The Interline will be closing its doors for the holidays from 23rd December. Look for our curated list of the year’s best features at the end of the month, and for regular content to resume from 3rd January onwards.
Everyone at The Interline wishes our readers a happy holiday season – whatever holiday they celebrate. To put a capstone on the year, our Editor-in-Chief also shares his parting thoughts on a transformative year in fashion technology below.
Writing about fashion technology is an always-on job.
The industry itself thrives on newness and innovation in its outputs, and this year we saw the nature of those outputs change for the first time in centuries. After having physical end products for its entire history, fashion now has a beachhead in the digital space that – in theory at least – will give the industry the opportunity to create and sell digital-only goods.
We didn’t get very far down that road this year, and the jury is still out on whether or not digital fashion is a viable business model or just a new face on advertising and engagement. But the fact remains, for the first time in a long time, making and selling fashion doesn’t have to mean cutting, sewing, and shipping fabric. What that means for creativity, for corporate balance sheets, and for cross-media collaborations remains to be seen – but it definitely means something.
But the shifts in that core business – creating commercially viable fashion – that solidified this year weren’t all that splashy. Behind the scenes, continuity and certainty were in short supply. Planning collections, making costing and sourcing decisions, forecasting consumer demand – all these things, and many more, became much harder as the geopolitical backdrop around them was being repainted almost daily.
All the while the noose of sustainability regulations was also tightening, faster than many expected. From the first day of next year, products sold in France by the largest companies will need to carry mandatory labels disclosing the key environmental credentials of both contents and packaging. And with this decree applying to “waste-generating” consumer products it does, of course, apply to fashion and textiles – two sectors that are guaranteed to be held to account when similar legislation comes into force elsewhere.
At the same time, threats to the essential margins that allow big and small brands alike to remain in business were everywhere. Supply chain disruptions (2020 and 2021’s archenemies) faded into the background as demand-side upheavals took over. Rampant inflation, erosion of spending power, and a cost of living crisis do not make for easy conditions to market discretionary items.
Because of these forces combined, this also became the year that fashion was forced to confront the spectre of degrowth. Like a lot of industries, ours has operated for a while now on a sort of insulated, artificial capitalism – the idea that trendlines can all be to conform in the same upward direction by the creation of more. More styles, more colourways, more brands, more categories, more channels.
Eventually, something has to give.
Now, I don’t believe the bottom will fall out of the fashion industry in any meaningful way. It provides a necessity for many, and a luxury for others – and neither are going away. But the notion that the sole route to success is through constant, unmitigated expansion has been challenged in a fundamental way this year by the stark fact that it doesn’t matter whether people want more or not, when they can’t afford to buy it anyway.
In practice, the evidence for this is everywhere at the end of 2022. Excess inventory is a millstone that every retailer has been trying to shed, and for many businesses assortment planning is being rebuilt around a newly value-conscious (or just plain vanishing) consumer.
This was also the year in which raw technology outpaced cultural readiness in a dramatic way. My thoughts about generative AI art are complicated (and broken down in our DPC Report) and this piece bears a generated image as a commentary on the impossible-to-ignore technology itself, rather than an endorsement of it.
Love it or hate it, though, it’s difficult to argue with the impact that AI has had in just twelve months. And as the backlash crystallises as we move towards Christmas, it becomes clearer that the world simply was not ready for AI, that nothing fundamental has changed since I wrote about the issues of bias and representation in machine learning datasets last year, and that unpicking the myriad tangled threads (copyright, the nature of creativity, universal basic income and much more) that have spilled out of the box this year is going to be a mammoth task.
Finally, this was also the year that digital product creation (as analysed in our first-ever DPC Report) hit an inflection point. Mirroring the journey that a lot of other technology segments have undergone, 2022 was the point at which a lot of the arguments against digital-native working either went away, or were simply outweighed by the huge volume of evidence in its favour.
This was also a banner year for The Interline. Next March will tip us into our third year of existence as a publication, and I think it’s fair to say we’ve come a long way in a short space of time.
Next year will see us involved in event partnerships across the world stage. We’ll be writing and producing more than ever. We’ll continue to be read globally, by digital decision-makers everywhere in fashion. We intend to remain on people’s radars in a way that I couldn’t have dreamed of reaching this quickly when we launched in March of 2020.
And we’ll continue to make it all available to readers completely free.
PLM is now over here, too – meaning that The Interline covers the full tech spectrum with no gaps. (WhichPLM is now focused on advisory services, which it does in a way nobody else can, so if you’re working on a technology project check their services out.)
All of which means we feel we’ve earned a break. A new year will be upon us soon, and I can provide a few hints as to what it has in store: new hires, new partnerships, and a new tech hub to help our decision-making readers connect with the right technology vendors.
For now, though, I’d like to wish everyone who’s supported The Interline this year a wonderful holiday season – whatever holiday they celebrate.
I’ll see you soon.