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.
The first-ever Digital Product Creation Report – available now!
As we approach the end of 2022, the explosion of interest in digital product creation that began with the pandemic is showing no signs of slowing down. While 3D working in fashion and footwear has been a viable, growing industry for decades, there is little doubt that the COVID-enforced cessation of all activities – from production to distribution and retail – increased the pace of adoption dramatically. This is data we helped to gather in late 2020 – at the peak of pandemic-era disruption – partnering with Kalypso (who have continued to research DPC maturity in detail since) to discover than the vast majority of brand and retail representatives felt that digital strategies now had a new emphasis.
Two years later, that feeling has manifested itself in marked increases in investment in 3D and digital product creation (DPC) tools and processes. This has also coincided with the boom (and potentially the bust, at least in the short term) of metaverse opportunities, creating a flywheel of excitement, uncertainty, and opportunity around digital assets and the tools and skills needed to create them.
But this compressed enthusiasm for digital working has camouflaged the fact that DPC is a complex, thriving technology ecosystem that brings together pioneering technology vendors – who have been working to drive the sector forward and advance the industry’s thinking for decades – and the disruptors and cross-disciplinary technology and service providers who are now working to extend the value of digital assets.
All of this is captured in our new DPC Report, which is available to download now, for free – with no requirement to part with your email address or other personal information.
Across more than 210 pages, with 15 editorials, 20 technology vendor profiles and executive interviews, and a milestone market analysis, the DPC Report is an industry-first document and essential reading for anyone interested in either establishing or scaling a strategy with 3D assets at its core.
Crucially, the DPC Report makes a compelling case for DPC’s status as a critical component of the wider fashion technology industry with a market size that could soon begin to rival those of other enterprise technology segments. Much more than an offshoot, an experiment, or a series of small pilot programmes, DPC represents a fundamental transformation to the way fashion operates.
Free webinar: taking DPC back to the basics
Digital product creation and 3D are, as we’ve established, hugely important to the future of fashion, and critical cogs in the industry’s forward momentum. But they can also be intimidating topics to approach – whether your organisation is looking to take its first footstep into simulating patterns and visualising ideas in 3D, or whether you’re in the process of extending the use of digital assets across the entire ecosystem.
Whatever maturity level your 3D / DPC strategy has reached, success in an increasingly complex climate involves getting the basics right – which is the theme of a webinar The Interline has been invited to host alongside Style3D on 8th December at 4PM GMT.
Sign up for free to watch the discussion live, which will include a breakdown of where the fashion industry has seen success from 3D working (as well as where failures have occurred) along with a demonstration of how to approach the fundamentals of 3D for fashion in a way that’s both fast and flexible – the twin themes of our recent editorial collaboration with Style3D.
Digital technology’s role in redesigning fashion
Alongside our own focused DPC Report, this week also saw the publication of the 2023 edition of the landmark State Of Fashion report, released by The Business Of Fashion and McKinsey.
While there is, it seems, some concern around how inclusive and representative the survey response that inform these reports are, in lieu of an alternative the State Of Fashion remains the best yardstick the industry has for measuring progress and recalibrating its vision for the following year. There is, to be sure, a more “outsider” analysis that could be put together, but these reports – now in their seventh year – are a useful tool for identifying high and low watermarks in an industry where change happens rapidly.
And they also remain well-researched, well-written, and widely-read, which is a sensible set of criteria upon which to judge any kind of market research, and is the standard to which The Interline holds its own publications.
The full State Of Fashion report, then, is worth reading in full. But we also see value in looking at its key recommendations through our own technology-first lens, to consider the various ways that software, hardware, and tech-adjacent process transformation could contribute to delivering them.
The first of these is the institutional, global fragility and uncertainty that remain dominant forces in fashion – as they do in many other industries. There’s little that technology can do to temper the proximate causes of this ongoing unpredictability and its accompanying climate of fear and doubt, but the authors of the State of Fashion are right to point out that “careful planning” will be critical to mitigating its impacts. In practice, this is likely to mean a combination of shoring up supply chains through technology-centric connectivity and collaboration tools, as well as making use of intelligent (even automated) planning tools to ensure that the products that come to market as as well-calibrated as possible to what consumers want and how it can be made without completely abandoning margin.
The second priority the report identifies for 2023 is regionalisation. This is closely tied to the shaky foundations on which fashion retail in general stands, and as a result the technology solutions will be similar: intelligent assortment planning and channel allocation that can be refined on a geographical basis, along with deeper methods of communication and collaboration with a more diverse supplier base to offset the potential impact of ecological or humanitarian disaster – or both.
