Reinventing Fashion … How technology is enabling radical innovation in the way fashion is designed, bought and worn

July 31, 2018

Fashion retailers are under pressure. Many physical retailers, such as H&M and Zara have seen their sales decimated by the growth of online competitors like Asos and Zalando, who themselves are struggling to reach the expectations of investors. The fast fashion retail models pioneered by the likes of Inditex, has now created a new normal in terms of consumer expectations and behaviours that are difficult to meet.

Innovation has largely not kept pace with consumer behaviour, in a world of mobile-centric millennial consumers, where their aspirations are global, their choice is diverse, their influence is communal, and their patience is zero. Amazon has launched many private labels, H&M tried celebrity-designed ranges, Uniqlo invested in vending machines, Nike went for vast indoor experiences, Supreme became the ultra-hyped drop brand, and Depop is the new normal for reselling and vintage hunting.

Of all the trends influencing retail, personalisation – in the forms of customised products, personalised service, local engagement, personal shoppers and predicted curation – is perhaps the biggest trend for fashion retailers right now. In order to achieve that some retailers are using technologies such as AI and 3d printing, some are using expert staff and local kiosking, some are using data to build more sophisticated interplay between different channels.

Here are some of the most recent examples of fashion retail innovations:

Alibaba’s FashionAI with Guess

Alibaba’s New Retail concept seeks to rethink the entire retail experience, physical and digital, enabled by next generation technologies. This week the Chinese tech giant launched its first “FashionAI” concept store enabled by artificial intelligence. The Hong Kong store showcases Guess apparel through innovations such as smart mirrors, which display product information on a nearby screen when shoppers are touching or picking up a garment. The smart mirror also makes mix-and-match recommendations and points to where the suggested items can be found in the store. It also uses machine learning to computer vision to “learn” from consumers, designers and fashion aficionados within the e-commerce giant’s ecosystem. These insights include images of more than 500,000 outfits put together by stylists on  its Taobao platform.

Adidas Berlin travel pass

Berlin transit authority BVG’s unusual collaboration with Adidas Originals – limited edition sneakers with a built-in BVG season travel pass. As such the wearer (as long as they are wearing the pair of sneakers at the time) will get free travel around the entire city on trams, buses, ferries and subways for the year. Although the shoes were quite highly priced at €180, the value of the annual travel pass is €728 which means they offer the owner a significant saving. Limited to 500 pairs, the shoes continue the BVG link in their design by mimicking the seat upholstery design used on the company’s train seats.

Amazon Echo Look gets stylish

Amazon Echo Look’s screen and camera functionality is being put to good use by fashion publications Vogue and GQ. Customers can use the device’s AI stylist to get style suggestions from the magazines by uploading photos from their smartphone. The magazines will also host weekly content on the Echo Look app’s home screen with the ability for customers to click through and buy items. Although Amazon says Vogue and GQ don’t get a cut from any purchases made, it’s the sort of collaboration that you could add such an element to.

Columbia Sportswear’s Azure cloud

Columbia Sportswear has collaborated with Microsoft to offer a better customer experience. The company uses Microsoft’s Dynamics 365 and Azure cloud services to get insights into how customers respond to products – regardless of the channel used. This then helps Columbia Sportswear to personalise the experience. The technology is also used to improve merchandise management by offering better reporting and analysis.

H&M’s Afound discount marketplace

H&M is extending to discount fashion with its new marketplace Afound. Significantly, H&M will allow other fashion labels to be sold on Afound. And of course H&M will use it sell its own unsold inventory. The marketplace will be accessible online and through a physical store in Sweden. The aim is to present a mix of brands at different price points. Similarly, Inditex’s remainder products are sold through a separate brand Lefties in which own brand labels are changed from Zara or Mango to Lefties.

LVMH 24sevres multi-brand store

LVMH’s first ecommerce project is 24servres.com, which is a digital realisation of the Le Bon Marche store in Paris. The idea is to extend the physical experience to customers all around the world, including recreating the store’s famous window displays. LVMH also believes that its curated experience is what sets it apart with the brand taking an editorial approach to merchandising the site’s inventory.

Miquela, the digital influencer

Miquela Sousa is a 19 year old LA-based model and influencer. So far, so normal. But Sousa is actually a computer-generated figure – and no-one knows who is actually behind her. Still, she has more than 899,000 Instagram followers and fills her feed with images of outfits from brands such as Chanel, Supreme and Vans.

