Every week, The Interline rounds up the most vital talking points from across the fashion technology landscape. We provide our take on what matters, and why. This roundup is also delivered to Interline Insiders by email.
Fashion has been in listening mode for a while. Real-time data offers a way to fine-tune its hearing.
There are essentially two modern eras of fashion. The first marched to its own beat – setting the timeline for new seasons, and creating new styles based on in-house ideas and an intuition for what the market would want. The second is what you might call the “listening” era, where instead of pushing their ideas to market, brands started to pull from the pool of insight offered by global connectivity, using inspirations from out-of-house to design and deliver closer to consumers’ changing demands.
It’s ironic, but over time, despite having more tools at their disposal than ever for instant, international communication, brands have found it harder to listen – because the array of market indicators available to them is so vast, and because trends and movements can spread so quickly that anything other than instant reaction can look sluggish.
To put it another way: if everyone is shouting at once, about different things, and expecting you to answer them, you either run the risk of spreading yourself too thin, trying to be all things to all people. Or you ignore something important because it moved too fast to catch.
And messages don’t come much more vital, or more united, than the one that’s risen up from the streets of Minneapolis and made its way – in just days – across the world. A dramatic, long-overdue change is afoot, and businesses of all shapes and sizes are being scrutinised based on how they respond.
This is, to be clear, a conversation that fashion has no choice other than to be engaged in, even so much retail real estate is still shuttered. As probably the most prominent brand presences on the high street, what apparel, footwear, and accessories businesses say needs to resonate with the zeitgeist. People look to brands – especially those celebrity founders who have any modicum of celebrity in their own right – for a relatable kind of humanity, and they want to engage with businesses who share their values. And right now values, in their rawest, most human form, matter a great deal.
Public opinion is, according to this week’s news, split on how the fashion retail industry has reacted to the spotlight being shone on institutional racism, though. For every exemplary, open corporate response, there seems to be a more insular, cautionary one that people feel has missed the mark. In some cases there has been silence.
But why? One possible culprit is that brands are listening, but in too limited a way, and without the right information at their disposal.
Obviously it’s impossible to avoid the massive, collective outpouring of grief and righteous anger that has flooded out of America and engulfed the world. It says a lot that a global pandemic is now a secondary headline even here, across the Atlantic from the initial flashpoint, and nobody can claim ignorance. But the speed with which that wave spread is emblematic of just how quickly things can change; a localised protest became an international movement in a matter of days, mirroring the emergence of micro-trends that can, with comparable quickness, become macro.
The point here is not to trivialise the movement that’s happening today. The Interline is a firm advocate for diversity, inclusion, and justice, and the fashion technology industry thrives because it values the contributions of everyone, as equals. Rather, the speed and scale of the Black Lives Matter movement – and the COVID-19 pandemic still percolating in the background – are highlighting which fashion businesses have the right structures, systems, and solutions in place to allow them to properly assess the impact of a change and react, and which brands and retailers either underestimated the size of one or both of those changes, or couldn’t respond quickly enough for it to matter.
In practical terms, this means having a minute-to-minute, data driven insight into consumer sentiment, buying behaviour, logistics, inventory, and a host of other things. And it means factoring those insights into every aspect of product creation and selling – from planning to marketing and communications.
The importance of data in a crisis is something The Interline has covered before, but at a time when keeping a finger on the pulse of the world is more essential than ever, brands and retailers need to use every tool possible to move beyond listening to hearing.
Additive manufacturing for apparel goes off-world.
At the speed of today’s headlines, last weekend’s successful launch of the SpaceX Crew Dragon, which promises to catalyse a new era of commercial space flight, seems positively ancient. But while its implications for the future of private space travel are profound, the launch was also something of a standard-bearer for the next wave of uncompromising, high-performance 3D printing and personalisation.
Astronauts Bob and Doug (Hurley and Behnken) wore entirely custom-made suits for the flight, each of which represented an advance in SpaceX’s boundary-pushing commitment to 3D printing. The company has previously created high-performance engine parts through additive manufacturing, but the use of 3D printing to create the helmets for the suits – which included mechanical parts and valves – was a new step towards the use of 3D for both stylistic and safety purposes.
Also noteworthy was the fact that Bob and Doug’s suits needed to incorporate uncompromising safety – with materials like kevlar – as well as an element of fashion, since the SpaceX’s team’s goal was to inspire a new generation of astronauts.
Space-age optimism might contrast harshly with the reality on the ground today, but if the future can contain both progress towards valuing people equally, and an industry where future space suits could be styled by fashion professionals at the same time that the technical advances made there work their way into sportswear and other performance apparel, there’s reason to look up.
And The Interline will be examining the future of manufacturing – including 3D printing – in greater detail from next week, when our editorial focus shifts away from 3D and towards “Factories of the Future” on an industrial scale.