The Tipping Point for On-Demand Fashion
On-demand fashion continues to grow as consumers increasingly look for personalized and customizable products. In fact, indications show that this is less of a trend than it is a tectonic shift in the way the fashion industry does business, from marketing and design to product development, manufacturing and logistics.
However, the majority of brands have yet to take advantage of what customers are largely saying they want, leaving the door open for forward-thinking brands to innovate and take advantage of this market opportunity and realize value for their bottom line. Added to this is that while the trend is still in an early adoption phase, risk is minimized by the fact that many brands have already taken the leap and are seeing success. Right now, there is a window of opportunity in which brands can still be trailblazers but also have a map for how to make the transition profitably and sustainably.
The time is now for brands to invest in the technology and strategy to get a head start on the future of fashion.
Determining the extent of the change
Because consumers are growing accustomed to personally curated experiences in many aspects of their lives, it’s inevitable that the trend extends to fashion. However, though consumer demand will determine the extent of personalized experiences in the apparel industry, so will the industry’s ability to pivot to technology and processes that empower personalization.
Brands agree that companies will advance from supply-driven chains to demand-driven ones, though rates and degrees vary. The general belief is that, in order to remain competitive, mass customization is necessary for at least certain product categories, with many believing that it will become essential across a company’s product offerings. Fashion decision-makers, in general, were more likely to deem customization necessary and indicated that it would be mainstream in the next two to five years.
Sasha Stasevich, director of operations for Blacksmith International, a sourcing-and-production company, recently said, “I think in two or three years we’ll see the change in [consumers’] preferences and companies able to adapt and thrive on this new model. It’s a matter of how they’re going to implement and how the model will fit into their long-term vision.”
Meeting consumer expectations
Made-to-order products by definition require more time to deliver into shoppers’ hands, so one major consideration is the customer’s willingness to accept the added cost and time. The good news is that shoppers are willing to pay more for products that speak to them personally—to a point.
Apparel companies are still grappling with the challenges related to cost, speed and the complexity of the demand-driven supply chain. The industry has yet to determine how best to retrofit—or build—factories and processes to coexist with their established bulk production, but it is clear that the technology is increasingly there to facilitate the change through integrated software and machinery that speak to each other across the supply chain and offer companies digital transparency throughout the process.
Felipe Caro, professor of decisions, operations and technology management at the University of California, Los Angeles, said, “The demand is there as long as it’s not too expensive and doesn’t take forever. That is the trade-off, which is very hard to overcome because it’s already challenging to produce at a large or medium scale. Doing it on an individual basis, it’s 10 times the challenge.”
Interestingly, decision-makers were more likely to say the onus often falls on manufacturing facilities when change is necessary—and this speaks to the need to partner with the right tech companies to overcome the speed and consistency obstacles in the on-demand model. Many have identified supply-chain partners that are designed to capitalize on this model, and, ultimately, most of the industry recognizes that the widespread adoption of models like mass customization and made-to-measure are a question of when, not a matter of if, especially as on-demand technology allows for a less-wasteful, more-agile supply chain geared for both sustainability and business resilience.
The time is now for fashion brands looking to capitalize on the personalization revolution. The only question for brands then is: When are they going to become willing to seize the opportunity?
Edouard Macquin is the president of Lectra Americas. Lectra, headquartered in France, is a technology company that combines software, cutting equipment, data and services to meet the specific needs of fashion, automotive and furniture companies across the globe.