As one of the biggest industries in the world, projected to rack up to $3.3 trillion by 2030, it’s surprising to learn that the way fashion operates today hasn't changed that much in the past twenty years.
This is, in part, because it's still easy to source low-cost manual labor in many countries and to outsource any pricey production costs. However, the rising concerns about fair wages, pollution, as well as the need to satisfy the hyper-connected consumers of today, have given way to new exciting technologies.
We do, indeed, live in the "insta-age" of technology. Customers have been trained to expect instant access to the latest trends as soon as they hit the catwalks, thanks to social media. Simultaneously, younger generations seeking to stand out from the crowd seek products that can be tailored to their specific needs and preferences. Furthermore, 'mass-produced' or 'fast-fashion' clothing appears to be losing favor.
As this trend continues, it becomes increasingly difficult for companies and brands to continue producing large quantities of apparel months in advance, with no guarantee of how well it will sell. In this fast-changing modern environment, those brands that pick up the pace and become more responsive to market needs will be the likely winners.
As customers' actual lives grow more entwined with the digital world, many designers and businesses must embrace cutting-edge technology to push the boundaries of manufacturing, production, marketing, and wearability. We've produced a list of the major tech breakthroughs in fashion today, ranging from artificial intelligence to the advent of mobile shopping, 3D printing, and blockchain.
In recent years, brands have used AI to improve the shopping experience of their customers, analyze data, increase sales, forecast trends, and provide inventory-related guidance.
More use cases are emerging across the business following the breakout year of generative AI (gen AI) in 2023. Capturing value will require that fashion players move beyond automation and investigate the potential of gen AI to boost the job of human creatives.
Traditional fashion design methods are sometimes time-consuming: it might take anything from 3 to 8 months for a style to reach manufacturing. The usage of generative AI would speed up the creative process and save manual labor for designers, while also saving money on materials that would otherwise be utilized to create actual examples.
Chatbots and touchscreens are being used in stores to improve customer experience and customized product suggestions. It’s almost impossible to head to a fashion brand’s website and not find some form of AI chat technology that’s being used to help enhance the customer experience. The technology behind AI includes algorithms that track customers' journeys to match them with the right products.
Although these customer service technology tools are promising, trend forecasting and supply chain management are some of the most profitable avenues for AI. For instance, real-time inventory tracking has become key for brands as they save time and make for efficient warehouse management and operations.
Furthermore, if we combine inventory tracking with AI's powerful data prediction tools for trend forecasting, brands could have a significant competitive advantage. Instead of solely relying on traditional ways of trend forecasting —which requires observation and data collection from fashion designers, trend spotters, and influencers— brands can instantly have access to data that allows for planning the right styles and quantities in a timely manner.
Take, for example, STITCH FIX. The British fashion label has come up with an automated wardrobe planning tool that, using analytics, records its female customers’ purchases and introduces them to a virtual wardrobe. The platform also allows women to create looks from their wardrobes and even choose from over 10,000 shops.
Meanwhile, the personalization platform TRUEFIT employs an online fit engine that helps users find an adequate fit with brands and new styles on the market.
Other, smaller retail technology companies are also filling this gap for brands. Edited, a company based in London provides live data analytics software to give their retailer customers access to complete market data instantly. It has charmed brands like Boohoo, Tommy Hilfiger, and Marni and can synthesize the global market in seconds.
Another interesting example is Intelligence Node, which allows users to track trends in real time. Customers can enter specific keywords, user navigation patterns, price points, and more. Intelligence Node AI-driven search discovery platform lets users track the exact or closest matches to your product, which can provide invaluable insights about competitive differentiators.
Streaming live videos has become a huge part of our lives. From virtual events to fitness, Instagram shopping has taken over the post-COVID market. 5G allows new streaming media formats with high-definition graphics. Now, customers can “try on designs” before making their purchases. Some brands, such as Tommy Hilfiger and Gucci, are offering digital showrooms to gauge the market's appetite. Some, like Taylor Stitch, allow customers to pre-order digital designs before they go into production. Likewise, many online-only eyewear companies such as Firmoo and Glasses Direct are also offering a digital ‘try-before-you-buy’ service that lets consumers visualize the frames on their faces before committing.
Historically, fashion trend forecasting solely relied on prior trends to predict the future. New technologies like Heuritech define audience panels on social media. To predict future trends, it applies image recognition technology to social media pictures to access shapes, prints, colors, and attributes of fabrics.
