THE FUTURE OF FASHION
Innovations changing the industry
Wearable tech: Whether it’s an Hermès Apple Watch or a Tory Burch Fitbit, there’s no shortage of luxury-branded activity trackers on the market. But if Google has anything to do with it, the end could be nigh for high-fashion wearables, with smart fabrics on the road to making them obsolete. In 2016, the tech giant announced it was partnering with Levi’s to create the Commuter Jacket, using its patented Project Jacquard fabric. Incorporating conductive threads, the jacket — which becomes available this year for around $500 — works with a Bluetooth cuff and the wearer’s smartphone to facilitate such functionalities as playing music at the touch of a sleeve. Securing its spot at the forefront of fashion innovation, Google has also collaborated with H&M-owned digital fashion house Ivyrevel on the so-called ‘Data Dress’. In 2018, the brand will release an Android app that monitors a user’s activity for one week, gathering data on how they travel, where they eat and what the weather is doing. This data will then be used to create a completely personalised garment, which the customer can order through the app for a base price of $140.
3D printed fashion: High-fashion designers have been experimenting with 3D printing technology for almost a decade, memorable moments being the 2500-piece gown created by Michael Schmidt and Francis Bitonti for burlesque star Dita von Teese, and basically everything that French couturier Iris van Helpen sends down the runway. But we mere mortals are now enjoying the benefits too, with labels such as the San Francisco-based Continuum offering 3D printed swimwear to customers who type their measurements into the brand’s online store. Adidas, Nike and New Balance are using body scanning technology to create bespoke, high-performance footwear. There are still hurdles to overcome before this mode of production goes mainstream — namely printing and assembling costs, and the manoeuvrability of materials. However it’s a rapidly advancing area, with seemingly limitless scope once the kinks are ironed out.
Blockchain: Utilising the same software that drives cryptocurrency Bitcoin, Blockchain works like a microchip for clothes. It can combat counterfeiting by allowing consumers to verify an item’s authenticity, as well as storing information about a product’s history, including where it was made, where the fabric was grown and what chemicals were used in its production. As social consciousness continues to weigh on consumers’ minds, being able to access this information through our smartphones will no doubt soon be affecting our purchasing decisions.
The Business of Fashion recently reported that 2017 was the worst year on record for bricks-and-mortar retail, with store closures across the US up 200% from the previous year. With the growth of online shopping being the major cause, brands
and retailers are working with technologies to offer customers a shopping experience that meets, if not exceeds, that offered by their digital counterparts.
A retail pioneer for the digital age, American designer Rebecca Minkoff has seen a 200% increase in sales since fitting out her New York flagship store with a video wall that helps shoppers to find items. Interactive mirrors also let them match the dressing room lighting to the scenario they are buying for. Elsewhere, Gap, Amazon, and eyewear brand Warby Parker have developed apps that allow customers to virtually ‘try on’ an unlimited number of products in their own homes. The upshot is more purchases made more often, with a lower return rate that ultimately saves the retailer money. Retailers and customers are also reaping the rewards of artificial intelligence software that facilitates predictive forecasting and better merchandising, resulting in increased product availability and faster, more accurate deliveries.
And what if, for you, the appeal of online shopping lies not in an improved customer service experience, but the lack of one altogether? Enter contactless shopping — the solution to long checkout lines and tedious small talk with sales assistants who want to be there about as much as you do.
In China, unmanned convenience stores where customers pay for products by scanning them with their smartphones are popping up all over the place, and Walmart has announced plans to open something similar by the end of this year, bringing new meaning to the phrase ‘tap and gap’.
THE CHANGING FACE OF FASHION WEEK
It used to be that fashion weeks were trade events, designed for buyers and media to see forward-season collections. The former decided there and then which pieces they would carry in stores, the latter discerned the major incoming trends and wrote these up in show reviews and trend reports. From these two angles, the general public received a filtered version of what happened on the runways. Now, thanks to social media, it’s filtered in a different sense, Instagram in particular having lifted the velvet rope and transformed fashion week into a public spectacle.
Consequently, fashion houses are adapting how they showcase their collections and are investing where they see the highest probability of return. An analysis of social media mentions during New York Fashion Week last September showed that it’s not the clothes catching people’s attention. Rather, it’s showstopping sets and, according to social media monitoring agency Brandwatch, a strong celebrity and influencer presence. “A mere [celebrity] appearance can give you as much exposure as a designer who’s worked [on their collection] day and night for months,” wrote social data journalist, Gemma Joyce.
