Technological advances in the fashion industry have led to rapid growth of global supply chain networks and the capability to mass-produce garments, revolutionizing consumer access to new clothing, but it has also created another problem. Large scale clothing production has accelerated overconsumption and waste, which is detrimental to the environment. Recent transparency in the industry’s negative environmental impact has led to rising demand for ethical and sustainable fashion, thus creating an opportunity for firms to improve the way we make clothes and meet the growing need for innovation. Technology has allowed the fashion industry to evolve into what it is today and may now be the key to solving the sustainability crisis.
In 1987 the UN defined sustainability as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” Considerable efforts have been put forth to expand sustainability initiatives throughout the fashion supply chain, from circular fashion and predictive analytics to biotech and virtual body measurement apps. Consumers are a huge driving factor of the sustainability movement. In a recent study on online shopping habits conducted by TrueToForm, 40% of participants claimed to be actively mindful of what brands they shop from, opting for non-fast fashion and more sustainable options.
It is estimated that 30% of manufactured goods end up in landfills within months of being produced every year.2 One way to reduce this impact is for companies to implement predictive analytics, which uses artificial and intelligence to analyze data and predict future product performance. Retailers have traditionally relied on intuition or manual methods to estimate demand for new products and trends, which often leads to overstocking and waste. Companies such as Walmart are investing in predictive analytic technology to forecast buying habits under varying circumstances to further understand their customers and their needs. Another influential use case for predictive analytics is how Amazon has implemented machine learning technology to improve their customer experience with informed product recommendations based on customer browsing history. By having an advanced and detailed idea of what their customers are buying in real time, businesses can generate more accurate projections, reducing the risk of overstocking and industrial waste.
Instead of relying on artificial intelligence to improve inventory projections, emerging brands are turning to on-demand and test-based manufacturing practices as an alternative. This marks a departure from traditional methods of ordering large quantities and storing them in warehouses until sold, which can be costly. With the new approach, brands can order smaller units as needed and place big orders only when consumers show strong interest. This approach offers greater flexibility and enables businesses to quickly change orders as market conditions change.
Platforms such as RE(SOURCE) Fashion, a next-generation on-demand manufacturing platform, are reframing production methods to increase product transparency, customer trust, and reduce overproduction for the industry as a whole. They are designed for both emerging fashion brands and existing businesses to simplify the production process and increase efficiency. The company vertically integrates with supply partners, freight forwarders, and brands, allowing for more agile and efficient production processes and data-driven production decisions.
"Fashion brands should be able to launch styles in small batches, test the product, and quickly produce more to restock. Brands can let consumers tell them what they want and leverage an agile supply chain to cater to their needs, instead of predicting what consumers want 6 months ahead. Currently this is not possible for 99% of the brands and RE(SOURCE) is on a mission to enable that for all." - Tatiana Tian, Co-Founder & CEO, RE(SOURCE)
With the help of technology, efforts in sustainability have expanded to include a more circular fashion economy, directly combating the trajectory of manufactured apparel ending up in landfills. The success of resale and rental marketplace models is a direct result of consumers’ growing awareness and demand for more sustainable fashion. Popular resale company ThredUp has made massive investments into their digital infrastructure, with the ability to automate the onboarding of new items and the development of a database used to identify and value items across 100 categories, thus efficiently moving clothes from consumer closet to closet. Estimates project that the resale market is to reach a $36 billion worth by 2024.3 Also entering the circular fashion space are new retail concepts such as British start-up By Rotation, a service that allows their users to rent clothing from each other. Their customers can now have more affordable access to their favorite brands through peer-to-peer lending, allowing for fashionable self-expression while still maintaining conscious consumer habits.
The fashion industry is reported to have contributed 10% of annual global carbon emissions in 2019.4 With the introduction of virtual sampling and 3D modeling, companies are cutting down on this impact. Traditional sampling is beholden to fabric minimums, back and forth communication with manufacturers, as well as overseas shipping for import companies. Fashion brands can now showcase their collections virtually, eliminating sampling waste and the environmental cost of transporting physical goods. By developing virtual samples, fashion brands can also significantly reduce the amount of time that goes into the development process, ensuring products are getting to the customer while they are still in demand.
The introduction of digital avatars is giving consumers new ways to shop. Digital fashion platforms such as Core3D have collaborated with TrueToForm to introduce visual size guides that provide shoppers detailed fit information prior to purchase. TrueToForm's personalized body simulator can also power innovative virtual fitting room solutions to help provide additional fit information to consumers. SEDDI, a web-based simulation platform, works with established and up-and-coming brands and designers to generate accurate digital simulations and renderings of clothing, applying data, physical science, and optical science to accurately simulate textiles and virtual garments. By collaborating with SEDDI, brands and designers can use the software as a tool for developing their product as well as navigating the complex and expensive world of manufacturing.
“The apparel and textile industries can drive top line growth and bottom line savings by adopting accurate digital design processes and engineering simulation. They can start to foster rapid innovation, quicken cycle times, reduce risks, increase quality, and better manage the complexity. Revenue growth comes from launching the right products and executing with faster time to market. Cost savings come from improved product development efficiency, fewer physical samples, reducing overproduction, and fewer returns." - Graham Sullivan, CEO, SEDDI
Now, SEDDI is collaborating with TrueToForm to create a new integrated virtual fitting room experience where consumers will be able to visualize how garments drape on their own TrueToForm avatars.
Fashion is a complex industry that is currently undergoing a fundamental shift. Advances in technology have made it possible to develop the necessary tools such as predictive analytics, on-demand manufacturing, and virtual solutions as a way to offer a more sustainable course of action for reaching consumers and growing their business in today’s tough retail climate.
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