Google also deployed a similar experiment, in partnership with German fashion brand Zalando. The neural network was trained to understand style preferences, colors, and textures. After that, the algorithm was used to create designs based on users’ style preferences. There is also a collaborative project between IBM and the Fashion Institute of Technology, known as “Reimagine Retail”, which uses the high-tech IBM AI tools to indicate real-time fashion industry trends, and themes in trending shapes, colors, and styles.
These technologies highlight how AI is the bastion of future developments in the fashion industry, shaping everything from trend forecasting to how consumers may actually see and buy products.
Novel fabrics are arguably the future of fashion, as another way in which designers can set themselves apart and appeal as a sustainable option.
All the facts point to the idea that eco-leather is not a very sustainable option. Startups like Modern Meadow are combating this by creating lab-grown leather without harming animals. Likewise, companies like Bolt Threads and EntoGenetics are innovating super-strong spider silk.
Thanks to the seamless integration of technology into fashion smart textiles provide a wealth of cutting-edge features that adapt to the increasing demands of customers.
Smart textiles are frequently constructed with modern materials that have been injected with nanotechnology or conductive threads. They have amazing features like temperature control to adapt to changing weather conditions, moisture-wicking characteristics to keep users dry and comfortable during physical activities, and even activity monitoring to measure performance metrics in the sportswear and athleisure segments.
Demand for these high-tech materials is predicted to skyrocket in 2024 as people continue to prioritize health and fitness.
The domain of fabric design is destined to undergo a revolution as a result of extraordinary developments in 3D printing technology.
3D-printed fabric can be made from a range of materials, including synthetic fibers such as polyester, nylon, or elastane.
The procedure entails utilizing computer software to build sophisticated drawings that are then fed into a 3D printer. The printer deposits layers of material to create the fabric, resulting in a unique and customized textile.
The texture of 3D-printed cloth varies according to the design and materials used, but it frequently has a modern and avant-garde appeal. Designers may experiment with different patterns and textures, as well as add utilitarian components such as pockets or closures right into the cloth.
With digital and 3D printing, the possibilities for innovation and customization are limitless, making it an intriguing trend to watch in 2024 as it allows the fashion industry to push limits and rethink traditional fabric aesthetics.
This highlights how novel fabrics will literally reshape the garments we wear each day. Look out for novel fabrics popping up in boutiques across the globe, as there seems to be no slowing down in this technological trend.
Internet of Things (IoT)
The IoT describes a network of objects - the ‘things’ - that are embedded with technology to allow the exchange and connection of data over the internet. This is one of the most exciting, emerging technological trends in the fashion market.
Year after year, everyday fashion continues to improve to reflect the realities of our daily lives. From a great emphasis on comfort to using new and exciting fabrics, the fashion industry has had to keep up the pace in adapting to the demands of contemporary life. This has been seen most clearly in the exciting advancements in apparel technology and wearable gadgets. These have gone as far as affecting how we experience our surroundings and interact with others and our bodies, giving the word comfort a whole new meaning.
Smart clothing, wearable spaces, multi-functional designs, and responsive sportswear have all massively developed over the past three years. As our "real" lives become increasingly mixed with a virtual existence, many designers have been experimenting and pushing the limits of what wearability means.
The Internet of Things (IoT) enables data sharing, inventory management, security, and increased efficiency and productivity. Many businesses consider IoT in improving their customer experience, by allowing customers to literally take the internet and data sharing with them day-to-day.
This includes apparel with digital capabilities, like smart clothing, wearable spaces, multi-functional designs, responsive sportswear, and more. Starting with the humble smartwatch, dominated by brands like FitBit and Apple, wearable technology dominates the fashion accessories market.
The expansion of 5G networks is one of the most anticipated IoT topics in 2024. 5G Network Impact on IoT is poised to allow a new generation of IoT applications that require real-time data transfer and minimal latency, thanks to higher download and upload rates, lower latency, and unsurpassed dependability.
Some of the most exciting IoT innovations are related to health. Hexoskin, for instance, tracks your heart rate and temperature. They also manufacture socks that count steps, calories, and other data.
Meanwhile, Fuseprojects' power suits help the elderly suffering from muscle dystrophia to walk, stand, and stay active for longer periods. All of this data will come in handy for doctors and health providers to help their patients.
