INDUSTRY FOCUS: TECHNOLOGY
Industry Focus: Technology—By the End of 2021, What Type of Technology Will Make the Largest Impact on the Fashion Industry and How Can Apparel Professionals Prepare?
One of the most important lessons professionals in the fashion industry learned during the past year was the crucial role that technology plays in cultivating an apparel business. From supply chain and sourcing to design, manufacturing and retail, different technologies have helped save businesses in every corner of the industry.
While many businesses that were able to utilize technology to shift their models, offerings and capabilities have survived the yearlong shutdowns due to the COVID-19 pandemic, efforts to repair the damage have only just begun. Continuing to invest in new technologies and remaining current on updates to existing tools are necessary to fortifying businesses in the fashion industry in order to increase their chances for survival.
Approaching the second half of 2021, the work continues as the apparel industry rebuilds. This work requires expert guidance regarding how to choose the appropriate technology to fortify a business. California Apparel News asked apparel-technology experts: By the end of 2021, what type of technology will make the largest impact on the fashion industry and how can apparel professionals prepare?
Sharooz Kohan, Chief Executive Officer, AIMS 360
We are seeing two areas making the largest impact. These two areas are driving increased revenue generation for our AIMS360 clients: 1) order consolidation from multiple wholesale and direct-to-consumer sales channels and 2) intelligence features for processing and shipping the higher volume of orders coming through. Professionals can prepare by working with additional sales channels that can bring them more volume in combination with preparing the internal departments to handle the increased sales volume.
Jason Wang, Chief Operations Officer, Alvanon
Digitalizing workflow can only happen if a company has built an authentic digital garment library of high-quality digital assets. These must contain all of the necessary data, standards and tools required to properly mass-produce a garment.
The first step is to understand, create and define the size and shape standard for a target consumer population. Accurate body standards enable companies to generate a complete range of correctly sized and shaped avatars. These virtual bodies, encompassing all the key measurement data, are the basis of producing a relevant, authentic digital garment.
Authenticity is a key requirement of an authentic digital garment. Fashion professionals across the product life cycle must trust that the digital garment is the same as the physical product. These authentic digital garments can then be confidently and quickly generated and modified in the virtual world before committing to more-costly and wasteful physical samples.
Having an authentic digital garment library of all core products can cut physical sample production by up to 80 percent. This library will become one of the most-important shared assets for any apparel company.
David Collins, General Manager, Avery Dennison Fastener Solutions
The most significant trend during 2021 will be the continuing movement toward sustainable solutions for apparel applications. That’s especially true in the plastic-fastener sector. This year will likely see further implementation of recycled fasteners and the introduction of additional biodegradable solutions. Biodegradable fasteners consist of a plastic that’s been specially processed to break down over time.
In 2020, Avery Dennison Fastener launched a core portfolio of standard and fine-fabric plastic fasteners to help our apparel customers meet their sustainability goals. We plan to expand this portfolio in 2021 by adding new colors and different lengths and widths. Plus, we’ll be adding security ties and specialty ties to our offerings. The number of recycled and biodegradable apparel solutions we offer will continue to grow throughout the year.
Giuseppe Cianci, Chief Operating Officer Bierrebi International
The fashion industry has been going through some very relevant changes that will affect and transform the market forever. Shopping shifting to digital channels and with consumers always being more attentive about fairness, product quality and sustainability—every apparel company must focus on improving and shaping its business models to meet these new trends.
There is not just one technology that will affect this market. Instead, it is important to introduce new tools and strategies across the entire supply chain to innovate all the processes. In the new scenario, it is useful to highlight the main implications of sustainability—not just using, for instance, sustainable or organic materials but mainly implementing sustainable processes throughout all the production phases. This translates into a higher efficiency that decreases consumption and waste.
Bierrebi, through its cutting machines, proposes solutions that help apparel companies to win the digital acceleration and to increase the speed-to-market necessary to meet the new consumers’ needs. Thanks to our innovative cutting technologies, we are able to guarantee a quick return on investment and a very high cutting quality with minimum fabric waste and the lowest consumption.
Dan O’Connell, Co-founder and Chairman, Brandlab Fashion
Gamification encompasses everything from virtual-reality environments to housing 3D digital designs in immersive experiences, so we are working on projects to elevate e-commerce experiences via gamification. With that in mind, the best way for fashion professionals to prepare for this cascading movement is to utilize budgets by investing in 3D assets as part of their art and imagery budgets. That way, companies will have the core assets needed to make the most of virtual-reality showrooms and gamified experiences and be ahead of the game in terms of the impending cultural shift toward gamification.
