Earlier this month, I travelled to Paris for the first major live event I’ve attended since 2020. I could hardly have picked one on a larger scale. Première Vision Paris, which took place from 5th to 7th July in-person, and for an extended duration virtually, drew more than 23,000 attendees, who frequented three cavernous halls’ worth of exhibition space, forums, thought-provoking curated collections, and live presentations and discussions.

I didn’t stop to work out the square footage of this segment of Paris-Nord Villepinte, but suffice it to say: there was a lot of floor to walk, and a lot of content to take in. More than 1,200 suppliers had set up their stalls to showcase their capabilities in yarns, fabrics, leathers, design, accessories, and manufacturing. And speakers from across Europe took to the stage to dissect some of fashion’s thorniest topics in 26 talks and conference sessions.

This was also a truly multinational event. I encountered a specialised wool supplier whose mill is quite literally around the corner from my house in the Northwest of the UK; a short walk away I’d find fine fabrics from Italy, or I’d meet manufacturers from Mauritius or Vietnam. Themed rest and entertainment areas, and inspiration forums dedicated to particular product and material categories acted like islands in between them.

Like veins running from regional specialists to curated displays to expert producers were the massive crowds of brand and retail buyers – all shopping for new technical innovations, traditional excellence, or something in between.

The big question, though: why was I there, at a sourcing and buying event, when The Interline is a technology publication? Are we about to start diluting our focus and bringing you our take on seasonal trends?

There’s both a quick answer to that question and a more complex one. I’ll address them in order.

The quick answer is no, The Interline is not getting ready to broaden its horizons. We are committed to being a technology publication, and we were invited to attend, and speak at, Première Vision Paris this summer with that role firmly in mind. But implicit in this reassurance is a bigger idea: that because technology has an increasingly large role to play in the future of fashion itself, it is set to become a commensurately bigger part of fashion events and institutions.

Let’s take sustainability as an example. Reducing the environmental impact of fashion was one of the most prominent themes at the Paris event, and it was clear that the organisers had put a significant amount of work into directly addressing the ways in which fashion materials and manufacturing processes are contributing to climate change.

This was evident in the large spaces that had been given over to demonstrating new alternative materials, better approaches to agriculture and animal welfare, and data designed to equip sourcing professionals with the knowledge they needed to make informed choices.

It was evident on-stage, with multiple panel discussions that zeroed in on specific parts of the sustainability picture as it pertains to sourcing. Analytical and legal frameworks for transparency and disclosure. New approaches for managing deadstock and overall inventory allocation. The stats of renewable resources. And much more.

The fight for sustainable fashion won’t be won without a significant digital component.

But it was evident, too, in a fundamental way, at the technology level. Embeddable pigments that can be traced – using a blockchain as a data transport layer – from origin to consumer. Platforms for supply chain transparency, supplier mapping, and accountability. Scientific sea-changes like the one we have already covered in our biofabrication interview.

The importance of sustainability to the overall message of Première Vision Paris this summer was clear. In event literature all the constituent parts of the picture were billed as the organisers “committing with [attendees] in the fight for a more sustainable fashion from its inception”. The importance of technology? An understanding that this is a fight that won’t be won without a significant digital component.

And the same philosophy was present in many other areas of the show as well. I personally spent time with the teams from Aware, CrystalChain, Emersya, Heuritech, Stratasys, Style3D, Tekyn, Vizoo, and VVC – and I’m sure I’ve missed several entries from that alphabetical list of technology and tech-adjacent suppliers who had a presence at Première Vision Paris.

Most of these companies have a direct or indirect role to play in sustainability. Accurate material digitisation cuts fabric waste and reduces unnecessary production samples. Digital prototyping and testing of 3D garments goes several steps further, taking a digital material as its input, and opens the door to digital experiences – and eventually digital fashion – downstream.

And from one extreme of the product lifecycle (trend and competitive data capture) to the other (an operating system designed to re-engineer fashion to be more agile and sustainable) there was a focus on minimising fashion’s footprint by taking a data-first approach to forecasting and production. Replacing materials with alternatives, and replacing physical samples with virtual counterparts will both have a marked sustainability impact – but fashion also needs to get smarter about only making what it needs, and on building the capabilities to do so on a flexible timeline.

But the technology presence at Première Vision Paris extended beyond sustainability, too. Innovations in 3D product visualisation, material digitisation, additive manufacturing, resource planning, supply chain transparency and accountability, and more are all already having a pronounced effect on sourcing, yes, but also on all-round brand, retail, and supply chain operations – and the audience in Paris looked to be engaged in all those conversations.

The conference stage also featured a suite of different technology perspectives, from digital transformation of the textile supply chain, through the multi-faceted workflow that’s required to take digital fabrics, garment twins, and other assets from the mill to the Metaverse.

I also had the opportunity to take to the stage to set out my argument for why digital tools and methods are driving the future of fashion. It was a broad remit to tackle in just over 30 minutes, but the essentials will be familiar to regular readers of The Interline.

Fashion has faced historic disruption upstream, downstream, and in the transformation of cultures around it. At the same time, though, the industry faced existing problems with not just its environmental impact, but an overall business model that was predicated on infinite growth and perpetual over-consumption. As a result of these two forces, fashion is now saddled with historically high costs, risk-prone multinational sourcing and manufacturing operations, ethical and eco-regulation, and more.

Contrasted against the industry’s desire to mitigate risk, shore up per-product profitability, take radical action on sustainability, unlock seamless cross-channel consumer experiences, capture expanding, diverse market demographics, and hit the moving target that is the Metaverse business model opportunity – there’s a significant gulf between where fashion is today and where it wants to be in the very near future.

My contention (and it’s one that’s supported by analyst’s predictions for significantly heightened investment in technology before the end of the decade) was that the industry will not get from here to there without the help of technology. On-stage I zeroed in on seven key areas to demonstrate how technology can support the future of fashion – risk, profit, sustainability, consumer evolution, Metaverse, on-demand production, and inclusivity – but a quick browse of The Interline will reveal many more.

There’s a significant gulf between where fashion is today and where it wants to be in the very near future.

My presentation, along with all the other talks and conferences that took place over the three days, is available for replay at the Première Vision Paris website (registration required), and the themes of them all are consistent: that fashion’s future is closely intertwined with technology – to the extent that much (if not all) of what brands, retailers, and suppliers want to achieve in the short-to-mid-term will likely not be possible without technology.

And that sentiment was shared on the show floor. I spoke to attendees who were there with the specific remit of sourcing not just sustainable alternative materials, but provably sustainable alternatives – and they were draw to the technology options for fibre-level traceability and blockchain-backed transparency. Similarly, everyone walking the halls was there with a common goal: to source with cost and performance in mind, and to target an unpredictable market through a mixture of realistic planning and reactivity.

For exhibitors, speakers, organisers, and attendees, the technology thread wasn’t just wound around the heart of sustainability – it was everywhere.

In that context, the growing technology presence at this Première Vision Paris makes perfect sense, and I fully expect that footprint to extend further. Not just because The Interline is a technology publication; not just because I personally relish the opportunity to explain why technology is such a fundamental part of fashion’s future; but because there’s simply no logical way of separating the two any more.

Visit Première Vision Paris to discover replays of the talks and conferences from the July 2022 event (registration required) or to explore the next Paris event, which runs from 7th to 9th February 2023.