Another interesting example of the Internet of Things being incorporated into apparel is LOOMIA. The San Francisco-based textile company creates soft flexible circuits that can be embedded into textiles for heating, lighting, sensing, or data-tracking applications.
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Rapid data analysis for quick adaptation
Rapid data analysis, for quick adaptation, is a way for businesses to quickly adapt their business fragments (such as the supply chain) quickly and efficiently by using large amounts of data to support this adaption.
Thanks to the new software tools available on the market, brands, and factories can receive real-time feedback and alerts from companies about defects or damaged goods. This helps them save money, eliminate waste, and deliver adequate products at the right time. It also lets them maximize customer satisfaction by recognizing potential business threats instantly.
One example is management software like Delmia Works. Enterprise resource planning (ERP) software is used in manufacturing for monitoring and collecting production data in real-time, as products are being made.
Although artificial intelligence has generated a massive quantity of data analysis insights and trends for many years, the trend will continue to rise in 2024, and as machine learning algorithms get more creative, smart, and clever, they will be asked to handle an even bigger task.
Not only can AI and machine learning algorithms analyze data faster than ever before, but they can also cope with more complicated data from videos, photos, and text. For many businesses, the combination of artificial intelligence and natural language processing is redefining how text data is processed and dealt with.
In the case of optimizing communication and production with factories, Techpacker helps streamline and automate this entire process. Its cloud-based software allows everyone in design teams and factories to learn about changes in tech packs in real time.
This eliminates the entire manual process and the constant emailing, making tech pack creation 70% faster than traditional methods. This has been shown through the new Illustrator Plug-In, which imports designs via cloud-based software in seconds.
This is key in promoting PLM techniques that manage a business sustainably, across numerous distribution channels. The Techpacker app enables fashion teams and their manufacturers to manage product development in real time.
This highlights how rapid data analysis can help companies adapt quickly when needed. As shown during COVID-19, the need to adapt and overcome has been paramount for brands to survive. Thus, using a rapid data tool like Techpacker can help improve team collaborations and optimize product development and production lifecycle through just one intuitive software choice.
Mobile technology is getting more advanced every day. From Insta shopping to smart wallets, mobile commerce is the ultimate tech tool. It has not only impacted our everyday lives, but it has become one of the fastest-growing sectors in eCommerce.
This is because using our smartphones for shopping online is becoming easier and easier. With digital wallet options like Apple and Android Pay, constantly innovating with new technologies like fingerprint and facial recognition, they're poised to become the preferred payment for retail purchases. In fact, according to BigCommerce, two out of three millennials would rather shop online than in-store.
If, on top of e-commerce growth, we throw social media into the mix, (like Instagram's shopping feature brands can be present in their customers' favorite channels with a fully integrated digital commerce offering. This gives them greater visibility and provides them with more opportunities to make a sale.
Likewise, sustainable fashion apps like Vinted and Depop have taken the market by storm, replacing traditional avenues like eBay and Gumtree for selling second-hand fashion. These mobile sales sites have revolutionized the online sales industry, demonstrating how mobile commerce is innovating every aspect of the fashion industry.
Virtual and augmented reality (VR)
Combining the physical and online worlds of retail has been one of Virtual Reality's most exciting applications. This is certainly true in the fashion industry: one widespread use of VR is enabling customers to virtually try on outfits. This gives greater accuracy, thanks to customized measurement functionality, and also employs augmented reality technology. It also means that customers might be more likely to buy products they feel that they’ve tried on.
This kind of online shopping experience engages and retains the customers longer, as they love seeing the product on themselves before buying. This, combined with the social media share factor, makes it even more appealing to customers.
Some companies are making the most of AR and VR technology:
OBSESS is a platform that allows brands and retailers to create and serve 3D, 360-degree shopping experiences on their websites, mobile apps, and social channels via a 3D Commerce Cloud.
VIRTUSIZE also enables online fashion retailers to virtually illustrate the size of their products, to find the accurate fit for the garments their customers choose.
Another prime user of AR/VR technology is EFI Optitex which has greatly improved the expensive and lengthy process of finding an adequate fit. They’ve shown how to take the essential components of a design, like flat sketches and technical patterns, which can then be morphed into simulated 3D renderings. This then allows users to quickly adjust for cutting, loosening the fit, and making all the necessary adjustments in real-time.
