Every week, The Interline analyses one or more vital talking points from across the landscape of fashion technology news. This analysis is also delivered to Interline Insiders by email.
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To cap off a truly transformational year for the fashion industry (and for the world as a whole) the 2021 Fashion Industry Insights Survey has been designed to capture all the chance that’s taken place in 2020 and 2021, and to provide a clearer direction for the future of B2B fashion – from technology platforms to in-person events.
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Fashion continues further down the multimedia path, and technical talent will have to catch up quickly:
Fashion has always had a close association with other forms of media. The celebrity endorsements and product placement that see famous actors wearing high fashion on-screen and off, and the world’s best athletes collaborating on sneaker designs. The partnerships with musicians and labels, and the industry’s relatively recent (but rapid) push into videogames and other interactive media. The fashion industry has long been something of a Frankenstein – borrowing the parts of other media that allow it to reinforce brand recognition and reputation, as well as the components that can be integrated into fashion’s own downstream processes.
Lately, the lines between different media channels have begun to blur in a way that goes beyond traditional license agreements. Netflix now sells apparel, and not just pre-existing hoodies with TV-show-specific artwork added on, but dedicated collections developed by storied fashion houses to coincide with the release of new content – such as this collection by Balmain themed around the western The Harder They Fall.
This collection is emblematic of how different consumer-facing industries are starting to converge. In recognition of the fact that all of them are competing for a share of consumers’ increasingly-oversubscribed attention, these industries are exploring more in-depth collaborations and crossovers than ever before.
But the merger of different media – fashion included – has recently reached a deeper level, going beyond cross-pollination of ideas and IP, and bringing us into an age where different media each make use of the same common creative tools. This trend became especially visible this week, with Unity (along with Epic Games, one of two companies at the forefront of real-time rendering engines and interactive experiences) announcing its acquisition of legendary VFX studio Weta Digital.
On the face of it, this news may not seem to have any clear implications for fashion, but we don’t need to look particularly far to see that our industry (which is already making use of AI-assisted material workflows like those supported by Unity) stands to benefit from what the announcement calls “the most complete toolchain for 3D creation, simulation, and rendering,” which includes cloth and hair simulation that has been stress-tested at the highest levels of Hollywood moviemaking. The prospect of greater realism in the real-time and offline tools accessible to brands is cause for celebration.
But there’s also a much broader possibility space opening up as these different strands of media begin to merge. Take virtual production, which refers to the use of real-time engines and environments to simulate real (or fantastical) locations. This is an area that Epic has invested in heavily, and while the toolset is primarily being used by the film industry today, it’s a short hop to picturing fashion shows staged in places it would either be impractical to shoot in, or that simply don’t exist outside a designer’s imagination.
As different media undergo the next stage in their own digitisation journeys, the symbiotic relationship that fashion has with those media is destined to evolve beyond being primarily concerned with consumer-facing opportunities, to being more deeply entwined with the tools they use. Because, to put it as simply as possible, when revolutions in photorealism (and the ease with which photoreal results are created) occur in industries that fashion already crosses over with from a commercial angle, that crossover will naturally take on a technical angle as well.
Crucially, though, for fashion to take advantage of the kind of opportunities we’re seeing other media capitalise on, our industry will need to invest in technical talent of a different sort. Beyond 3D artists who specialise in garments and materials, brands will need to begin (and some already have) bringing in environment and character artists who might share common aims with set designers, stylists, and photographers, but who possess a different set of digital skills.
The Interline will be covering the role of real-time engines in fashion in greater detail between now and the end of the year. But in the meantime this week’s news serves as a reminder that, where fashion once looked to other media for ways to promote its physical products, it should now be looking to benefit from their technology – provided brands and retailers can recruit the right skills to take advantage of it.
And the best from The Interline this week:
This week, The Interline published two features that focused on how attitudes towards sustainability are evolving – from both consumer and regulator perspectives – and how different stages of the typical product lifecycle will need to evolve to keep pace.
First, we interviewed David Friedrichs, Co-Founder of one-stop sustainability shop Cerqular. In the course of our conversation, David and The Interline discussed whether sustainability could be considered a purchasing driver in isolation, how far a retailer should go in verifying and accrediting sustainable brands, and how mission-driven organisations can compete against counterparts who trade primarily on price and convenience.
David’s insights come not only from his role with Cerqular, but also he and his fellow Co-Founder’s prior experience of running sustainable brands and shopping for sustainable goods. From design and development to online discovery, sustainable brands have multiple hills to climb, and the work that Cerqular has put in could go a long way to levelling the playing field.
Second, we released our latest collaboration with Cotton Incorporated, which examines the various forces (consumer, commercial, and regulatory) that are combining to make transparency essential to both brand-to-consumer and supplier-to-brand relationships.
In this new exclusive, we delve into the different ways the gap between the world’s expectations for transparency and the fashion industry’s ability to deliver it might be narrowed. This feature also places a particular emphasis on the raw material supply chain – something that has seen historic disruption (and precipitous price rises) but also an area of the industry that is already proving fundamental to enabling the traceability component of transparency.