As for getting the clothes the recognition they deserve, a digital strategy that works with the available applications is essential. And indeed, far from the blurry runway snaps and slap-dash captions of the early iPhone era, many brands have begun to use smart technology in sophisticated ways — pre-rolling fashion week content shot specifically to be viewed on a smartphone screen.
“[Think] detail shots of fabric at Calvin Klein, or a long-form caption that tells the behind-the-scenes story of a particular motif, as McQueen will regularly post,” says Eva Chen, head of fashion partnerships at Instagram. Explaining that the fashion business is a “show-and-tell industry”, Chen told Vogue that Instagram provides designers the opportunity for richer storytelling while allowing users to feel like they are sitting front row. “Inclusivity is the new exclusivity,” she says.
It might sound like an expensive exercise — and it is — but if it means your collection floods the feeds of an unlimited
and previously untapped following, you can pretty much expect that mock rocket launch/’90s supermodel reunion/other miscellaneous PR stunt to pay for itself in sales.
Unless, of course, the length of time between your fashion week showing and your collection being available is such that the consumer loses interest along the way — this being perhaps the biggest challenge the new fashion week model presents. Speaking to Vogue in September last year, Man Repeller blogger Leandra Medine voiced her concerns specifically in relation to New York Fashion Week.
“Its competitive advantage ... is certainly [its] contemporary [focus],” she said. “The trouble, in my view, is that perhaps we don’t need to see contemporary wear six months before it can be purchased.”
Evidently, Alexander Wang agrees — the street-luxe label announced in January that its AW18 showing in February would be its last at NYFW for the foreseeable future. Following in the footsteps of several of its New York-based contemporaries, including Proenza Schouler and Rodarte, the decision reflects the Wang camp’s desire to focus its energies and budgets on executing more collections throughout the year with more frequent drops, which it will promote via off-schedule presentations that align more closely with these drops.
“Our consumer will be better served through the new system,” says CEO Lisa Gersh, explaining that the new approach “reframes product on the month that it ships, rather than the outdated labels of ‘resort’ or ‘pre-fall,’ giving our customers more relevant and consistent merchandise throughout the year.”
For designers yet to jump the NYFW ship, a ‘see now, buy now’ model that allows consumers to shop their favourite looks straight off the runway is becoming increasingly de rigueur. Meanwhile, in an attempt to woo back the likes of Wang, The Council of Fashion Designers of America is proposing pre-season fashion weeks in the June and December time slots more suited to their selling needs.
With local designers increasingly seeing the value in independent, off-season presentations, one wonders whether New Zealand Fashion Week will adapt in the same way. Until then, some are using NZFW as a platform to change the industry’s way of thinking from the inside out. Emerging designer Wynn Crawshaw of Wynn Hamlyn made waves last year by showing his entire 2018 range at once, the collection aptly titled ‘Seasons’.
Partly a commentary on the effect of global warming on the fashion industry, the consolidated autumn/winter and spring/summer offering was also explained as a way of getting around the increasingly problematic fashion calendar — a strategy that we can expect to see more embracing in 2018.
TO MARKET, TO MARKET
Stepping away from traditional advertising methods, 2017 saw an exponential rise in fashion brands using influencers to push their product. But with consumers now super savvy when it comes to identifying paid-for content (largely because of stricter regulations around disclosure), will this year see the influencer economy bubble burst?
Not exactly. Due to advances in software that make it easier for brands to measure the value of getting Insta-famous faces on board, content marketing platform Linqia reports that 39% of marketers plan to increase their influencer budgets in 2018. But brands and influencers are having to rethink the ways they work together, making their relationships not only more transparent but more long-term — the thinking being that a consumer will likely see a paid-for endorsement as more genuine if it isn’t a one-off. Says Gil Eyal, CEO of influencer directory, HyprBrands, “the audience wants to see that the influencer really likes the product and is using it in the long-term. So the brands that will win are the ones creating their own influencer rosters and activating those rosters again and again.”
With influencer outreach company Tomoson reporting that 22% of customers are now acquired directly through influencer marketing, it’s no wonder this is where the money is being spent. But more conventional marketing methods are also yielding brands better returns than ever, thanks to a new focus on personalisation.
From geographical and demographic information to internet search histories, the availability of insights that allow advertisers to serve us customised e-newsletters, website landing pages and targeted digital ads has seen increased conversion rates across the board. Of course, as it becomes easier for brands to track our every online move, the likelihood of being served an irrelevant ad also increases. And the more ads we see for products and services that relate to something we’ve mentioned but once in a text, email or (if you believe the conspiracy theories) IRL conversation, the more tempted we’ll be to use ad blockers, and then no one wins.
‘The audience wants to see that the influencer really likes the product ... so the brands that will win are the ones creating their own influencer rosters’