A topic that has been really piquing my interest in the past few months is how the digital revolution transforms every single industry that it touches. A recent case study on Netflix during Friday marketing class showed how Netflix disrupted the broadcasting industry by using the internet to meet consumer demands, do marketing and target niche markets. The music industry had also undergone a complete transformation from the sale of records through record labels to streaming services and public libraries. The culprit? Technology.
Technology is certainly a revolutionary (and prevalent!) force, changing not only the way businesses operate, but also fundamentally modifying our way of life, from the way we communicate to the speed at which we work. It comes as no surprise that my favourite industry (fashion, duh) is not immune to the magic of digitalisation, and wanted to find out more about the current and future impact of technology on fashion and what the industry could do to embrace it.
Interestingly enough, the Business of Fashion came up with a miniseries called “Fashion’s Fourth Industrial Revolution“, and was followed up with videos of #BOFVoices a month or two later, a platform where people from different industries all around the world come together to exchange their insight on fashion. Several articles and videos later, I have formulated a general opinion of what happens when two powerful industries meet.
Internet, Not Digitalisation
A quote that really hit me during my mini-research on this topic was made by Ian Rogers, the Chief Digital Officer of LVMH, in his BOF Voices interview where he said,”the industry should stop using the word digital and replace it with internet”. The idea behind this sentence is that while digital does not really mean anything to the fashion industry, the internet has essentially changed the way people connected with each other and thus transformed culture. I believe that Rogers is telling the people in fashion to not see technology as something separated from fashion, but instead as a natural part of development in the industry and must be integrated, just like how technology has permeated people’s way of living. Those who do not adapt will fall way behind.
New Consumers, New Competition, New Opportunities
As technology becomes increasingly advanced, the world becomes increasingly well-connected and better informed than ever before. Such connectivity has given rise to a few global trends around the world.
Firstly, because of the unlimited space that the internet provides, the playing field for all businesses are leveled, no matter the size. There is a rise of smaller, up and coming brands who have achieved success in taking a portion of the market share from the longer-established MNCs. (Dobbs, 2016) I am not sure whether it is because I am living in Singapore, but it seems like the independent labels from Australia have been really killing their tech game, using digital media to spread their brand names across the globe. Think Sabo Skirt, Zimmerman, Finders Keepers and CMEO Collective. I hardly hear of any independent contemporary brands from the UK or the US purely through social media alone, they are usually combined with fashion shows and huge press releases to get the word out.
The internet has also made the world all-inclusive, which means that designers and fashion companies from all over the world now has a chance to compete against those in the traditional fashion capitals. Lesser known designers from places like Africa, China, India and even Singapore finally has a tool to showcase their work on a bigger, faster scale, without being bound by the limitations of geographical location. The fashion industry would become more competitive than ever before, but having new blood pumped into the industry would provide a fresh, much-needed perspective for other designers and force them to rethink creativity.
On the other hand, global brands no longer has the power to push products or advertise as they see fit, nor is it feasible to keep to the traditional timeline of the fashion process, showing a new season’s catalogue and only letting products hit shelves six months later. Because of the internet, consumers demand information and products at an extremely high speed, and it is the business’s job now to meet those demands that way the customer wants to be served (Rogers, 2016), lest they lose those customers to a quicker, more adaptable brand. In an era where a consumer is bombarded with information from all places, there has never been a more important time for marketing and branding. Global companies have to switch from a mindset of mass marketing to relating to a specific target audience, just like how Netflix did when they produced their own shows.
Fashion is no Longer Enough
After going through interview after interview, article after article, the general consensus I got from all these big industry players and professionals is that the people in fashion has to stop being so narrow-visioned and resistant to change. Before the digital age, the world of fashion was powerful to hold its own. It was enough for insiders to know the industry inside out to succeed. However, times have changed. It is extremely important for everyone in the industry to pay attention and learn about the changes going on in other industries and the impact that it might have on fashion. Tech companies destroy five times the profit that they create whenever they step into another industry. (Dobbs, 2016) Music, mass media, broadcast, and retail are only a few of those industries where technology has wielded its power. The fashion industry is already feeling the effects of tech on media and retail, but there is definitely more to come.
The future of technology would not only stop at the internet. There will be a continuing rise in artificial intelligence that retailers could put to good use. Supply chains would become much more efficient than it already is with real-time data. The design process becomes much faster than before. Businesses could give customers an otherworldly experience by incorporating AR into their brick and motar stores. Online retailers could use the huge amount of data to become even more accurate to what customers want. Even garments will not be spared from the touch of technology. Designers could begin working with material scientists and engineers who produce new materials and fabrics with new capabilities. (Parkes, 2016)
It is time for the long-time fashion industry leaders to stop resisting the inevitable, and stop viewing technology as an enemy or fad. Instead, if the industry is able to open its vision to the world around itself and genuinely learn about other industries, then it could create a much more collaborative inter-industry environment that could bring the fashion world to the next level. If the makeup industry has found so much success because of its embrace of the internet, why can’t the same be so for fashion? Fashion companies should not wait passively for technology to turn the industry upside down, but should understand and integrate it wholeheartedly right from the start with the help of other industry experts.
Sources and Readings:
- Richard Dobbs “No Ordinary Disruption”, BOF Voices
2. Ian Rogers “What Fashion can Learn from Music and Silicon Valley”, BOF Voices
3. Imran Amed, Amanda Parkes, Todd Harple, Alan Marcus “Fashion’s Fourth Industrial Revolution”, BOF Voices
4. Kate Abnett, “The Store of The Future”, BOF
5. 6 Technology Trends that Will Impact the Fashion Industry, Entrepreneur India
6. How Technology is Changing the Luxury Fashion Industry
*I also recommend getting the BOF x McKinsey Fashion Annual Report 2017, it is a really good read!