Refreshed for 2022, our regular analysis selects one or more news stories from fashion technology, and presents The Interline‘s take on why they matter to our global brand and retail audience – as well as what they might mean for the longer-term future of fashion. As always, this analysis is also delivered to Interline Insiders by email – and signing up continues to be the best way to get a fresh look at the fashion technology news, completely free, in your inbox.

Virtual And Live Event Update

This week saw The Interline host representatives from Adobe Substance 3D and Cotton Incorporated, for a live online workshop that focused on unifying material scanning and procedural generation to bring the creativity and experimentation of virtual materials closer to the reality of physical achievability. The live session (delivered this Wednesday, 28th September) had a terrific turnout of more than 330 people, with representatives from world-leading brands asking incisive questions that cut to the heart of where virtual materials and digital workflows fit into the apparel and footwear lifecycle.

To meet this high demand, all three parties are now working on an extended cut that will combine the recording of the live session with a new, detailed, follow-on segment that unpicks the implications of the capsule material collection (and the workflow behind it) even further, and more broadly considers the future of digital product creation.

That extended cut will be shared with registered attendees next week, before being opened up for all readers to watch in the near future, so while you wait for our upcoming DPC Report, stay tuned for that release!

The Interline is also happy to announce that our Editor will be delivering the opening keynote at the ASBCI’s upcoming Fashion Re:Set conference in York, UK. After a successful year of speaking at and partnering with major industry events on the international stage (and with much more to come on that score in early 2023) we are looking forward to explaining the close bond between the future of the fashion industry and the growth of technology adoption to an audience in The Interline’s home country.

Stay tuned for more domestic and international event announcements (physical and virtual) before the end of the year.

With pessimism pervasive in the physical world, technology companies, brands, and consumers all see reasons for optimism in the digital world.

It’s difficult to look beyond the immediate horizon this week. With fresh humanitarian crises and deeper, more inhumane conflict in the news, the wider world does not seem to be headed in a particularly positive direction, with little prospect of change any time soon.

This pessimism is a prevailing sentiment among many people at the moment, and it is being exacerbated by a steady erosion of quality of life for many people here in the UK, on top of which further macro-level financial disruption is being added – putting country-level economic growth in question, and raising the deeply unpleasant spectre of the 2008 financial crisis as the country faces down what the New York Times calls “a broken mortgage market”.

Needless to say, direct to consumer brands and retailers in The Interline‘s home country have faced a week of introspection, with the key consideration being how far these new fiscal policies will actually spur on growth, counterbalanced by their potentially catastrophic impacts on consumer confidence and buying power.

This gloomy outlook is particularly acute on our side of the Atlantic at the moment, but it is by no means unique. The world’s second-largest fashion retailer has just slashed profit expectations based on the compounded effect that rising costs and the impact of inflation on consumer spending is having across Europe.

To put it bluntly, this is not a time of plenty for people on either side of the equation when it comes to buying and selling physical fashion, and while the industry has worked hard to shore itself up against disruption as a result of the pandemic and the war in Ukraine, there is only so much physical and online retail can do to put a happy face on a global mood that is turning increasingly sour.

But the transactional component of buying new clothes, sneakers, and accessories is not the only tool the industry has at its disposal to connect with consumers at a fractious time – as evidenced by a report released in partnership between Snap Inc. and Ipsos that spotlights the growing positive sentiment around augmented reality.

image courtesy of snap inc. media vault

That report contains some compelling figures. The vast majority of brands who have made use of AR for virtual try-on and other immersive experiences have improved brand awareness; close to 90% report that AR has helped drive sales; and nearly 80% suggest that AR try-on is directly responsible for reducing returns.

But these are objective, commercial metrics. What leaps off the page the most to The Interline is the fact that, at a time when consumers are turning inward from an unpleasant world, there is a significant discrepancy between brand and consumer interest in AR – and not in the way you might expect.

Unlike other technologies (Meta’s definition of the “embodied internet” certainly comes to mind) where corporates are attempting to force an evolution in consumer behaviour, this report suggests that more than three quarters of consumers want AR experiences, while less than a third of brands want to create them.

