The impact technology has had in the fashion industry has been hard to ignore. As e-commerce becomes increasingly more popular, many wonder whether your traditional brick-and-mortar retail will still exist in 10 years. Jose Neves, founder of major online retailer Farfetch, still has hope stating “I am a huge believer in physical stores. They are not going to vanish and will stay at the center of the seismic retail revolution that is only just getting started.” A corresponding report by the global management consultancy Bain & Company proved that Neves might be right; although today 10% of high end purchases are influenced by online interactions, stores will still have a critical rule in 2025, with 75% of sales still occuring in physical locations.
Forget e-commerce and the classic brick-and-mortar, fashion innovators predict that the new era of retail is anchored in “augmented retail”, a blend between the digital and physical worlds to allow the consumer to shift seamlessly between the two. “Consumers don’t wake up and think I will be online this morning and offline later,” Neves explains. “We are rarely purely one or the other anymore and tend to jump between the two worlds without noticing.” Chief executive Jonathan Chippindale of Holition, an augmented-reality consultancy and software provider, stressed the importance of a retailers to have digital empathy saying, “Those who are using technology and data to create bespoke shopping experiences that recognize every person is different, and with different needs, are more likely to come out on top.” Holition used their idea of digital empathy when working with the British Cosmetics company Charlotte Tilbury on a “magic mirror” concept, a virtual make-up selling tool that allows customers to try on different looks that are digitally superimposed onto their faces in 40 seconds.
Using abstract concepts such as the “magic mirror” will become common for retailers as they adjust to the stores of the future being mobile, unconventional, and extremely convenient for consumers. Matthias Metternich, founder and CEO of COCODUNE, a new direct-to-consumer swimwear line, believes in the future of pop shops appearing even in Ubers and Airbnbs. Try before you buy services offered by Warby Parker and Bungalow Clothing, will become typical and the consumer might even have a chance to be the designer. Ivan Poupyrev, Google ATAP’s technical project leader of Project Jaccquard and Project Soli, takes this prediction to the next level: “In the last 10 years, people are purchasing a lot of virtual, non-physical goods using real money: applications on the phone, storage space, in-game characters, etc.,” he notes. “Perhaps in 2026 we will be downloading designs on a computer and then printing them using 3D printers at home.”
New technologies have also revolutionized how the fashion industry operates, making it vital for a brand in this day and age to rethink business strategies and adapt to the rapid changes in technology and consumer preferences. Using new tools such as supply chain modernization technology to streamline and make processes more efficient, data analytics and artificial intelligence to guide business decisions, these not only change how fashion is functioning but also how it’s products interact with consumers whose purchasing behaviors are constantly being reshaped by new technologies.
Tech entrepreneurs have responded with innovative products to help drive the fashion industry in the 21st century. In 2009, the total investments for Fashion Tech was 50 million dollars, in 2015, that number had risen to 2.8 billion. The continued demand for for Fashion tech resulted in the New York Fashion Tech Lab and Silicon Valley’s Fashion Tech Accelerator whose focus is to identify, guide, and develop the next wave of Fashion Tech innovators.
Robert D’Loren is the CEO of Exel Brands. Founded in 2011, Exel is a brand management and media company that is reimagining the shopping, entertainment, and social industries as one. D’Loren explains that in sum, his company is a “solutions provider” to their retail partners which includes names like Isaac Mizrahi, Judith Ripka, H. Halston, and Highline Collective. One the major things Exel has done for their partners is shorten production times, averaging 6 weeks from sketch to store, compared to the industry average of 6 to 9 months. One of the ways he has done this is by bringing the manufacturing process in house. By working in the same building as factory technical designers, retail merchants, and planners, time lost in the design, sample, and approval processes reduces. Xcel has also embraced the use of 3D renderings to display fashion pieces and communicate details of construction overseas to manufacturers The speedier supply chain allows it’s retail partners to have 52 seasons throughout the year instead of 2-4, allowing customers to come to the store every week to see the new product. D’Loren stresses this not to be compared with fast fashion which you do in a “monobrand vertical setup”, but alternatively, D’Loren strives to work with department stores to make sure the consumer has what they want, when they want it.
To ensure this, Exel uses data and trend analytics to quickly learn customer interests and preferences. “Our supply chain model allows us to capitalize on that knowledge, and meet the demand when it is at its peak, not when the trend is losing steam,” D’Loren states. Using the example of the success of the bomber jacket, D’Loren further explains: “… bomber jackets began trending a few years ago. Searches began to rise, but supply wasn’t there. By the time supply caught up, searches for bomber jackets began falling and discounting began to go up.” This is a story that is all too familiar with many retailers, making data science an incredibly powerful tool that will become increasingly more important in the industry over the next decade.
So what does the fashion industry look like in the future? Will we be shopping in our Ubers and Airbnbs, downloading designs to print of our 3D printer, and using a “magic mirror” to try on our clothes? No one can say for sure, but one thing is certain: in today’s reality, it is absolutely necessary for the fashion industry to reinvent itself if it wants to survive.