Michele Salerno, Director of Marketing and Assistant Vice President, Celerant Technology Corp. and CAM Commerce
For fashion retailers, having an all-in-one retail-technology platform will have the biggest impact on their business. As opposed to having disparate systems for point-of-sale, ERP, e-commerce, online marketplaces, even email marketing—having one system, with one database, provides massive efficiencies, resulting in a more unified and streamlined experience for both the merchants and their customers.
Entering product, pricing and promotion data once and having them update immediately on all channels; offering loyalty rewards and gift cards in-store and online with buy-online, same-day pickup in-store or at the curb with text-message alerts; having real-time inventory levels across all channels including marketplaces; sending automated and personalized emails based on triggered workflows are some of the many capabilities of an all-in-one retail system. Most apparel retailers have a point-of-sale or an e-commerce site already, but having all systems on one platform and with one technology vendor to partner with can have a huge impact on a retail business.
At Celerant, we recommend starting in phases. Choose the right technology partner you know can support your business long term and in all aspects, and then start with whichever channel is most important, with plans to phase the rest in. While some retailers have technical teams and can approach all aspects of their project at once, most prefer to transition and focus on one area at a time, adding on as they go. But the most important aspect is to do your due diligence during the research phase and find the right technology partner from the start.
Ryan Teng, Vice President of Business Development CLO Virtual Fashion, LLC
I think the myth that 3D hasn’t begun full adoption into the industry will be busted, which means that designers, tech designers, patternmakers, merchandisers, sales teams, marketing teams all need to look at the ripple effects of using 3D assets throughout the entire fashion industry. For too long this industry has contributed too much waste of not just extra samples and over-creation of items but also waste of time, lack of communication and work. 3D can solve all of these problems, and it will lead to a global communication that will push creativity and innovation forward for years to come.
Paul Magel, President of Business Applications, Computer Generated Solutions
I would say there is no single type of technology that will dominate or have the largest impact on the industry. The disruptive force behind change, growth and innovation in the industry will be the connection of all the disparate parts. From the shop floor to the showroom, there are tons of data points today that are not all connected nor are they being evaluated for efficiencies. The game changers in 2021 and beyond will come from the visibility of a connected supply chain as well as visibility on the demand side.
The technologies that need to be deployed to achieve this fully connected supply chain include application-programming interfaces, platform solutions and robust enterprise resource planning, among others. Once connected, technologies such as machine learning, AI and data-analysis tools will be the most effective in driving efficiencies and visibility to manage compliance and sustainability concerns.
Gilad Zirkel, Chief Technology Officer and Co-founder, Cymbio
For scalable growth, brands must be connected to the retailers that sell to their target market. That is why brands can no longer afford to only sell on one or two retailer websites. Traditional 1:1 integrations are time consuming, and managing daily operations requires hiring an in-house team to manage these processes. This is why 2021 is the year of connected digital commerce and is a critical year for brands to implement drop-ship and marketplace automation. Manual integrations and the daily management of streamlining product data, imagery, mapping, inventory syncing, taxonomy, orders, billing, tracking, returns, reports and more are no longer feasible and scalable for growth. Automation will be a requirement for each and every brand, regardless of size.
It is essential to start mapping the retailers that are a good fit for your brand and find a partner such as Cymbio to manage both marketplace and drop-ship connections using any systems, data formats and e-commerce platforms so that you can onboard with just about any retailer that fits your strategy.
Adele Genoni, Senior Vice President and General Manager, EFI Reggiani
The on-demand Web2Print business model reached new heights and the business model is forecast to become even more prominent in 2021. The empowered consumer is really the architect in every detail, so personalization and customization are the directions early adopters are taking. Digital printing and short processes such as dye-sub and pigment printing are the ideal answers to this trend.
Short processes and sustainable solutions such as EFI Reggiani TERRA pigment—a digital green solution that eliminates the need for steaming or washing on direct-to-textile applications.
Tim Check, Senior Product Manager of Professional Imaging, Epson America Inc.
The print technology most likely to have the largest impact on the fashion industry is dye-sublimation. Digital dye-sublimation technology has a lower barrier to market entry, low operating costs, an extremely wide range of print-compatible fabric options and minimal environmental waste.