Third is a topic we have tackled here at The Interline recently: the need for fashion brands and retailers to reposition themselves as offering value in their assortments, but without compromising their market position. That collaborative feature contains both an analysis of the context, and suggestions for technology solutions.
Fourth in the State Of Fashion’s recommendations is the movement towards gender fluidity, and the breaking down of the lines that have traditionally delimited menswear from womenswear. This is, of course, a cultural shift that The Interline endorses, and that will be felt keenly in how fashion communicates to the global community. But behind the scenes the solutions are likely to be much more prosaic: alterations to size ranges and ratios, overhauls to the balance between objective and subjective fit, and similar adjustments to how the industry thinks about merchandising and sizing.
In fifth, the report’s authors mention the return of statement dressing and formal wear. And as overdue as this might feel to people who have been itching to wear their boldest pieces to important events, again the solutions are well-established: intelligent assortment planning, the use of 3D to simulate and refine higher-cost garments before committing to production, confident that they will deliver what the market wants.
Next in the list is the likely pull-back from DTC-retail strategies. In most ways this is potentially overdue (a lot of spending did shift online from 2020-2022, but interviews we conducted with brands this year suggest that stores are more valuable than ever) but in others it represents a concern for companies that, above all, have sought to control as much of their route to consumers – first and second-hand – as possible. The solution here is less clear-cut, but the ask is fairly concrete: for the brand to be able to know as much as possible about the journeys their products take, in the form of unit-level data. This was also something we covered this year, when we talked about the essential building blocks of intelligent retail coming from item identities.
The next two items on the list are ones we consider to be so closely linked as to be inseparable: redesigning fashion manufacturing to be as digitally connected as possible, and addressing the industry’s recently-earned reputation for making outward commitments to sustainability that it’s unable to substantiate. The mechanics of connected manufacturing are well-worn at this stage (on-demand digital printing, digital dyeing of threads and yarns, connecting cutting hardware and the links between those stages) but the regionalised reality of the roll-out is nowhere near what the near-term future of transparency is going to demand. Which, in practice, is going to – again – mean closer communication and collaboration between the companies placing production orders and the companies making them.
The penultimate priority is a new era of digital marketing. This is a difficult prospect to unpick in some respects: who know what’s likely to happen between EU regulators and Elon Musk’s newly-unmoderated Twitter, or how this will impact the wider relationship between brands and social advertising. In others, there is a very clear opportunity for the industry to capitalise on: the crossover with videogames and other media, which represent a new, largely untapped frontier of digital engagement and interaction.
Finally, the State Of Fashion Report 2023 makes a strong recommendation for organisational overhauls in order for the fashion industry to move the needle in important strategic areas such as digital transformation and transparency. And, well, that’s what The Interline is all about.
And the best from The Interline:
Since our last analysis of the top fashion technology news, The Interline has published the following exclusives and announcements.
A new collaboration between The Interline and Style3D, which examines why fashion has moved so quickly towards digital product creation, and why it’s so important for individual brands, retailers, and manufacturers to build an approach to 3D and DPC that’s both fast and flexible.
Our latest exclusive feature from Muchaneta Kapfunde, which looks at the tightening noose of sustainability and transparency regulations, and considers what role technology will play in enabling brands, retailers, and their supply chain partners to replace soft statements with objective data.
A unique collaboration between The Interline and Cotton Incorporated, taking a fresh perspective on the impact of climate change on the people who make up the fashion value chain – from raw material planting and harvesting, through production, distribution, and retail. At a time when major weather events are becoming more commonplace, and where the effects of seasonal climate are more pronounced, the fashion industry will need to prepare for the impacts of those changes on what consumers want to wear, and on how the livelihoods of workers around the world are being transformed. This article asks some significant questions, as well as using the global cotton trade as a case study for resilience.
Finally, we were pleased to announce that The Interline and Informa Markets Fashion have joined forces again to bring fashion technology to life at SOURCING at MAGIC in Las Vegas, from 13th to 15th February 2023. As sponsors of our just-released DPC Report, the team behind SOURCING at MAGIC are committed to growing the footprint of technology at firmly-established milestone fashion events, and The Interline are proud to be supporting that aim for the second time, with a programme of live sessions, demonstrations, and discussions to be announced very soon.