Net a Porter’s intelligent shopper

Luxury online retailer Net a Porter has invested £442 million in technology and personalisation. A robot selects clothes for customers based on their future plans, for example a planned vacation. The system uses AI to offer the personalised service. Net a Porter has also developed another tool that uses AI to put together outfits based on other items a customer has selected.

Nike’s superfast customisation

The Nike By You studio in New York lets customers customise a pair of trainers in less than 90 minutes. Known as the Nike Makers’ Experience, the process involves a series of graphic options and patterns, plus colour and size options, to create a design that’s unique to the customer. The experience uses a special model of trainer, the Nike Presto X, which was specifically created for it. Currently the Nike Makers’ Experience is invitation only.

Nordstrom’s local advisory stores

US department store Nordstrom’s new retail model is very different to its existing store proposition. The new concept deconstructs the department store into smaller, targeted spaces. The first of these is Nordstrom Local, which is a clothing store that stocks no clothes. Instead the small space has a stylish suite and dressing room with personal stylists ordering in products for customers to try. If they want to buy anything it will be shipped to their home. The space also offers alterations and tailoring.

Orchard Mile’s personalised ‘shopping street’

It’s been a slow process but more and more luxury brands are online, whether via their own initiatives or platforms like Net-a-Porter and Farfetch. One company changing how customers shop for these brands is Orchard Mile which lets customers create their own ‘shopping street’. The customer pick their favourite brands to populate the street, They can then click on them and go to a customised website featuring the designer’s entire collection. The goal is to make the experience akin to walking into the brand’s shop.

Start Today’s ZOZOsuit

The US subsidiary of Japanese fashion brand Start Today is aiming to change the way we buy online with its new at-home measurement device. The ZOZOsuit is an enhanced suit that uses sensor technology to capture 15,000 measurements from all over the wearer’s body. The data is then sent by bluetooth to the accompanying ZOZO app. Customers can then shop Start Today’s products and get recommendations on what will fit based on their exact measurements.

Stitch Fix intelligent box

Stitch Fix is using artificial intelligence to take the effort out of finding new clothes. Rather than the customer going from store-to-store browsing, the company uses a mix of human personal styling and AI to find and send products directly to customers. It uses customer data to find the products it thinks the individual will like. The AI is constantly learning based on what the customer returns and keeps, which means its recommendation get better and more personalised over time.

Tie Bar’s data-gathering stores

Menswear brand The Tie Bar started as an online store, but has since moved into physical retail. Notably the company started with pop–up stores, but found they were turning a profit so converted them into permanent stores. However they don’t operate in isolation. The Tie Bar uses the stores to improve its online offering by testing out new products and uses learnings from customers’ in-store stylist sessions to improve its online equivalent. The Tie Bar also uses online data about where its customers live and what they buy to decide where to open new stores.

Untuckit’s RFID merchandise

Casual men’s apparel retailer Untuckit is piloting the use of RFID in its Fifth Avenue store. The company will use the tech to track inventory and see which items are selling best. They can then use this to optimise inventory in real-time. Just as importantly the RFID will show which sizes and styles have low demand enabling Untuckit to remove or improve them. The store can also track staff and shoppers around the store to better understand journeys.

Viktor & Rolf and Zalando’s recycled collection

Zalando has linked up with fashion designers Viktor & Rolf to create a collection focused around using recycled materials to make handcrafted garments. Called RE:CYCLE, the new collection consists of 17 pieces of womenswear. The materials come from Zalando’s overstock fabrics, while Viktor & Rolf manage the design. The collection is deliberately priced to be accessible with the idea being that it’s a viable alternative to a customer’s usual purchases.

Wardrobe’s direct-to-consumer luxury 

Wardrobe.nyc is a luxury direct-to-consumer fashion label from designers Josh Goot and Christine Centenera. The brand sells clothes as ‘wardrobes’ with customers having the choice or four or eight seasonal essentials costing £1,104 and £2,208 respectively. Catering for both men and women it’s an interesting look at where luxury fashion could go in the future by offering high quality products, curated into capsule wardrobes at a lower price.

Zara self-service kiosks

With click-and-collect a well-established part of the retail mix some brands are looking at ways to improve the process. Zara is one of these. It’s testing self-service ‘pickup towers’ in-store which can hold up to 4,000 packages. Customers can use them to retrieve their online orders by scanning a barcode on their phone. The machine then locates and retrieves the package in just a few seconds. Given that most retailers’ click-and-collect services requires customers to queue up at a desk or till to get their items, this technology is a win-win. It makes the process faster for customers and frees up staff to do more important tasks.

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