Key Takeaways:

  • The fashion industry is facing numerous challenges, such as cost and price pressure, climate change, and consumer demand for sustainability, which are causing hesitation and uncertainty among designers, buyers, and decision-makers.
  • These are joined by an imperative to take quantifiable action on reducing the environmental and humanitarian impact of fashion creation and consumption.
  • To overcome these combined challenges, fashion professionals need to embrace both innovation and inspiration, adopting new technologies and materials, as well as looking beyond the limits of fashion to find ideas and solutions from other industries.
  • Munich Fabric Start, taking place in July, aims to showcase innovation, inspiration, and ways to address the sustainability imperative, providing a space where industry professionals can learn more about how to move forward with agility and flexibility.

The fashion industry is more difficult to navigate than ever – with an environment characterised by cost and price pressure, soaring energy prices, inflation and recession. And lately, the industry is seeing demanding and complex material and colour trends that combine with each of these other forces to make for an extremely difficult market. There is also an increased need for transparency that’s being simultaneously driven by consumer buying patterns and legislative and policy pressure.

There is, essentially, a lot changing – and it’s changing all at once.

Against this backdrop of uncertainty, regulation, and unpredictability, fashion is struggling to find a confident way forward. Designers, buyers, product managers and decision-makers are hesitant to commit, as uncertainty around when products will arrive, how traceable the end result will be, and what the ultimate cost (and therefore the brand’s margin) will be is at an all time high. 

For brands this is creating an unprecedentedly difficult situation. There’s an urgent need to shore up efficiency and ringfence profitability right here, right now. But this is also competing against a need to look beyond the present and find a new route to the future. Doing both of those things at the same time – protecting yourself against disruption and insecurity and simultaneously making confident decisions about your future direction – means being open to both innovation and inspiration, at the same time as laying the foundations to that will allow you to respond to the sustainability imperative.

This July, Munich Fabric Start will be showcasing all three components – innovation, inspiration, and the sustainability imperative – so ahead of that show, The Interline and Munich Fabric Start collaborated to explore each of those elements in more detail, and to ask a simple but powerful question. How can fashion put a confident foot forward at a time of peak uncertainty?

Stagnation to success: finding a path to the future through observation and innovation

“Innovation” in fashion is a tricky word, because it encompasses new materials, new processes, new hardware, new software, and new ideas from inside and outside the industry’s sphere of influence. But across those different parts, the core principle is this: the status quo of fashion (a subject The Interline and others spoke about at Munich Fabric Start earlier this year) is currently a feeling of hesitancy, or pause. From sustainability regulations to raw material costs, creators, makers, and retailers are waiting to see what the future will bring.

But in a climate where risk is everywhere, and change is a constant, standing still can be equivalent to falling behind. Which is why fashion professionals are increasingly looking over the walls of our industry to find ideas, solutions, software, and process innovations from other industries.

The benefits of casting the innovation net wide are ensuring that fashion professionals – and the brands they work for – can remain competitive, meet consumer demands, enhance efficiency, address sustainability concerns, foster creativity, and enable fruitful collaborations. Looking beyond the limits of fashion to see how other industries are tackling the same economic uncertainty, for example, can empower individuals and organisations to adapt to changing trends, technologies, and market dynamics, and to contextualise what they see and repurpose it for fashion’s own objectives.

Building on that cross-industry inspiration – which can be captured by reading resources like The Interline, as well as looking at other sectors to monitor their approaches, fashion professionals then need to translate ideas into action and innovation by turning inwards again, and looking at what fashion really wants to achieve.

Today, consumers want to be captivated, and the best step to achieving this is to create products that are unique and cutting-edge, using new technologies, materials, and processes. Some pivotal innovations in this area include smart textiles (also known as e-textiles or electronic textiles): fabrics that have been engineered to incorporate electronics and other digital technologies. 

For example, smart textiles can include sensors that monitor vital signs or environmental conditions, or fabrics that change colour or shape in response to external stimuli. Future fabrics are another example. These are textiles that have been developed using innovative materials and manufacturing processes; often designed to be more sustainable, durable, and versatile than traditional textiles. Some future fabrics are made from recycled or bio-based materials, while others incorporate advanced coatings or finishes to amplify performance and functionality. 

