By Raegan Rubin
A new dawn for digital innovation
Once described as idealistic, digital fashion has since evolved from possible to inevitable to official. In the advent of 2020, switching from the physical to digital mindset has never held such prevalence, for both the brand and the consumer.
Enforced by Covid-19, businesses have exploited the digital experiments of 2019, graduating from the virtual playground to the lucrative realms of direct brand to consumer interaction. We are now experiencing an acceleration in production and marketing innovation and delighting in the sustainability opportunities this has brought.
Currently, small businesses and startups are either being forced out of the global retail sector, have filed for bankruptcy (think of J. Crew and Neimen Marcus) or have seduced customers by complementing nuances of our current situation. Either way, brands have clocked a significant change in consumer behavior, as many demonstrate a growing curiosity and awareness for conscious living.
Fashion innovation and sustainability
It’s no secret that the fashion industry is responsible for a considerable amount of global pollution. According to a 2018 report released by the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, the industry generates 20 percent of global water waste and annually sends 85 percent of textiles — 21 billion tons — to landfills. We have previously talked about finding the balance between fashion and sustainability.
This over consumption appeased the mass of fast fashion, newness-obsessed devotees, who coveted retailers as they pumped out countless collections each year. As demonstrated in the past few months however, social media has scrutinized the ethics and morals of society and forged an intense call for change.
In response, many companies are shifting to more eco-friendly business plans, that use technological innovation to obtain transparency and product traceability. This exemplifies the rise of transparency in the fashion industry that sustainable independent brands and movements such as Fashion Revolution are campaigning for.
The QR code, for example, is a new technology that allows the customer to scan a product’s label with their smartphone and receive information pertaining to its supply chain and care tips that optimize longevity. The Denim Reimagined Project by Hong Cong R Collective, uses this technology to enhance the life of its clothing as well as the ethical experience of the wearer.
“We can’t have a sustainable fashion industry, and work towards improving the industry, unless we can trace and track the supply chain.” -R Collective
From virtual brands such as The Fabricant campaigning against climate change, to the likes of Kering and Yoox Net-a-Porter utilizing AI (artificial intelligence) tech to identify the rise in ethical consumer trends, the digital ecosystem is becoming a vast and varied empire.
The evolution of textiles
Identified as a relevant topic by events such as the 9th Future Fabrics Expo that occurred late January this year, interest in textile innovation has encouraged companies to source and produce alternative fiber and dye sources. The textile company Bolt Threads for example, is a California-based startup who aligns themselves with this ethos by using the weaving method of spider webs to bio-engineer silk proteins into fibers.
Piñatex has been previously used by Puma and the vegan footwear label, Bourgeois Boheme; exemplifying the active shift in sustainable production that large and small companies are making.
3D printing has also proved to be an effective technique of sustainable manufacturing as it eliminates the fabric waste generated from cutting and the chemical dangers of fabric dyeing.
Efficient and intriguing, 3D printing made its mark in 2018, when Adidas collaborated with 3D printer startup Carbon to create its collection of 3D printed midsoles called Futurecraft 4D shoes.
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Digital collections and virtual fittings
The push for the elimination of textile waste has encouraged luxury clothing brands to create digital clothing over physical ones. In 2019 we saw Gucci customers ‘try on’ their Ace sneakers on the AR (augmented reality) app and the clients of San Francisco brand Taylor Stitch pre-ordering digital clothing before they were produced.
Another brand pioneering the digital scene is Carlings, a Scandinavian brand whose digital collection showcases a vibrant exhibition of futuristically curated clothing. Embellished with dystopian jargon and block patterns (that I am personally obsessed with), the designs can also be digitally altered through Instagram AR filters, placing the collection firmly within the personalisation trend.
Designed for the screen, digital clothing has the potential for mass market appeal as it promotes Instagram culture and advocates for sustainable production.
Although in its infancy, digitized luxury goods are predicted to become a new and exciting component of the next decade, with streaming platforms like Facebook and Instagram moving to facilitate live shopping.
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How Covid-19 has accelerated digital fashion
Covid-19 has affected our supply chains, laid waste to many impoverished workers’ lives’ and exposed the sad truth behind the ‘ethical promises’ of now-reforming brands.
Through social media, such issues are under constant scrutiny and open discussions have enforced the global desire to live within an ethically conscious world. Some have risen to the occasion however, and startups are populating the web as the market for reimagining the future of fashion widens.
Instigated by lockdown, high online traffic has opened a direct-to-consumer dialogue which allows brands to expand their reach and acutely assess the needs of their clients.
Campaign videos and live streams are intrinsic elements of this ‘digital strategy,’ as surges in online shopping convolute e-commerce, exacerbate the competitive imperative.
The impact of virtual fashion weeks
As fashion week events are being cancelled, postponed or virtualized, experts are predicting a digital future for fashion shows; revolving around conceptual narration, virtual showrooms and live-streams. As we have seen during June 12th-14th, London Fashion Week has gone entirely digital and opted for a gender agnostic agenda rather than the intended menswear theme.
Caroline Rush, the chief executive of the British Fashion Council, said in a release,
“the current pandemic is leading us all to reflect more poignantly on the society we live in and how we want to live our lives and build businesses when we get through this. The other side of this crisis, we hope, will be about sustainability, creativity, and products that you value, respect, cherish.”
With Paris Fashion Week set to transpire on 9th-13th July and Milan Fashion Week on July 14th- 17th, LFW has paved the way for a new breed of fashion weeks. Rush’s hope is that the digitized week has united designers through online forums and expanded opportunities to “change, collaborate and innovate” multi-culturally.
With digital innovation at the forefront, many are hopeful for a reduction in seasonal runways and continental travel and an increase in thoughtful consumption. Ultimately minimizing fashion’s carbon footprint and material waste and allowing designers to produce conceptual collections unperturbed by excessive deadlines.
A sustainable future for fashion?
Since January the Coronavirus has sent shockwaves throughout the fashion system, as it contemplated changes in production and distribution. A flexible and transient phenomenon however, the industry has emerged as a versatile creature, who is taking steps to acknowledge its environmental and social impact.
The essentialist and thoughtful persona of virtual runways for example, seems to signify a transition within the industry that prioritises quality over quantity.
Aided by digital technology, the slow fashion and sustainable trends that were evolving post Covid-19, have accelerated and brands are adopting a digital business plan that aims to inspire change and look to do more with less.
In addition to the transparency provided by digitization, the circular economy that sustainable communities (and of course the KeiSei team) desire, is thankfully becoming a not-so-distant reality.
Will you join us in welcoming the digital future of fashion? Leave your comments below, and join our newsletter to join the conversation and receieved thoughtful curation of greener fashion brands subscribing to our newsletter here.