Digital dye-sublimation equipment has seen major changes over the past decade, moving from cobbled photo and CAD printers to purpose-built sublimation printers with consistent output and high reliability. The equipment available in 2021 ranges in output volume suitable for sampling all the way to full, high-volume digital production. The cost of equipment has come down along with the operating costs to only be a small portion of the overall cost of the apparel production. As more designers gain experience with digital design and the virtually limitless possibilities of sublimation, I expect to see sublimation have a major impact for years to come.
Consumers are unlikely to differentiate between print methods used to put the design on fabric; however, the fabric plays a major part in the buying decision. The range of sublimation-compatible fabrics is far and wide, including lightweight summer clothing with moisture-management fleece, cold-weather fleece fabrics, silky satin fabrics and much more. Designers have so many fabric options to choose from to make the perfect ensemble.
Dye-sublimation transfer printing of fabric is a waterless process, so it avoids wastewater as well as the cost associated with water treatment. Digital sublimation enables greater utilization of fabric by positioning design elements exactly as intended and grouping fabric parts together to increase yield per yard. This reduces the amount of waste fabrics as well as the cost of production. Fabrics made of recycled content like used water bottles, such as Repreve, have a positive impact on our environment as well as resonate with consumers. Lastly, digital dye-sublimation offers a shorter time-to-market, reducing the need to inventory massive amounts of product and produce only a minimum amount needed at a time.
Overall, the future of fashion apparel will continue to thrive with digital dye-sublimation contributing the largest impact.
Edouard Macquin, President of the Americas, Lectra
Any technology that will disrupt the traditional supply chain and bring consumers and manufacturers closer is likely to have the biggest impact on the industry.
Supply chains include people, processes and technology. Each of these needs to be revisited. For example, next-gen PLM needs to replace legacy systems, new processes need to foster agility and collaboration, and people need to be upskilled to make this happen.
Adoption of innovative digital tools like analytics and trend spotting, 3D, virtual prototyping, material management and the implementation at scale of collaborative processes will be critical assets for a successful transformation. We have to think end-to-end.
Ronen Luzon, Founder, MySizeID
The technology that will make by far the most significant impact on the fashion industry in 2021 is fit tech, both for online and bricks-and-mortar. Fashion retailers have had to learn how to provide a better customer experience online, and many, coming out of lockdown, have focused on a shift toward the digitization of their stores. Sizing is really the only tech that reduces online returns—and, consequently, CO2 emissions—reduces the reliance on fitting rooms, critical in the pandemic, while also boosting conversion rates. It’s a big step forward for consumers and fashion retailers, and it’s more necessary now than ever before.
Mark Burstein, President and Chief Strategy Officer, NGC Software
Solutions providing supply-chain traceability, transparency, sustainability and environmental, social and governance-scoring capabilities and metrics will have the largest impact on the global fashion industry in 2021. Logility released a traceability solution in January that allows our customers to track the chain of custody from cotton farm to finished-goods import, primarily to comply with U.S. Customs requirements that prevent Xinjiang cotton from entering our market.
However, traceability is the foundation for sustainability, which will allow our customers to capture greenhouse-gas emissions, water use and renewable-energy metrics from each production facility and transportation mode to calculate the carbon footprint and other eco metrics for every single item a brand produces. Companies can calculate the environmental impact of their global supply chain, then use artificial-intelligence tools to reduce their impact year over year.
There is also a social-compliance component that verifies commercial-reasonableness compliance for suppliers at every level, preventing forced labor, child labor and unsafe working conditions. It also evaluates the suppliers’ capabilities, determines weekly capacity and assigns a risk level based on a variety of factors. All these functions combine into a measurable ESG score for each brand. Many companies like Nike, Chipotle, Canadian Banks and half of the FTSE 100 are now basing executive compensation on corporate ESG performance. More companies are certain to follow this trend.
Traceability is a component, albeit a very important one, of Logility’s Digital Supply Chain Platform. We are also seeing customers adopt E2E (end-to-end) integrated cloud platforms that capture, consolidate and share enterprise information, both internally and externally, to increase speed-to-market, improve efficiency and make better decisions.