Additionally, innovations like 3D printing and digital weaving are enabling designers and manufacturers to create more complex and intricate textiles and products – new tools that deliver a genuinely new end result.

These digital innovations can be powerful unlocks. Not just because they promise new possibilities and new efficiencies, but because they provide the opportunity for fashion to break free of that inertia we mentioned, turning digital innovations into a direct and measurable benefit to invention and imagination.

When planned for and implemented thoughtfully, embracing innovation means better efficiency and productivity, but also that profound sense of empowerment and possibility. Consider fashion’s current rush towards virtual prototyping and sampling, which is drastically reducing the time and cost involved in bringing an idea to market – as well as improving profitability – at the same time as empowering designers to experiment by cutting the distance between idea and reality.

Looking downstream, innovative technologies like virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), and interactive displays hold an opportunity to boost customer engagement through the creation of memorable digital experiences and personalised shopping journeys – and each of these can also make use of the same digital designs created by designers. 

Additionally, VR can simulate fitting rooms, enabling customers to virtually try on clothes and see how they look and fit before making a purchase. AR overlays virtual content onto the real world, enhancing the physical environment. It allows customers to superimpose virtual clothing items onto themselves using their smartphones or tablets, helping them make more informed purchasing decisions. AR can also provide interactive product information, such as details about materials, care instructions, and styling tips, enhancing the overall shopping experience. 

While largely consumer-focused at the moment, AR and VR technology can also assist fashion professionals in the design processes, by allowing for better collaboration, for gathering inspiration, and for enhancing education and training. These technologies provide powerful tools for creativity, efficiency, and innovation, empowering individuals and teams to push the boundaries of creativity and to shed the sense of hesitancy that’s looming over the industry today.

Sustainability: fashion’s foremost priority

In the past few years, there has been important progress from the European Union (EU) on regulations for the fashion and textiles industry, and more changes are expected in the near future. On an industry-wide level, the EU is working towards its complete overhaul by 2030 under the strategy for sustainable and circular textiles. The strategy implements the commitments of the European Green Deal, the new circular economy action plan and the industrial strategy. A highlight of the strategy is to make Europe the first climate-neutral continent in the world by 2050, while ensuring that economic growth and livelihoods are not compromised. 

In line with the Green Deal, the European Commission has proposed the implementation of destruction bans on unsold clothing. However, on May 22nd, EU governments reached a consensus that an immediate ban on the destruction of unsold garments should be enforced, eliminating the need for a potentially lengthy assessment process by the EU executive, which could have taken up to three years. France already has the anti-waste law AGEC which prohibits the destruction of unsold non-food products. 

Now, the next crucial step involves reaching an agreement on the Ecodesign Regulation between the various governments and the European Parliament, which will pave the way for its enforcement as a law. Another important aspect of the Green Deal is the mandatory minimums for recycled content and so-called digital product passports containing information about an item’s sustainability credentials. While the concept is not the law yet, many experts believe that it has the potential to revolutionise the industry and promote greater sustainability and accountability. 

Beyond the regulations, much will depend on those in the industry’s ability to adapt to changing global dynamics. Climate change is the most obvious, and most serious, with immediate and radical action needed by all along the value chain. Ultimately this comes down to reducing and eventually eliminating overproduction and prioritising sustainable material sourcing. This includes using organic, recycled, and low-impact materials that have a smaller carbon and water footprint. 

Linked to this is the industry’s heavy reliance on finite resources, including water, energy, and raw materials. As these resources become increasingly scarce, it becomes imperative for all to reduce their consumption and find alternative solutions. This can look like adopting energy-efficient practices and transitioning to renewable energy sources: invest in energy-efficient technologies, such as LED lighting, advanced machinery, and optimised heating and cooling systems. Additionally, integrating renewable energy sources like solar or wind power into manufacturing facilities can help minimise reliance on fossil fuels and decrease greenhouse gas emissions.