Other new 3D rendering technologies include CLO. The tool allows brands to edit designs at the moment and instantly review changes. This can help improve the quality of designs by checking the silhouette and fit sooner in the development process. This way minimizes waste and reduces errors in the sample before finalization.
Selling digital clothing is getting more popular too. People will be able to purchase digital apparel from a new Meta-created store and use it to outfit their Instagram, Facebook, and Messenger avatars. There are plans to broaden this so that independent designers may market their work.
Online vector editors
New Adobe Illustrator alternatives are gaining popularity. These are great choices if you're new to designing using graphics design software. Or if you don't have access to Illustrator or Sketch, all you need to do is simple vector graphics editing.
Some of the online vector editors include pre-built templates created by graphic or fashion designers. Repsketch provides a variety of clothing templates to choose from. Including design details like different types of collars, sleeves, and pockets. This powerful vector editor allows you to create new apparel designs fast, without having to sketch them from scratch.
Online vector editors allow you to download, embed or simply share a public link of your designs with the world in web-friendly SVG format.
Since the advent of 3D printers, many brands, both big and small, have been looking into the possibilities it holds for on-demand production. This will create new avenues for customization, sustainability, and creativity.
Many fashion brands are embracing 3D in their collections, from accessories to full looks.
Chromatic 3D Materials and Anouk Wipprecht, a Dutch high-tech fashion designer, have launched a new futuristic 3D printed clothing that interacts with its surroundings via LEDs. According to Chromatic, the motion-activated design is one of the world's first garments to directly incorporate electronics inside 3D-printed elastomers.
Despite the fact it takes many hours to create, it results in less waste and proves far less labor-intensive than other types of manufacturing. Indeed, printing garments on demand reduces fabric waste by about 35%. This minimal waste approach could provide valuable insights on how to reshape the current state of factories and align them with a more sustainable social and environmental focus.
Digital knitting has also been making great strides in the 3D printing world, and it offers a myriad of customization possibilities. For example, manufacturers like Shima Seiki can turn cones of yarn into a full, seamless garment in less than an hour.
A blockchain is a great tool for transparency, traceability, and efficiency in the supply chain. It allows all of its members, from carriers and banks to intermediaries and suppliers, to be connected and exchange information, documents, and data, directly and securely.
But what is blockchain and how does it work?
Blockchain is mostly used as a record-keeping technology behind Bitcoin and digital currency. "Blocks" on the blockchain are made up of digital pieces of data that store information about transactions like the date, time, and dollar amount of your most recent purchase, as well as who is participating in the transactions. However, they also store information that distinguishes them from other blocks, using a unique code called a hash. (More about blockchain from Investopedia.)
This can be used to efficiently trace and keep records of clothing apparel and supply chains through technology like track-and-trace and inventory management.
The blockchain solution creates a physical digital link between products and their digital identities on a blockchain. Just like with digital currency, Blockchain offers a cryptographic seal or serial number that acts as the physical identifier which is linked back to the individual product's "digital twin", as explained by Forbes magazine.
This technology has been taken advantage of by TextileGenesis, which uses the technology to keep a record of every stage of production. They say this will help to keep their supply chain more transparent, as well as encourage a wider push towards sustainability.
Each time a product moves in the supply chain it's recorded on the blockchain. This can prevent counterfeiting as goods that are missing the physical-digital link will be obvious fakes. Also, any attempt to divert goods can be tracked. This identifies if the last party to gain custody of the product, had a counterfeit product slipped in—or if the authentic product was diverted out.
Ai-based inventory management
Inventory management software aids in the monitoring and tracking of inventory levels, orders, sales, delivery, and receipts. Purchase orders, bills of materials, and other production-related documents can also be generated using inventory management software.
Several of these technologies are available online, and they are frequently cloud-based and include artificial intelligence.
By enabling data-driven production and distribution centers, automated inventory management software has dramatically enhanced enterprises. When compared to traditional human approaches, AI's ability to understand real-time inventory control dynamics that affect inventory stock levels is revolutionary. AI can anticipate problems, offer solutions, and even carry them out for you.
Here are a few ways artificial intelligence may improve inventory control in your company:
- Demand forecasting.
- Better customer support.
- Better warehouse management.
- More profitable marketing techniques.
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