What it means to work in fashion has quickly and dramatically changed. To safeguard and grow their specialised knowledge, fashion professionals now need to understand and embrace new ways of working – especially those involving technology – to keep pace with the industry.
Texprocess Americas, which takes place in Atlanta, Georgia, from 10th to 12th May, will bring together the different stakeholders who make up the fashion value chain to help prepare the industry to meet an evolving future. Across knowledge sharing, tech talks, career and training programs, Texprocess Americas will showcase not just why technology and continuous development in fashion have become so tightly integrated, but how fashion professionals can turn that to their advantage.
The status quo of fashion: interrupted and permanently altered
Fashion has always been one of the most dynamic industries, and the past few years in particular have seen rapid and comprehensive changes to its landscape – not just the obvious ones brought about by the pandemic, but fundamental alterations to the core mechanics of the industry. The principal, and most topical, are transparency and sustainability, which have rightly worked its way to the top of the fashion agenda. Scrutiny around environmental impact and ethical practices is at an all-time high, with stringent regulations being put into place by various jurisdictions, and whatever role you play in the fashion value chain, expectations around transparency and sustainability are already influencing the way you work.
Alongside this, brands are also seeing an erosion of their profits, with consumer spending power dropping while costs of materials, labour, and logistics remain high – putting the squeeze on margins. Going hand-in-hand with this, reshoring and nearshoring of production has become more necessary than ever for both sustainability and oversight reasons. More localised production is, by definition, more sustainable since it removes the logistics component of international sourcing and manufacturing. However, similar shifts in the dynamics of the supply chain are also the key to building agility, achieving more rapid turnaround times, and de-risking the supply chain – protecting brands against factory closures and climate change vulnerabilities, and empowering producers with the ability to improve efficiency on an entirely new level.
On the innovation front, change has been seen by way of the significant advances in material innovation with the introduction of more sustainable, plant-based sources such as pineapple, mango, and mushroom to name a few, as well as improvements made in bio-engineered fabrics. And while many of these are going through the process of commercialisation, it’s already clear that fashion will not be restricted to picking from the same set of naturally occurring and synthetic raw fibres forever.
Catalysed by COVID but driven by technology maturity, 3D and digital product creation (DPC) have also become cornerstones of the way brands and their partners work, as well as emerging as enterprise technology’s fastest-growing segment in fashion – transforming the way we design, develop, market, and even sell products.
Each of these changes on its own is sizable. And considering that all have occurred more or less simultaneously, it’s clear that every part of the product lifecycle has been disrupted: from initial design through to sourcing, manufacturing, and downstream to retail. The upshot of this is that the nature of the jobs in the fashion industry, and the specialist skills that go with them, have also undergone an enormous shift, and will continue to do so – perhaps at a faster rate than anyone expected. Because for fashion to face new challenges and seize new possibilities, the industry needs the right people, with the right skills.
Technology: the new frontier of fashion needs futureproof talent
Today, the fashion industry is still largely recruiting from a talent pool that has been trained in traditional disciplines, and where knowledge of new digital skills has primarily been built by industry veterans or new graduates informally, in their spare time. This accounts for what a seasoned industry professional, writing in The Interline recently, called the “digital talent gap” – something that’s just as pronounced in established professionals as it is in people joining the workforce straight out of university.
Some of this lag is attributable to the steady pace of evolution in fashion education, but much more is due to the velocity of change in the industry, in the markets it sells to, in the production bases it sources from, and in the technology that supports it. Consider, for example, how quickly artificial intelligence (AI) has evolved in the last twelve months, and then consider that all that development might have happened in just the first year of a student’s university course, or in the span of time a brand professional spent working on a single collection.
This doesn’t mean that traditional fashion skills are becoming obsolete, but rather that the timeline from acquiring industry knowledge to that knowledge being outdated is now shorter than ever. And most importantly, those traditional fashion skills are now just part of a much broader picture, with hybrid talent (people of all ages and backgrounds who can blend, for example, technical development or merchandising knowledge with 3D design or data science) being especially sought after by brands in 2023.
And with these radical shifts in the world, not only in fashion, professional development now means more than becoming better at the job that you hold. Instead, almost every role in the fashion value chain is being asked to help contribute to future-proofing the business they work for. Professionals who historically had a narrow focus in their line of work (design, merchandising, or sourcing, for instance) are now inheriting some level of responsibility for key strategic business objectives, whether it’s an explicit request to spearhead a transformation project, or an implicit change in their day-to-day.
These objectives can be improving agility and efficiency; minimising waste and promoting sustainable practices; increasing profitability; analysing and overhauling offshore supply chains; coming up with a digital fashion strategy and embracing real-time opportunities; and recontextualising manufacturing to combine offshore and real-time nearshore or on-shore to respond to the industry’s need for variety, volume, speed, and personalisation at scale.
In each of the above capacities, traditional skills alone will not be enough – making it inevitable that technology is going to be woven into your day-to-day operations everywhere from design inspiration to connected manufacturing and multi-channel retail.
In the same way previously standalone fashion disciplines have become more tightly wound up with overall business strategy (and business survival), there is now change that needs to happen on a similar scale to help make sure that both current and future fashion professionals are equipped with the knowledge and the technology tools they need to juggle the old and the new – the physical and the digital.
But this forward step isn’t something that can be achieved in a vacuum. There are key stakeholders that need to come together from across the value chain to help ensure that both new fashion professionals and proven talent alike are given the right support to continue their professional development to not just meet, but get ahead of a fast-changing world.
That journey starts with education, by guiding and training a new generation of talent to acquire a hybrid of digital and traditional skills in a structured way. Brands also need to be on board, supporting and listening to people who have the right skills to deliver against key challenges and opportunities like sustainability, supply chain streamlining, and data optimisation – and allowing them the flexibility to grow those skills and to hire them in.
And technology vendors need to continue to develop breakthrough innovations that specifically address the needs of future fashion professionals – focusing on delivering against particular problems, rather than innovating blindly.
Fashion professionals themselves, of course, also need to commit to lifelong learning and keeping up to speed with how the fashion industry is developing as a result of the wider climate, as well as remaining open to the possibilities of technology, rather than seeing it as an imposition on their creativity.
Lastly, industry bodies and facilitators will also play a big role in bringing those different parties together to advance the fashion and textile industry as a whole, as well as to make sure that the people who keep that industry running are truly ready for its future.
Texprocess Americas recognises the importance of preparing the current and next generation of fashion professionals for the future of fashion, and bringing together all of these stakeholders to ensure that fashion is ready to respond to change. Their upcoming event is set to provide a space for knowledge exchange on the biggest challenges facing the fashion and textiles industries, offering technology-focused training and insight,, alongside cultural guidance and pathways for integrating new talent into existing workforces, allowing technology to support the growth and improvement of the industry.
To find out more about why technology will be a fundamental part of professional development, register for the event, taking place from the 10th to the 12th of May 2023, and visit Texprocess Americas to discover the complete exhibition, awards, innovation, and professional development programme.
About our partner: Texprocess Americas provides a platform for leading international manufacturers to present their latest machines, plant, processing, IT systems, and services for developing textiles and other flexible materials.
Texprocess Americas will be co-located with Techtextil North America, making this the largest and best technical textile, nonwoven, machinery, sewn products and equipment trade show in the Americas! Held in conjunction with the exhibit hall, is the Texprocess Americas Symposium structured to address the most pressing issues faced by today’s sewn product industry.
The next Texprocess Americas will be May 10 – 12, 2023 at the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta, Georgia. Make your plans now to join the industry for three days of education, networking, and business development!