COVID-19 has certainly exposed gaps in supply-chain visibility that became very evident when certain distribution channels shut down while others exploded. Current communication methods that use siloed systems, Excel and email broke down during the early stages of the pandemic, so there is a lot of momentum from leading brands and retailers to rectify this situation and prevent it from happening in the future.
Trevor Sumner, Chief Executive Officer, Perch
Perch anticipates that, as 2021 proceeds, every company will become a tech company and, with that, the technologies that will have the largest impact on the fashion industry are focused on the data that give insight into what’s happening in-store and the platforms that can affect conversion. These are converging with the Internet of Things, which will merge the best of physical and digital shopping together.
The International Data Corporation predicts a 10-fold increase in IoT technology over the next four years. The whole of the physical store will be activated with smart shelves and sensors analyzing not just traffic flow but how shoppers interact with each product; interactive displays will personalize the experience to each shopper and bring the latest tools such as styling advice, virtual try-on and fit analysis; and tablets and voice activation will enable better sales associates and collect sales-conversion data.
Underlying all of this is better infrastructure for managing the distribution of applications to smart devices and 5G internet connecting them all together. And the amount of data generated for retail analytics will be a massive opportunity to provide new insights for improvement, including personalized opportunities to market to shoppers in optimal ways, including after they have left the store.
Henry Ma, Chief Executive Officer, Ricoma International Corporation
For years, the fashion industry has been dominated by the desire for personalization and custom apparel—a demand that continues to be met by garment and textile industry leaders at Ricoma. But meeting that demand wasn’t enough for us. Instead, we chose to exceed it.
Equipped with our most-advanced technology, Ricoma’s new MT-8S is the industry’s first and only 20-needle embroidery machine. With single and multi-head models, this machine is capable of customizing anything from small areas like shirt cuffs and patches to bulkier items including luggage and drapery. The 20 needles allow users to calibrate specific needles for cap embroidery, small lettering and knits to reduce setup time, increase profitability and maximize productivity—all without compromising quality.
This state-of-the-art machine also boasts Wi-Fi connectivity and advanced-network technology, offering apparel professionals the ability to link together stand-alone Ricoma machines as well as store up to 200 designs to increase on-demand flexibility and project versatility.
Larissa Posner, CEO, StyleScan
By the end of 2021, 3D and AR technologies will redefine the consumer experience within the fashion industry, especially within the realm of e-commerce. Consumers have already adopted new digital tools when shopping online: 3D and AR preview have been successfully implemented for makeup and eyewear try-on and furniture where the consumer can place an item right into their own space. The apparel industry is lagging behind when it comes to digital transformation. Luckily, some cool technology startups are emerging and looking for partnerships with established fashion companies in order to help them adopt these new cutting-edge tools.
Irina Kapetanakis, Vice President of Marketing, Suuchi Inc.
Supply-chain-management software will be the technology that revolutionizes the apparel industry in 2021. After a rocky 2020 and the markets beginning to pick up, supply chains need to have a digital backbone that supports end-to-end visibility and the ability to react quickly to any potential changes. Apparel-supply-chain professionals can use this time to start change management and implementation by introducing new, intuitive systems to a small group of key users before a full rollout across the organization.
Ram Sareen, Chief Executive Officer and Founder, Tukatech
Fashion businesses who wish to bring back American or near-shore manufacturing should understand that they will not be able to do so without technology. Between the cost of domestic labor and the wastefulness of product development, the costs are too high to do things the way most fashion businesses have been doing them. Manufacturing will come back to the U.S.A., but it will not look the way it did 50 years ago.
The micro factory, or on-demand manufacturing model, is the way forward for localized manufacturing. In this model, products are made only after they are sold. Until that point, the data for each garment—pattern, sample, marker—are digital. This means there is less waste in product development and zero inventory to dispose of if something doesn’t sell.
Asher Fabric Concepts is a great example of an American company who has used Tukatech technology for laser cutting, automatic fabric spreading and unit production systems for sewing to be able to make small quantities and ship immediately.
Apparel professionals can prepare for this shift by digitizing as much of their process as possible if they haven’t already due to the pandemic. Even just starting with a CAD system is better than continuing to do manual patternmaking, grading or marker making. Once you have that, you can drive a 3D sample-making system or even an automatic cutting machine.
The biggest thing, however, is the change in mindset. There is no going back to the way things used to be because that wasn’t working either! Startups have the biggest advantage because they aren’t weighed down with as much baggage as established businesses.
*Responses have been condensed for space.