There is, obviously, an untapped market opportunity here. But from a behavioural perspective this disconnect is telling; consumers are looking for new and more convenient ways to shop and connect with brands, certainly, but it seems likely that many are gravitating towards digital experiences layered on top of physical reality because reality itself has lost some of its appeal.

This is perhaps a pessimistic view on our part, and there are certainly cheerier takes on the empowering potential of augmented reality. (Not least Apple CEO Tim Cook’s confident assertion that like before and after broad AR adoption will be as hard a cut-off as life before and after the Internet.) But it seems entirely probable that AR is more popular among consumers than it is among brands not because it takes some of the friction out of buying a pair of sneakers, but because it allows for a degree of escapism in trying on those sneakers (and stepping into that brand’s world) in the first place.

This, to The Interline, represents two things. One: a resounding vindication of the incredible work that has gone into improving body projection mapping in the last few years. And two: an opportunity for digital fashion to prove its worth. It is, after all, a short hop from letting consumers try on the virtual version of a shoe to gauge whether they want to buy the physical one, to letting them play with (and potentially own) a digital item they can’t justify or afford acquiring in real life.

We have previously written about how, in the longer run, the fashion industry might just be weighing its options when it comes to rebalancing the scales and more directly monetising digital assets and NFT royalties to try and offset shortfalls from their physical business units. The expanding possibility space of AR is, in some ways tied into this, creating the possibility for brands to offer different strata of sales (cheaper digital goods and pricier physical counterparts), but it also runs deeper, offering a way for fashion brands that are able to sensitively capitalise on it to recognise that their consumers are uncomfortable, and to offer them an opportunity for a little levity.

This is, we suspect, a discussion that will be had in two stages within the walls of fashion brands. As the holidays approach, they may ask themselves how to tap into AR to bring a little sparkle into consumer’s lives through brand awareness and immersion activities. If the festive period ends with a shortfall in revenue owing to stratospheric input costs and low mood (and empty wallets) among consumers, then the conversation may quickly turn to methods to monetise that engagement in a way that could look an awful lot like a sudden realisation of the vision for digital fashion.

Look for some analysis of these two possibilities from The Interline once the seasonal decorations go up, and then after they come down.

And the best from The Interline:

Since our last news roundup, The Interline has published several exclusive features, covering a broad spectrum of fashion technology – from supply chain logistics and efficiency, through a new era of sustainability, and into the benefits and drawbacks of decentralisation.

First up, in partnership with CGS, we examined the various ways in which brand-supplier relationships that have been fractured by the pandemic can be rebuilt with mutual benefit in mind.

For an industry that is growing increasingly concerned with supply chain risk and stability, this article makes a strong case for a re-architecting of value chains to account for more than simply transactional variables.

Taking another perspective on supply chain relationships is our next partnership piece, which saw The Interline and Coats Digital examine the progress the fashion industry has made towards its sustainability targets (both environmental and humanitarian).

This feature also explains our joint contention that the fashion industry has now entered the “second age” of sustainability – a time where self-regulation will inevitably be replaced by external enforcement, where decade-end targets that once seemed comfortably distant are now looming near, and where brands will be increasingly held to account for not just the materials that make up their products, but the lives of the people that make them.

Finally, we also released the latest in the series of exclusive features being produced for The Interline by The Digital Fashion Group. This detailed article takes a critical eye to the idea that Decentralised Autonomous Organisations (DAOs) are viable in fashion, or whether they simply represent a circuitous way of obtaining consensus.

Applying a balanced perspective, and incorporating insights from industry figures with experience of decentralisation, this latest exclusive is essential reading for anyone who has been observing Web3 from the sidelines and has been left wondering just how much of its potential is likely to become practical in a meaningful timeframe.

Next week, look for the release of the next episode of The Interline podcast, where we will be looking at transparency and sustainability initiative in action, alongside a guest from a brand that has long remained committed to documenting and analysing its material supply chain.