Over the last five years, ‘fashion technology’ has captured the world’s imagination.
At its peak in 2016-2017, fashion technology was a movement in fashion with thousands of meetup groups and tech startups across the globe.
Also known as fashion tech or ‘fashtech,’ the movement reached such hype that ‘gurus’ emerged, calling the trend “an industry of its own that one day will take over the fashion industry.”
Almost a decade later, the question stands: ‘What is Fashion Technology?’
What is Fashion Technology?
Fashion technology is a generic term that describes innovative technologies the fashion industry adopts and deploys in several areas, from material procurement to fashion design, manufacturing, transportation, and retail.
In simple terms, fashion technology is nothing but tools (better ways) the fashion industry uses to improve the production and consumption of fashion.
Modern tools include AI in fashion design, 3D printers instead of sewing machines, lab-made leather alternatives instead of animal leather, body scanners instead of measuring tape, augmented reality and VR for retail, and much more.
Back in 2010, most fashion labels existed and operated offline.
The fashion industry struggled to gather consumer data to reduce waste and optimize manufacturing and retail.
Nowadays, most fashion businesses combine online with offline elements.
Online data, collected by ‘cutting-edge’ algorithms, allows brands to operate the physical realm more effectively.
Lesser expense, stock, and pollution.
Following the advent of augmented and virtual reality, we see technological infusion in media and fashion advertising.
Nowadays, Chanel hosts tech-infused offline parties and complements them with online events.
Burberry lets you try before you buy products on their VR and mixed-reality glasses.
More recently, Gucci has been inviting its customers to experience (only online, for the time being) AR-ready shops.
Technology is at the core of most co-creative processes in fashion.
Then, the emergence of artificial intelligence helps designers mix materials, colors, and patterns in ways that appeal to customers.
AI also helps designers to figure out what customers want long in advance.
But technology in design helps not only designers but consumers as well.
The internet and social media allow them to tell brands which items to design, produce, and sell.
“E-commerce is just a fad. It’ll never work, as people need to touch the garments before purchasing,”
excerpt from WWD Magazine, 2016.
Nowadays, some of the most successful online marketplaces, such as NET-A-PORTER and Farfetch, are at the forefront of technological innovation.
Technology allows them to tap into existing social networks and like-minded communities.
For instance, ‘Stylitics,’ a fashion tech startup, allows marketplaces to track how often buyers wear clothing.
Another startup, ‘MinX1’, introduced the sharing and thrifting business model to fashion.
Using tech in fashion also marks the beginning of empowered users as startups make useful large data sets.
For example, ‘Stylitics’ sells granular consumer data back to brands.
Similarly, ‘Shop It To Me’ uses customers’ preferences to send them customized sale information.
We see ‘curating algorithms’ and ‘discovery platforms’ merging to create a new age of recommendation engines embedded directly in online stores.
Fashion and technology have always been a great match.
For once, both industries are future-driven.
Then, both are very much consumer-focused.
And when combined, the resulting products appeal greatly to the younger segment of fashion consumers.
Another less-discussed aspect of fashion technology is the social media impact and how it has opened the industry-wide open.
In the past, the only way to be a part of the industry was to know or work with a fashion designer on her way up.
Or to live in a city such as London, New York, or Paris and work at a fashion media publication house or PR firm.
Nowadays, bloggers and SM celebs occupy the front rows at Fashion Weeks and partner with prominent fashion brands.
Nevertheless, the quest to give fashion technology a comprehensive, all-encapsulating definition continues.
Experts’ Views on Fashion Technology
Experts agree that fashion technology is a term that encapsulates the use of emerging tech by the fashion industry:
“Technology could mean a unique and convenient purchase experience. It could mean ways to acquire customers. It could be a distribution channel and a best practice around delivering a product. It could be design or materials science.”
explains Charlie O’Donnell, Founder of Brooklyn Bridge Ventures and VC extraordinaire.
“Technology is all about using scientific knowledge to solve a problem; in fashion, technology covers every imaginable tool that one could use: nanotechnology to improve materials, algorithms to improve online shopping, or augmented reality to advertise and guide customers.”
completes Hilary Peterson, VP of Business Development at Lyst.
“Fashion technology is the space where technology and fashion merge. It is the use of modern technology to create novel ways to shop, market, educate and experience fashion.”
adds Jennifer Margolin, Founder of the Social Edge Summit.
“Fashion technology can be a discipline that teaches students how to use technology in fashion. But, it can also be a company that innovates in fashion by operating in a fashion vertical.”
concludes Rob Sanchez, Founder of the Fashioning Our Industry Conference.
It is safe to say that fashion technology is many things to many people.
Yet, fashion technology will never be an industry replacing the current fashion industry.
And however tricky defining the fashion technology terminology might be, there is no doubt that it is an exciting space for years to come.
Fashion technology interests academia, entrepreneurs, investors, and, most importantly, the next generations of consumers.
Growing up in western PEI, Bruce Knox blends his extensive public health, non-profit, and public sector background with a deep love for innovative technologies to bring people together in healthier communities and environments.