The development of new technology is the driving force behind the significant disruption that is taking place in the fashion industry. The most influential designers are rising to the challenge, coming up with unique ideas and methods of implementing new technology throughout the entirety of the product lifecycle. And business models are constantly in flux as a result of changing consumer demands, meaning that retailers need to embrace these changes and adapt, fast.

Sustainability & ethical demands

In recent years, the fashion business has been scrutinised for the impact it has on the environment. From an ethical point of view, the production methods used to produce cheap clothing have also been called into question. Concern over environmental and social issues and the role of businesses in tackling these has significantly grown, with two-thirds of consumers worldwide saying that they would switch, avoid or boycott brands based on their stance on controversial issues. To counteract these problems, many brands are striving to source sustainable materials as well as display increased levels of transparency on their supply chain operations.

For example, H&M launched a conscious beauty collection in 2016 that featured sustainable products, while Adidas has released a pair of sneakers made from plastic rubbish pulled from the ocean. Similarly, US clothing brand Reformation prides itself on its ethical values, repurposing clothes from flea markets and vintage shops and reselling them both online and in a selection of their own stores. The materials used to update the clothing are all sustainably sourced, and each piece displayed online is accompanied by information on both its carbon and water footprint. Reformation has a roster of celebrity endorsers, including Selena Gomez and Rihanna, and as a result now has 1.1 million Instagram followers and makes 80% of its sales online.

A number of large fashion businesses are also partnering with tech startups to improve the customer experience across all channels.

Introduction of tech software

Fashion brands have begun to embrace technology in their design process, product development, manufacturing, pricing, distribution and marketing to drive innovation.

Firstly, the in-store use of data has changed dramatically. At the front end there have been developments in everything from static traffic counting, which monitors people flows, to smart electronic shelf labelling, allowing the global deployment of pricing and discounting at the click of a button.

A number of large fashion businesses are also partnering with tech startups to improve the customer experience across all channels. For example, SnapTech enables users to take a picture of various items of clothing and shop similar items straight from their phones; Marie Claire’s editors used Snap Tech’s Snap the Celeb feature to search for high street options that were similar to what they were seeing on the catwalk or street.

3D printing is also making a splash in the fashion industry, helping designers bring out-of-the-box ideas to life. Just take a look at The Kinematics Dress by Nervous System for a great example of 3D-printed fashion. Other interesting technological tools we’ll be seeing more of include 3D modelling software and smart tailoring.

Online platforms

With the addition of payment services like Apple Pay, customers are increasingly buying goods online as oppose to in-store. As such, retail businesses must adapt to this disruption, offering customers the ability to purchase goods online and in-store. However, the challenge lies in balancing this continuous need for self-innovation with getting the basics right in-store. Retailers should take inspiration from Farfetch who have successfully built a store proposition that incorporates the best parts of the online world whilst maintaining the needs of physical retailing (think operations, communication, formats etc.)

Legacy brands are also using video-based platforms such as YouTube to connect to their audience. Take the beauty market. In 2018, YouTube viewers watched more than a million beauty videos on the platform every day. All things considered, it’s no wonder that big tech companies such as Google, Amazon, and Spotify have identified opportunities in the fashion and retail market, drawing on consumer data to guide sales on their platforms.

Fashion brands are already being disrupted by an ever-changing environment and innovation is crucial. Consumers are demanding a greater focus on sustainability and a more transparent supply chain. Relentless advances in tech are equally forcing businesses to avoid complacency. Leading the way in the fashion market are retailers who are embracing tech innovation and data analytics to seamlessly connect with their customers both online and offline. 

There are plenty of retailers lagging behind. To survive this turbulent landscape, they need to urgently embrace these changes, before it’s too late.


Join us and our friends at K3 for the webinar The state of fashion 2019: emerging business models on February 20th, 2019.