This year, The Interline will be continuing its partnership with SOURCING at MAGIC – bringing fashion technology to life at some of the largest fashion events in North America.
First: a programme of live sessions and discussions dedicated to digital product creation, sustainability, and profitability all taking place live this February. Next: the return of the pioneering, dedicated fashion technology lounge, stage, and community returning to Las Vegas this summer. And throughout the year: new instalments of our industry-defining reports, and other collaborative content designed to keep the spotlight on the critical role that technology plays in every aspect of fashion.
But before all those, join The Interline and SOURCING at MAGIC for a look-forward at how designers, brands, creators, and suppliers can start making use of technology in 2023 to get future-ready.
This year could be a defining one for fashion.
Faced with a complex economic climate at both extremes – supply-side and at the point of sale – brands must now strike a careful balance between controlling costs and improving efficiency, at the same time as improving their ability to detect and react to rapid changes in consumer demand.
And they need to be able to achieve both of these goals simultaneously, all while taking unprecedented steps towards more transparent, accountable sourcing practices and supply chains – rushing to meet new regulations, and racing to be prepared for a more pronounced swing of the pendulum of consumer sentiment towards openness and data-backed disclosure, and away from pleasant-sounding promises.
That would be a difficult combination of factors for any industry to meet, but the internal clockspeed of fashion – which has put a foot firmly on the gas pedal for the seasonal calendar, and has made a model of constant, seasonless drops more common – is so fast that our industry is given very little breathing room to make the kind of sweeping changes and implement the streamlining strategies it needs to.
Across the supply chain, partners at every level (from the raw material harvester to the finished product manufacturer and drop-shipper) are being faced with similar asks. As the downstream offer changes more quickly, making speed and profitability per-style more important than ever, those expectations are being passed on to suppliers in the form of shorter lead times, thinner margins, and more complex, variable orders.
And as the bar for sustainability rises higher and higher, suppliers are being asked to open the books on scores of new datapoints to substantiate their environmental and ethical credentials – potentially in different formats and using different systems for each customer they deal with.
This is a complex, evolving set of multi-stakeholder challenges, but it also sits alongside a mountain of both brand-new opportunities and possibilities that once seemed distant but are now approaching maturity.
As The Interline and SOURCING at MAGIC discovered in our industry-first DPC Report, digital product creation is now past the point of being considered an offshoot of fashion technology, and is instead quickly emerging as the engine that’s driving forward so much of the industry’s ambitions for the future.
From unlocking new creative powers for designers who’ve never previously been able to bring their ideas to life without a lengthy cycle of prototyping and samping, to removing ambiguity, uncertainty, and interpretation from brand-supplier relationships, a single 3D asset can go a long way. So far, in fact, that what starts as a way of visualising inspiration and experimenting with digital fabrics can travel all the way through to fashion’s newest horizons: all-digital fashion, Metaverse possibilities, and mixed-media collaborations.
And while sustainability is often framed as being simply a burden that fashion is overdue to bear, the reality is that many brands and suppliers are already looking beyond pure compliance – building out the right level of visibility to meet regulatory requirements – and into ways to take proactive, brand-redefining stances on material innovation, carbon footprint, environmental stewardship, and human rights. Being able to substantiate these new, bold stances through genuine transparency and multi-tier traceability – all backed up by objective, provable data – will equip these forward-thinking brands with a real competitive edge.
As this year progresses, these two strands – challenge and opportunity – will continue to move forward together, both tightly wound up by technology. Across software and hardware, technological innovation is becoming inseparable from industry progress, to the extent that the future of fashion and the future of fashion technology are set to become one and the same.
Central to this prediction is our collective belief that the fashion industry is not just beset by challenges; it’s also surrounded by the tools it needs to address those challenges, and to take measurable action everywhere from creative empowerment and digital assets, to supply chain transparency and bottom-line profitability.
The same is also true for the industry’s most exciting opportunities. There may not yet be a concrete roadmap for the Metaverse, or for the longer-term future of digital-only fashion, but in both cases the core foundations are already in place: real-time engines that offer pathways to bring digital garments into immersive consumer experiences. The industry might still be determining the right way to ringfence and manage the digital identities of physical products, but both blockchain and more traditional platforms already offer ways to imbue real-world garments with augmented experiences and to authenticate them for both initial sale and the secondary market.
Despite the prevailing sentiment of 2022 being that fashion faced a historically difficult set of circumstances, the industry remains resilient. Indeed its milestone report suggested that, last year, fashion was able to continue to grow at a whole-industry level against an economic and geopolitical backdrop that set many other industries back.
We see this as evidence that fashion has not only a business model that can withstand disruption, but also has the right tools at its disposal to protect itself against ongoing unpredictable and to capitalise on new possibilities as they emerge – whether they’re at the product and category level, or whether they represent a more comprehensive change.
The sheer scope of this toolset, though, can feel overwhelming. From risk management to new methods of consumer engagement, alongside ongoing improvements, innovations, and integrations in core product design and development, there’s digital transformation to be found everywhere we look in fashion today.
So where should you start?
Whether you’re an individual designer with the vision to become the next big brand through 3D design and on-demand manufacturing, or a major multinational with a complex, shifting supply chain and mounting challenges in sourcing to overcome, fashion technology is likely to have not just one solution for you – but several.
Prioritising those solutions will be a matter of identifying where your business is losing the most ground, whether that ground is being lost in manufacturing efficiency, creative experimentation, material planning, or missed opportunities to pursue new business models and new possibilities.
Fortunately, while historically investing in technology was a costly process, there are promising or fully mature technology solutions for all of fashion’s most pressing challenges (and it’s top opportunities) that are sold on a cloud-native, software-as-a-service basis – making futureproofing fashion more affordable, accessible, and intuitive than it’s ever been.
But this support network of compelling solutions comes at a time when investing in technology is a necessity rather than an option. As recently as this month, the world’s most profitable industry sectors are announcing dramatic lay-offs, or revealing that changes in the fabric of the world mean that they need to do “more with less”. And fashion, despite its impressive ability to grow even against a fractured economic outlook, is being asked to do much the same: respond to a changing world in a way that does not compromise its reputation for creativity, but that also moves the needle on vital issues like sustainability, and that prepares the industry for everything the next decade might hold.
To find out what it means to start futureproofing your fashion brand through technology, or to integrate your technology solutions into the dedicated fashion-technology community at SOURCING at MAGIC in August 2023, visit the SOURCING at MAGIC portal, read our report on the pioneering August 2022 event, or contact a member of either The Interline or SOURCING at MAGIC teams to explore what this year has in store as technology becomes even more integrated into the biggest fashion industry events in North America.