Every week, The Interline rounds up the most vital talking points from across the landscape of fashion technology news. We provide our take on what matters, and why. This roundup is also delivered to Interline Insiders by email.

At a time of peak uncertainty, technology investments take on new weight.

Although The Interline is not a US publication, a large portion of our readers are American. And for them this will be the last of these roundups they read under the current administration’s first term. Next Tuesday marks America’s 2020 general election, and it’s safe to say that this will be one of the most contentious in living memory – complicated by a second wave of COVID that’s currently threatening to overwhelm many countries.

Politics are outside the scope of The Interline’s coverage, but fortunately Jing Daily published detailed analysis for both potential outcomes this week – charting a likely course forward in 2021 for both eventualities. To simplify a lot of complex issues, not much is certain at this point, except a firm understanding that the eyes of much of the world are fixed on the US election as a bellwether of the Western hemisphere’s political and economic outlook. From a retail-specific point of view, a (very selective) survey published earlier this month suggests that our industry sees a Biden win as the most advantageous from an economic perspective, but at least some of this may be wishful thinking.

It seems overly simplistic to tie one economic outcome to one candidate or another, but it is clear that from next Tuesday, things could go two different ways – both of which have implications for brands’ and retailers’ investments in technology. In one scenario the current US economic recovery could sustain itself, leading to a rebound for fashion retail, and casting initiatives like digital product creation (which The Interline is currently surveying the market on, in partnership with Kalypso) firmly in the role of tools to support growth. In another, an unprecedented crisis deepens, and investments in digital asset management and eCommerce, to pick two examples out of a hat, become tokens of survival.

In neither scenario, though, is broad digitisation optional. Whether tech budgets are assigned out of hardscrabble desperation or as a way of managing a return to relative stability, it’s clear that the way out of this moment of peak uncertainty is to fast-track technology investments and translate their results into competitive advantages.

Social commerce gets a new power move.

Social commerce – i.e. directly shoppable social media channels – is a topic we’ve covered often in these roundups, but it’s also a subject that has been shrouded in a lot of uncertainty in the West due to a lack of integration (commercial and technical) between the social channel and the payment channel. Unlike China, the US and Europe have no real de facto standard for digital payments, which has historically frustrated brands’ ambitions to sell through Instagram et al.

The industry took a step in the right direction this week, though, with the announcement of a partnership between TikTok and Shopify. At this stage, the integration only really works one way; rather than being pitched at allowing TikTok influencers to sell products, it instead makes it easier for Shopify users to turn their products into TikTok video adverts.

While this might seem like a small thing – and it is in theory – it could indicate a move towards tighter links between digital commerce and social advertising. Which, as the world – or at least the West – moves into a winter that could be dominated by more lockdowns and retail closures, is a positive thing. Any additional digital channel counts.

Circular fashion asks some complicated questions.

This week saw the release of several revealing studies, opinion pieces, and analyses of the move towards sustainable and circular fashion.

First, The Interline’s data partner EDITED published the 2020 edition of its annual sustainability edit. This is not a small publication, at 54 pages, but it does provide some key insights into how attitudes and practices around sustainability are evolving. To cherry-pick a few key indicators: fast fashion is slowing down its rate of new product introductions (-11% from 2019 to 2020); the last two years have seen a significant increase in the introduction of new products described as “conscious”; and one of 2020’s largest growth categories, activewear, is helping to spearhead that trend, with an 80% increase in activewear made from recycled polyester being seen year on year.

Despite those positive indicators, though, sustainable and eco-friendly styles still accounted for less than 4% of all products arriving in the UK market in the first nine months of this year, which suggests that sustainability – from a product composition and production point of view, at least – still has a long way to go.

But the same cannot be said for the other component of sustainability and circularity: the secondary market. An article published yesterday sheds some light on precisely why younger shoppers are gravitating towards thrift stores (charity shops here in the UK), and the answer is more complicated than just cost. And numbers published earlier this month suggest that the same trend towards second-hand goods also crosses gender lines.

While circular fashion is clearly a positive thing from a sustainability point of view – clothes have much longer lives, with a direct impact on waste – following it through to its logical conclusion will see fewer new garments being made. And the likely casualties of this shortfall in the need for production are likely to be workers in garment manufacturing destinations like Bangladesh, where huge numbers livelihoods are already in a very precarious position.

This is likely to be where the considerable investments that forward-thinking suppliers in those countries are making in their own technology ecosystems – some of which have outpaced the projects their brand and retail customers overseas have undertaken – will pay off, but this will certainly not cover everyone. In the very near future, fashion (and the world) will need to reckon with the question of not only how many new garments are sold, but what happens to the people whose lives hinged on high volume production.

This sensitive equation between environmentalism and ethics is something The Interline will return to in early 2021.

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