The 2nd round table, composed of Kirsty Emery (Unmade), Muchaneta Kapfunde (Fashnerd) and Philippe Ribera (Lectra), started with a quick attempt to map where the Fashion Tech revolution is coming from in the world nowadays.
But can we consider that fashion innovation capitals exist yet? Not yet, according to Muchaneta Kapfunde, editor-in-chief of FashNerd, it’s a global phenomenon.
“At the moment fashion innovation is not concentrated into one spot. Every city happens to be building technology in different ways: in the end, when it comes to technology, it’s not just taking place in a specific part of the world, it’s taking place everywhere: everybody is contributing to Fashion Tech, making it more of a globalized and atomized phenomenon rather than a concentrated one in a specific area of the world. However, it seems the real frontrunners of the Fashion Tech revolution are new, small actors, with many new companies popping up at the moment. Also, more and more Universitiesacross the world are currently creating Fashion Tech programs, meaning that future designers that will soon become professionals will have both technology and fashion backgrounds and experiences, rather than just one of those.” Trying to sort out the benefits of the integration of technology to fashion for consumers through the personalization lens, Philippe Ribera, VP of Innovation at Lectra, believes that it will be necessary to bring consumer’s needs in the manufacturing process. “Industry 4.0 is a project for the next 20 to 50 years so it’s pretty hard to assess how long it will take. Nothing will end in 3 to 5 years. But for it to become a reality, we need to move step by step. Process by process. Is everyone or every company ready to produce on demand? Not at all. Is there a market for everybody to produce on demand? Probably not. To me, it all comes down to who you’re targeting, when do you want to target them and how you do it. In the next 3 to 5 years, you’ll see some change, but the biggest one will mostly happen in something like 5 to 1 years.” Philippe Ribera.
Such a conversation inevitably leads to the issue of data. The problem is not data itself, or obtaining it, but rather the amount of intelligence put into the understanding and use of this data, in order to make something out of it. Because of this, defining a precise goal in the use of data is key in order to start to work on what Philippe Ribera calls a “ predictive model ”. Thus, from the data perspective, the main issue isn’t about gathering it but analyzing it in a way to define a precise model to be sure that brands have the right information and use it in a relevant way.
However, some serious threats to the industry remain, as big tech competitors like Amazon and Alibaba already know what people want throughout the world and are efficient in delivering it. One might doubt they are able to apply it to the fashion industry, but such actors indeed have the data, know how to use it relevantly and have a serious edge from a digital marketing perspective making it a credible risk for the fashion industry. Nevertheless, these competitors might have a hard time competing with fashion houses on the field of creativity, which might prove to be more challenging. Currently, many tech companies (such as IBM) are already experiencing with various ways of leveraging data to boost creativity. Such cases show that AI is going to be something that designer’s will end up implementing to their products in the future, helping them create what’s actually desirable as opposed to what they believe people want.
“Artificial Intelligence loves us. It gets better and better and better as it goes along. It will play a very key role in the fashion industry and it will also help designers use data to create products that are actually what consumers want to wear.” Muchaneta Kapfunde.
Back on the personalization theme, after a short introduction of Unmade by Kirsty Emery, panelists discussed customer’s hunger for personalized product. Looking at Nike’s results on the segment (20 to 30% of Nike’s online sales are personalized products), it is reasonable to consider that the current hunger for customization is endless. As a huge area for Nike and a market segment that has been in constant growth since they launched, Nike iD is currently one of the first really big customization platforms that is available and really open at the same time.
“I’m also a designer so I like having a choice, but I end up feeling like it’s overwhelming having so much possibilities available. Also, Nike iD is so open that it’s also opened to making ugly designs. the difference with Unmade is that we position ourselves on curated customization rather than design. ” Kirsty Emery
But how big of a trend customization is? Muchaneta Kapfunde believes that first and foremost, technology gives us choice, the choice of doing what we want to do. Consequently, she believes personalization is going to be massive in the future, particularly in retail tech. Something that Philippe Ribera pretty much agreed to:
“We forgot for a while that the heart of our business was the consumer. If we don’t come back altogether to the consumer then there’ll be no business. The challenge is to provide the tools, the processes, the skills required to help brands speak with their consumers. We can’t forget that any kind of tool that help you communicate with your customer base is a good tool for your business. We need to collaborate. It’s a co-creation work everywhere. Even in technology. So, in Fashion I think it’s the main issue.” Philippe Ribera.
The remaining hurdle might come from the price points for customizing. But far beyond that, the coming personalization market might become a real turning point in the way we consume fashion as individuals:
“I think the biggest question here is “ In which world do we want to live? ”. At the same time, Primark is booming like that. Probably 80% of consumers in the world are very happy to go to Primark. We spoke about these very limited number of people today able to pay a premium price to acquire some personalized garments, yet the answer isn’t in the technology, nor the
brand, but lies in the question “what life do you want to have in the next 5 to 10 years? ” Philippe Ribera.
Discussing the prices of goods, customized or not, unavoidably lead panelists to express their views about Fast Fashion. Is showing the difference between a Primark product and your
brand enough? Will it help consumers make better decisions, even though we already know these aren’t motivated by the sole fact that it’s cheaper? When it comes to pricing, Muchaneta
Kapfunde believes that it ultimately comes down to education: consumers need to know what their options are, so they will be able to make better decisions not only based on the fact that
it’s cheaper, but also on other facts. An approach that millennials and generation Z youngsters may have already naturally embraced:
“I believe the younger generation have a very different frame of thought: they’re more conscious shoppers, they want transparency, they want to know what their products are made of and where they are from. The young ones are very much aware that they need to protect their planet. This is something they’re learning now, as youngsters at a young age and because we were raised in consumerist societies, that shows us that we need to rewire our brains and change the way we think. The positive side is that because of its many issues and thanks to these youngsters, Fast Fashion is dying a slow death.” Muchaneta Kapfunde.
Indeed, corporate responsibility might be one of the key element for fashion brands to distance themselves from Fast Fashion giants. However, like VEJA founder Sebastien Kopp once said, responsibility as a reason to believe is no good for sales, because in consumer’s mind, it means ugly clothes. Thus, efforts are still needed to position sustainability and corporate responsibility as something that strengthens a brand’s unique selling proposition and, ultimately, convince people that they can buy sustainable and still be fashionable.
“Sustainability is something really important. It should stick within the industry in a similar way that great design should sit within the garment. If something is designed well, whether it’s a garment or something else, you shouldn’t be able to see that effort. It should be there, it’s going on and it’s happening in the background. It’s an additional plus, it’s about having something that’s not just the icing on the cake anymore. It’s something which is built-in throughout.” Kirsty Emery.
To end this round-table, panelists were invited to express their views on the social acceptability of these technologies and the trust in wearing connected textiles. As we witnessed recent
fiascos around data and the many information that leaked (Strava, Uber, etc.), many concerns remain when it comes to guaranteeing people’s privacy. The consensus among panelists seemed to be that this issue might be entrusted to the blockchain technology. However, while it’s renowned to be impossible to hack, our common experience with technology taught us that nothing is infallible. But the amount of trust we can put into this innovation equates our willingness to share our data. The common belief is that younger generation don’t mind sharing these precious information, considering their habit to share content naturally and happily. However, does this really means that the youngsters don’t care about data? Some might beg to differ…