Fashion, as we know it today, has a lot of upcoming challenges. Some which already are ongoing, others that start showing their teeth. First come the social ones: how we consume & hence produce fashion today cannot keep going on for ages. Then comes the way the fashion industry is organized today, how it lets new entrants come (or not) and how tech can help a lot of things moving, in the digital age. Changes are coming to all sides of our modern society, and fashion too has its part to play in the world’s third wave revolution. And finally, as part of the genY, I wonder where our place is, in this moving world? What can be changed or has to be changed? What shall we keep? Many questions, for which I believe, Fashion & Technology have some great answers.
Can tech help brands do social good?
I’ve always been interested into learning how things were and are produced. And I’m not alone. According to a Millennial Momentum study, more than 85% of millennials correlate their buying decisions to the responsible efforts a brand is making. They are more willing to recommend a brand to others according to its goals towards doing social good. Wait, why? Why do we, young people, care so much about brands responsibility? Why don’t we continue to consume & consume without asking ourselves questions? Maybe because we care about the world surrounding us. When we came to this world, it was already well damaged by the generations before us. Most of us feel responsible of the world we will leave to the future generations. And fashion has its own responsibilities too.
We all remember, April 2013, Rana Plaza, Bangladesh. A fire in a garment factory led to the death of 1.135 peoples, more than 2.000 wounded. While textile exports represent 75% of the country’s trade, it raises the question of our responsibility, as western consumers, in this drama. When we think about it, it makes sense: how can we possibly buy clothes for a few coins? How are the people who work on these clothes treated? This has to change. Consumers have more and more power to influence brands, thanks to social networks – which brought a possible dialogue between brands and their clients.
And some companies smartly use tech to help them do social good. Warby Parker is one of them. The eyewear designer has a socially conscious business model. When technology helps stores collect smart data (from sensors & wi-fi) to increase business intelligence (especially effective when employed in combination with the online shopping data coming from the brand loyalty). What really is remarkable from this company is its business model: for each pair of glasses bought, a pair will go to a person in need (thanks to VisionSpring) – knowing that, customers are more likely to share their data with the company in the first place. Because the company stays ethical, right down to the coding, they have an active open source program, giving away quite a lot of the software that’s created in house. As CEO Dave told The Huffington Post, “Technology is the backbone behind everything we do as a company.”
Or Raven + Lily, the Austin-based company creates ethical fashion and lifestyle products with the mission of empowering women through design. Each of Kirsten Dickerson and Sophia Lin’s collections, dedicated to fair trade and eco-friendly designs, refers to a particular country and cause: for example the statement jewelry of the Ethipia Collection empowers HIV & women in Ethiopia, while the Kenya Collection’s intricately handbeaded jewellery assists Maasai women from the Esiteti community to eradicate FGM and send girls to school. Fashion has to change, and these examples prove that tech can help it to.
Renewal of fashion, where is the innovation?
Luxury brands cultivate their crafting savoir-faire and set their places in the tradition of Couture, buying workshops to acquire specific craftmanship skills. Beyond manufacturing, technology has been considered (and still is somehow) as a threat, or simply inadequate when distributing luxury and fashion goods on the Internet: counterfeit risks, the powerty of the Internet media to show and pinfall fabrics properly or even the pleasure of buying being denatured are the sceptikals main arguments.
Yet, in many ways and for decades, technology has been standing at the heart of innovation in fashion & luxury. During the 20th century, notably since the mid-60s, fashion has gone from custom-made & couture to mass production and prêt-à-porter. This has only been made possible thanks to the development of machines and technologies, allowing a great precision in cutting and the diffusion of a common culture & language to brands and their multiple subcontractors. Some fashion Maisons, Balenciaga or Courrèges, notably avant-garde, recognized quite early that prêt-à-porter can be done better than Couture. Lectra, world leader in integrated tech solutions for industries using soft materials, played a key role in this development process. The company helped developping a common language between actors of the value chain, as well as technologies such as ultra high tech cutting machines, Computer Aided Design/Manufacture softwares, smart services and other PLM tools (Product Lifecycle Management).
Back to today, when we just saw Apple recruiting top management leaders from Burberry and YSL, there is no doubt that fashion & luxury are soils of innovation, going way beyond the industries and placing the technology at heart. Even if all fashion and luxury brands don’t seem to go for it, some of the most prestigious Maisons have already crossed the line between fashion & technology. Dior using technologic innovations to optain unsurpassed finesse embroidery, or Iris Van Herpen collaborating with 3D printing companies… are only a few examples of how tech can help and sublimate creation in fashion.
A new generation looking out of place
Millennials are the next generation. Every brand will soon rely on them to be customers, and every company will soon rely on them to be employees. We are so far the most diverse, thanks to our global world, and educated generation (40% are in college). We think about our future and mostly about the future of our planet. Sometimes we also think too much, and likely are unhappy. But our generation is also a generation of doers. More than 70% of us want to start a business. But we want to do it differently. Last decades have shown us how thinking only about profitability cannot rhyme with a responsible future. We want capitalism-with-a-conscience. Fashion, and hence luxury industries can no longer afford to ignore the trend towards social good models. But social good is not necessarily boring.
One of the greatest generational phenomenon, showcased by Virgil Abloh from Off-White, interviewed by the New York Times in late November, is the “post-Tumblr generation”. 15 to 35-years-old young people using their digital knowledge to invent & reinvent fashion, out of its known circuits. Personnalized, nerdy, without any limite of reference or gender. A new fashion subculture, saying much about our generation’s relationship with itself and to consumption. We are fashion zappers, we live in a world where information goes at the speed of light. We hear something, then we see something and forget what we just heared. It’s part of who we are, and it gives us the ability to go from Warhol’s wikipedia page to the latest news about Queen B. Mixing references, being plural. The idea is to affirm our creativity as well as our “cross” side: cross-gender, cross-country, cross-culture… We, as a generation, don’t want to be designed as such. We are a multiplicity of human beings, having swallowed thousands of cultures. And we have a lot of hopes in what technology can help us bring to a better world.