In 2000, J.Lo appeared at the Grammys in a jungle-print Versace dress with a neckline that plunged so far it pushed the very definition of ‘neckline’. Suddenly, Google – which at this point was just two years old – was bombarded with searches for images of that dress, and they reacted by creating ‘Google Images’. Fast forward to 2020, and J.Lo walked the runway wearing a version of that iconic dress in an unofficial partnership between Google and Versace. But this wasn’t just a publicity stunt: over the past two decades, fashion and technology have become inextricably intertwined.
Social media and online search now form a critical part of the shopping experience, and both luxury and high street brands are racing to keep up with the pace of technology. Here are four fashion tech trends that are in vogue this season and beyond.
1. Blockchain x Fashion
Fashion rental companies such as Rent the Runway and clothing resale sites like Vestiaire Collective have emerged in response to widespread concerns about the industry’s sustainability – but as with any online purchase, they come with the risk of fakery. Blockchain promises to resolve the issue of counterfeit luxury items once and for all by cryptographically tracking their provenance.
Farfetch recently partnered with Facebook and Spotify, for instance, to create a blockchain-based unique digital identifier for items sold on the platform. Similarly, luxury conglomerate LVMH teamed up with Microsoft to launch Aura, a blockchain platform for tracking products from brands such as Dior and Louis Vuitton. In addition to allowing consumers to authenticate their products, they can also be used to track the product over time – all the way from raw materials to your closet. This is a major boon to an industry which is working to improve its sustainability record, and it should improve consumer confidence when it comes to picking up second-hand goods.
2. Style and the supply chain
The influence of tech companies doesn’t stop with online services: many fashion brands are reconsidering their operations and looking at technology companies for inspiration. After a server migration glitch recently left Rent the Runway with severe supply chain issues, the industry is looking for more robust solutions. French luxury brand family Kering and multinational LVMH, for instance, have held hackathons to search for radical redesigns of the way that the supply chain is managed.
Leveraging consumer data through AI and machine learning is vital for brands looking to tighten their supply chain and optimise production levels. Currently, fashion brands are surprisingly far behind their tech counterparts when it comes to data collection. However, some are beginning to turn to machine learning algorithms to process customer insights, make better product recommendations, and provide more accurate sizing details as a way of combatting costly returns. Brands that use data effectively to create a more personalised shopping experience online will be in a stronger position to tailor their supply chain and cut down on overproduction.
3. Sustainability is the showstopper
Sustainability is a serious issue, and it’s one that the fashion industry is taking seriously. Nearly 87 million tonnes of packaging waste was discarded in the EU in 2016, or approximately 170 kg per person, and the clothing business – particularly fast fashion – is a significant contributor. The fashion industry, in fact, consumes more energy than all of aviation and shipping combined, according to the UN. So, what are companies doing to clean up their act?
The likes of Moncler and Zalando have borrowed the hackathon concept from the tech world and adapted it to focus on sustainability, while Kering has declared that it will go carbon neutral at every step of the supply chain. In particular, tech is at the heart of developments surrounding waste management, greenhouse gas emissions and water usage. Tech partnerships are also helping fashion companies be more sustainable, too, as in the case of Google Cloud’s partnership with Stella McCartney to help brands generate a more accurate assessment of the environmental impact of their production process.
4. Retail as a Service is the new online shopping
Retail as a Service (RaaS) is another key fashion tech trend. For a glimpse at the future of techno-fashion boutiques, look no further than Microsoft’s white-label “store of the future” showcase. It manages inventory, automatically generates insights for the store operator, and streamlines the shopping experience for consumers. These ‘off the rack’ services provide increased functionality for retailers of all sizes to streamline back-end infrastructure, enabling them to provide exceptional service. Slick operations will play an increasingly important role in brand loyalty – RaaS will ensure that smaller retailers don’t lose out.
The collaboration between fashion and technology isn’t just in one season and out the next: these fashion tech trends will likely define the next decade or more in the industry. Brands from the runway to the high street are adopting technology to take on new challenges such as sustainability, to solve old issues like counterfeiting, and to get an edge in a cutthroat industry.