A separate challenge comes in the form of consumer attitudes and expectations. There is a growing demand for sustainable and ethically produced fashion, as consumers are becoming more conscious of the environmental and social impacts of their purchasing decisions. By integrating sustainability into day-to-day practices, fashion brands can respond to these shifting preferences. This may involve adopting sustainable production methods, providing transparency about supply chain practices, and offering eco-friendly and socially responsible products. 

Enter the circular fashion economy, where the ideal vision is for all products that are created are restorative and regenerative – benefiting businesses, society, and the environment. In this vision, the value of clothes, textiles, and fibres is maximised throughout their lifecycle, and instead of becoming waste, they are kept in circulation, continuously reused or recycled, ensuring they never reach the end of their usefulness. While the concept has gained momentum of late, there are still a few challenges to overcome for it to reach its full potential. These include widespread consumer interest and acceptance, buy-in from brands, and the availability of the correct technology at every manufacturing stage of circular production. 

All of these legislative developments and possibilities are things that the fashion industry needs to address as a priority – hence the word imperative – but each of them can also become an inspiration and a catalyst for a new way of thinking about not just individual products and materials, but entire ways of working.

And crucially, many of these sustainability challenges are already being catered for by smart materials, connected production hardware, and new software platforms – all of which are on display at the upcoming Munich Fabric Start.

Munich Fabric Start: a beacon of information and inspiration

This July, Munich Fabric Start will serve as a catalyst for the renewal of the fashion industry by providing a space where reliable information can be found, where a sense of community can be discovered, and where industry professionals can learn more about how to move forward with the right level of agility and flexibility. The event will encourage the adoption of knowledge sharing around innovation, and the ways to comply with the sustainability imperative, allowing those in the fashion and textiles industry to navigate the challenges it faces and seize the opportunities for growth and positive change. 

Whatever role you occupy in fashion, July’s programme will have something useful. Talks will include how to use colour to engage consumers emotionally with Pantone; learning about key sustainability legislation in the EU, US, and UK with the Transformers Foundation; what the next five years will look like for the textile industry by Shape Innovate; and supporting the circular economy by hessnatur Stiftung. Each talk will take place in its relevant area for visitors’ convenience: there is THE SOURCE area, which is a focus on manufacturing and sourcing, and showcasing the latest developments in sustainable and innovative processes. KEYHOUSE area: for new materials, new resources, new dyeing techniques – scaling process for how to scale from small to large (for materials) or how to downscale. ReSOURCE area: for innovative fabrics and add-ons that are certified organic, bio-based, recycled, recyclable or from regenerative sources. BLUEZONE is the international trade show for denim, and is known as a key event for the presentation of quality materials, sharing know-how and discovering innovations and the latest trends.

Munich Fabric Start is more than just a platform for information exchange; it serves as the epicentre for industry professionals to actively participate in dynamic knowledge-sharing and take mindful steps forward, free from fear and hesitation. Within this environment of collective expertise, attendees are empowered to ignite fresh ideas and embrace innovation with open minds. By fostering an atmosphere of collaboration and exploration, the event paves the way for transformative breakthroughs, enabling participants to navigate the uncertain terrain of the fashion industry with confidence and purpose.

About Munich Fabric Start: With 900 international exhibitors on a total area of around 42,500 square metres, the international fabric trade show MUNICH FABRIC START is strongly booked. The BLUEZONE features around 100 international brands. The conference and lecture programme of MUNICH FABRIC START, BLUEZONE & KEYHOUSE is more comprehensive than ever. More than 50 speakers will pool their expertise and discuss current developments, changes and challenges in the industry. The event’s programme conveys competence and professionalism combined with inspiration and innovation and will once again attract up to 20,000 trade visitors from management, product management, design and purchasing to Munich from 18 to 20 July 2023.

About The Interline: The online destination for fashion professionals who are tasked with putting digital transformation into practice. From revolutions in creative design to new models of selling, The Interline covers the complete fashion value chain with exclusive editorial, interviews, reports, worldwide event partnerships, audio content, and more.