retailers need to capitalize on e-commerce given this trend, but 79% of adult consumers try clothes before buying. AR lets the fashion industry meet both demands.
AR features on a website can superimpose digital models of products over user photos or even live feeds. This application of AR doesn’t exist merely in theory, either. In 2019, 100 million fashion shoppers used AR while shopping for clothes.
It’s difficult to talk about disruptive technologies without at least mentioning artificial intelligence. AI can improve digital retail along virtually every step from production to sales, especially through data analytics. In factories and supply chains, AI can analyze data to find inefficiencies and suggest improvements to remove them.
On the customer-facing side of fashion retail, AI can analyze user data to influence targeted marketing strategies. These practices are common throughout many businesses, but the fashion industry has some unique applications for AI as well. In 2017, Amazon developed an algorithm that can decide if a look is stylish or not.
This machine-learning algorithm could provide feedback or adjustments to designers and customers alike. Similarly, an app called Hook Fashion Discovery uses AI to suggest clothes to users based on similar styles, trends, and price points. These algorithms help companies appeal more to consumers, leading to more sales.
Modern technology is shaping the very products that apparel companies sell, not just how they sell them. Using nanotechnology, businesses can make microscopic changes to synthetic polymers, creating custom fabrics. Labels can produce a proprietary material that’s as soft, durable, or moisture-repellant as they want.
One of the most significant advantages of high-tech fabrics is the ability to recreate natural materials ethically. Leather and fur are falling out of fashion, as 79% of consumers change purchasing habits based on ethical issues like sustainability. As a result, many brands now produce artificial fabrics with similar qualities to these unsustainable alternatives.
As nanotechnology improves, the apparel industry stretches the possibilities of synthetic fabrics. A startup called Modern Meadow grows leather in a lab to offer the material without harming animals.
Historically, the fashion industry has been wasteful, accounting for 10% of global emissions and tons of textile waste. 3D printers can help address this issue since they’re energy-efficient and add material instead of cutting it away. Several fashion brands have latched onto this trend of additive manufacturing.
While 3D printers aren’t yet ideal for crafting soft fabrics, they’re excellent for the stiffer parts of apparel pieces. Athletic shoe companies like Nike and Adidas 3D print shoe soles and padding. Additive manufacturing allows them to make different parts of the sole more or less flexible, which is near impossible with traditional molding.
The jewelry sector has also turned to 3D printing to produce more affordable products. Now that 3D printers can print with metals, they can create intricate jewelry designs much faster than traditional methods.
Most people associate blockchain with cryptocurrency, but it has applications in digital retail as well. As mentioned earlier, apparel companies typically rely on long, disruption-prone supply chains. With blockchain technology, they can track their inventory more closely and effectively.
Blockchains are immutable but transparent, so anyone can view a blockchain transaction, but no one can change it. By assigning a digital ID for every product on a blockchain, companies can track it securely. This transparency would help decrease fraud and make supply chains more efficient.
Some brands have started using blockchain to fight counterfeits, a prevalent issue in fashion. In 2019, New Balance started using blockchain to authenticate its products and secure royalties from the secondary market. When there’s an immutable digital record of an item’s manufacturing and sale history, people don’t have to question its authenticity.
Digital Retail Trends Are Transforming The Fashion Industry
The fashion sector has fully embraced the shift to digital retail and will likely continue doing so. These technologies make the industry more convenient for customers and more profitable for businesses. Digital technology is one trend that won’t be going out of style any time soon.
About The Author
Megan R. Nichols is an industrial writer for sites like Thomas and IoT Evolution World. Megan also publishes easy to understand manufacturing articles on her blog, Schooled By Science. Keep up with Megan by subscribing to her blog.