Technology is changing the future of fashion. It is creeping into the fashion industry in many forms and at a faster pace as the years go by. It’s changing how fashion is designed and made as well as what it’s made from and how it’s purchased.
Design and production tools, computerised pattern making, 3D printing, purchase platforms, promotional tools, inventory management, material innovation, smart fabrics... the list goes on. Technological influences are occurring at almost every stage along the fashion supply chain and throughout a fashion item’s lifecycle.
The adoption and use of technology is a competitive tool. Brands and retailers with the capital to invest in certain technologies automatically position themselves within a certain market, climbing the ladder of market leadership. Competition in the overall fashion industry is intensified, placing big brands and retailers even more at the forefront of attention.
When you add these technologies into the industry of hand-crafted, artisanal and traditionally influenced fashion, entire new levels of competition are created and levels of market access and consumer awareness are affected. It can be an automatic setback for these small scale brands when they are not able to access these kinds of technologies.
I’ve been exposed to large retailers with access to technology and systems that mean they can operate efficiently, with large reach and ease of access for consumers. I’ve also been exposed to small scale, independent retailers and designers across the world, who operate within an industry that is derived from culturally reflective and hand crafted items. These independent designers and producers handcraft items that are of an exceptional quality, made with unique and specialised materials, produced in conditions that meet labour and safety standards but which ultimately have limited reach due to limited resources and access to different technologies and platforms.
For example, online shopping serves as a critical platform for these remote brands to sell their goods to the world but they are faced with limitations in areas such as website development and maintenance, the cost of shipping and taxes. When things are done small scale; prices are high. Mobile technology; smartphones, apps and social media are amazing platforms for fashion brands and retailers to reach consumers across borders. For large retailers, having the resources, the time, the capital and the knowledge to use these mediums to one’s advantage comes much easier than it does for small scale brands and retailers.
Technology can make a difference though. The Fabric Social, an ethical fashion label produced in India, is cultivating a slow fashion movement and is changing the future of business for suppliers and producers along their supply chain. Through the use of a mobile app, they aim to connect remote producers directly with their market. The app will support artisan, production-based businesses and cooperatives in remote and isolated areas in the North East of India, managing everyday operations, and tracking business growth and development. This use of technology completely changes the landscape of operations and participation for an incredibly remote and very local group of artisans, reaching a level of market participation that may have otherwise been hard to reach.
I would like to raise the question of how independent designers and producers across the globe can compete in a market that is dominated by big players that have access to technologies that others don’t? How can we ensure that culturally influenced and traditionally produced goods remain relevant and accessible in an increasingly tech-influenced fashion industry?
Let’s all have a think about that.