In this article, Tech Couture will cover some of the key trends that are shaping the fashion industry. Exploring these trends was a particularly interesting and rewarding exercise as the industry has traditionally been a laggard when it came to technological adoption, but is slowly waking up to the importance of providing a better experience to consumers who are increasingly digitally-savvy, impatient and mindful of their impact.
Hyper-customization – tailoring fashion to you
The fashion industry has been moving towards a one-size-fits-all approach for far too long. Customers nowadays are looking for ways to embrace their individuality and identify with brands that promote all aspects of diversity in teams, in their products and on runways and showrooms.
For example, we talked with perfume expert and entrepreneur Johanna Monange (link) who told us about her journey building Maison 21G, the first haute couture perfumery that empowers customers to blend their very own perfume and find the right scent for them (and their homes) using only clean, vegan and sustainable products. Maison21G has been experiencing tremendous success as customers around the world look for personalized shopping experiences and services.
Digital fashion – the next frontier
We also had immensely insightful discussions on the role that digital fashion will play for the industry in the near future. We expect the Metaverse to be an always-on, real-time world in which an unlimited number of people can participate at the same time. It will have a fully functioning economy and span the physical and digital worlds.
Data also supports this thesis – Shopify shows that websites that had AR assisted selling, had 96-200% greater adoption and 50% lower returns as compared to businesses that hadn’t adopted these technologies. The use case clearly exists, and the ecosystem is getting ready for this shift. Companies that have not started to adopt such technologies are already behind.
Positioning itself as the architect of this creative Metaverse, is one of the most ambitious start-ups out there, LUKSO (link). LUKSO is a blockchain infrastructure, providing a series of standards and solutions that will enable a new economy based on Cultural Currencies, Digital Certificates and Universal Public Profiles. Marjorie Hernandez, LUKSO’s CEO & co-founder gave us unique insight into how the boundaries between the physical and digital spheres of creative expression are melding. We expect the growing interest in digital expression via personal avatars, digital collectibles, and virtual representations in social media, VR spaces and online games to create an array of new socio-creative economies.
On a more practical level, given the imminent need for increased digitalization in the virtual and physical fashion spheres, we browsed existing solutions. Among others, we met with Salvador Nissi Vilcovsky, CEO of MemoMi Labs Inc (link). The company is the market leader in AR retail solutions and has developed the world’s most advanced smart mirror technology, revolutionizing the way consumers shop. MemoMi’s solutions (and similarly digitally-enabling solutions) have seen adoption rise among powerhouse customers who are prioritizing ways to successfully implement “phy-gital” retail to improve customer experience and get ready for future trends, such as the rise of wearable tech and smart glasses.
Focus on sustainability at all levels of the supply chain
Another key theme we explored was sustainability in the fashion industry. Indeed, key players are starting to realize that fast fashion comes at an astonishing environmental and social cost. While the impacts of the fashion industry in terms of pollution, water use, carbon emissions, human rights, and gender inequality are becoming more and more known, the need for a shift to sustainable fashion is evident and consumers, traditional fashion players and startups are joining efforts to address the issue.
Among these players, we talked with INSEADer Gergana Damyanova (MBA ’19J), co-founder and CEO at blonde gone rogue (link), a digitally-native, sustainable fashion women’s and menswear brand that uses recycled, waste and organic materials to create the coolest and most colorful pieces. Like other rising brands, blonde gone rogue is focused on positive impact initiatives and continues to challenge itself to find the most sustainable materials, including upcycled materials sourced from waste products in textile factories.
In addition, as more and more brands continue to try to improve their environmental footprint, there is a rising need for one-stop shops that can educate consumers and help them make better choices. We talked with Thomas Ebélé, co-founder of SloWeAre (link), a French certification organization that provides its label to fashion brands that are committed to an eco-responsible approach. Through its thorough qualitative audit process, based on the UN’s sustainable development goals, SloWeAre certifies brands that have embraced sustainability and respect for people and the environment and educates its community of followers on positive fashion habits & behaviors.
These conversations also reinforced our belief in the need for each one of us to participate in the sustainable fashion revolution by educating, and thus, influencing our networks into adopting better practices.
Breaking the industry down with experts
Finally, to get a broader sense of the ecosystem, we looked for high-level conversations with FashionTech experts with the ability to aggregate data across different trends and evaluate startups with a more objective eye.
Amongst others, we had a great chat with Fabrice Jonas, founder at Myfashiontech (link), one of France’s leading fashion consultancies that bridges the gap between #techfirms and traditional fashion & luxury companies, particularly in the French market. Fabrice sees two most disruptive innovations as incorporating sustainable practices within supply chains and production processes and the gamification of the shopping experience on social platforms (Instagram, Snapchat, etc…), which is driving behavioral changes within the consumer base that luxury & fashion companies need to adapt to
We also set up an incredibly charged conversation with Matthew Drinkwater (link), a thought leader and powerhouse leading technology exploration practice at the Fashion Innovation Agency, with a remit to demonstrate how technologies can change the way that fashion brands and retailers make, show and sell their collections. Some key takeaways include:
- The fashion industry has a unique challenge in that the innovators are not coming from the industry. Matthew expects that if the fashion giants can’t innovate there will be a shift in the next generation of mega players 50-100 years from now. COVID19 accelerated some of that change, with laggards essentially shutting down.
- There will be a “democratization” of FashionTech tools for brands and retailers. It will be developer-led at first but hardware companies will eventually become the real enablers for adoption
Finally, it was a must for us to get the perspective of one of the industry’s powerhouse customers regarding their thought process with respect to the adoption of technology and key trends. To that effect, we had a very insightful conversation with Laetitia de Mailly Nesle, Connected Retail Marketing Manager at Ralph Lauren (link). Laetitia echoed what most startups told us in that the luxury industry is finally ready for true digitization, with brands looking for innovation in all processes, including design, supply chain and customer experience. Again in line with what we thought, key areas that they’re looking into include:
- Sustainability with a push and pull dynamic: consumers are asking for it and regulators want measures to be implemented, but a real ecosystem disruption will take time as price & branding continue to be top-of-mind concerns for consumers
- AR/VR tech with initiatives such as #3D store renderings, virtual fittings and product visualization
- NFTs and virtual fashion, which, while still nascent, will be instrumental in the future as social and gaming platforms and will become major channels for the consumption of fashion goods
With that, we’d like to reiterate our immense gratitude to the Digital Center at INSEAD, the SSUP Team and our great mentor, Katia Kachan. We definitely weren’t expecting the tour to be this enriching and could not be more excited to apply our learnings during our year at INSEAD and in our future careers!