Techstyler’s Take: In answering this question we need to look at how prepared the global governments and organisations were. The daily changes in government guidelines across Europe, Asia and the US and changing responses to the growth of the pandemic indicate that the scale of the challenge is unprecedented, making it difficult to prepare for. BBC news is doing a thorough job of releasing up-to-the-minute news on the pandemic as it unfolds around the globe.
Photo by Flaunter.com
In terms of the creative industries’ preparation, this is difficult to gather data and insights on at this very moment, as much of the information is subjective and anecdotal. However, it is clear that the creative industries operate on a largely freelance ‘gig economy’ basis in the UK, making creative industry workers particularly vulnerable to loss of income. Today, the UK government announced that financial support for the self-employed is coming in a matter of days. In his address, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, went on to say that the issue was “incredibly complicated” and admitted that it was “proving problematic”, causing our optimism at this promise to dwindle. Additionally, creative industries rely on events, retail spaces, museums, galleries and other gig and social venues to function, and these are being shut down in many countries in an effort to stem the spread of coronavirus.
Focusing on the fashion industry specifically, it is being hit at both the retail end (with store closures and a downturn in desire to shop for non-essential items) and the supply chain (where garment factories are already suffering cancelled orders, with workers facing a sudden and total loss of income with no safety net).
Photo by Carl Nenzen Loven
What this highlights is the areas of the fashion system that are most vulnerable and most in need of radical change – the seasonal, speculative orders being one (as they are now being cancelled or suspended and are crippling factories), and the need for digital solutions to reduce risk and the vulnerability of suppliers, compared to the brands that order from them. Digital solutions allow real time manufacturing based on demand, so that risky speculative orders are avoided.
Details of government support in the UK can be found here: BBC and Gov
Details of leading medical advice can be found here: WHO
I love to talk, so it was fortuitous that the WGSN Futures event unravelled like a long and broad conversation spanning fashion, millennials, shopping on and off-line, social media influencers, artificial intelligence, robotics and big data. I could only have been more comfortable if in an armchair.
Vanessa Belleau talks to Rita Konig of the New York Times T Magazine about the future of our homes in a tech-driven world
Day one was a warm-up in the form of visualising 2030 via the rock star delivery of Nils Müller, Founder of TrendOne. When was the last time an artificial intelligence-enabled Barbie was whipped out at a conference you attended? Barbie muffed up – so far, so 2016 – but Nils did successfully take us to the future and beyond via the Bjorn Borg fashion game ‘First Person Lover’ and Amazon Echo, where the human-tech conversation is firmly two way. Nils set the tone for our digital lives in 2030, describing digital interfaces that overlay the physical landscape like a fog, where technology is seamlessly integrated and communicates with us intelligently and conversationally. There won’t be a distinction between what is online and offline in this seamlessly connected, Internet of Things world.
A point made very strongly that is resonating long after the closure of Day one is Marc Schumacher of Liganova’s assertion that luxury fashion brands must collaborate with outside creatives to enrich their in-store experiences and remain relevant, or they’ll die. His response to a question to this effect from a Richemont employee was ‘adapt and become more transparent – luxury brands should no longer operate with a ‘closed shop’ approach.’ Another surprising snippet: 66% of brands are currently stagnant or in decline. Yikes!
Peter Jeun Ho Tsang’s Dandy Lab tackles integration of tech into physical stores with NFC scanning to find out product and brand information and a downloadable app for purchasing clothes without staff intervention, allowing customers to pay without visiting the tills. He mentions the phenomenon of Innovation Fear Factor, which describes the reluctance to integrate tech that has a proven positive impact on customer satisfaction and business success purely because of fear of change. The message I’m hearing is ‘You snooze you loose’.
Add to this conquering the final frontier – outer space – mentioned in a handful of talks throughout the two days and by the close of day two it was easy to see how artificial intelligence and an automated, digital and seamlessly connected world is forming quickly around us. We know how quickly the technology for powering space travel is developing through the space programs of Google, Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic so it’s perfectly realistic to predict holidays in space in 2030. Ibiza?! Pfft. That then poses the question, what will we wear? Enter a new market for fashion/tech/performance clothing in space. This ties in nicely with my concurrent post ‘Couture in Orbit’, demonstrating the ESA, Science Museum and European fashion Institutions’ commitment to fostering conversation and experimentation with concepts of fashion in space, but more on that later.
Back to WGSN Futures. Also inspiring was Blingby – a platform that offers up the online purchase of products and services seen in music videos. Love the Taylor Swift ‘Wildest Dreams’ video shot in Botswana? Book the same resort she filmed the video in (whilst watching it) on Blingby. The evangelical founder, Marcia Favale, was captivating and savvy, deftly batting away my probing question about whether they use cognitive algorithms in their platform.
One of the interesting revelations of the day was the heavy-weight fashion panel diverting away from what they deem to be an irrelevant discussion about whether brands show their collections on the mens or womens’ fashion schedule, or together, or at all, in fact. The ‘see now, buy now’ model mooted as revolutionary when Burberry announced it several months ago was dismissed by the panel as unlikely to make great shakes in the way buyers place orders and the product life cycle. A greater problem, according to Erin Mullaney (who incidentally was the first buyer to stock Brooke Roberts knitwear, at Browns) is that the timing of product is wrong for the seasons. The product life cycle is too short, with summer clothes arriving in store during the coldest months and vice versa. Menswear designer Lou Dalton explained that her collections have become transitional and the seasonal difference in fabric weight is no longer relevant in a global market.
I posed the panel a question asking their opinion of the current wave of Fashion Tech and whether they think it offers great opportunities and exciting products or just gimmicks. Clara Mercer’s take was that digital had enabled new presentation platforms, but that streaming may not be the show format saviour it was originally thought to be. Erin Mullaney mentions product and cites Unmade’s customisable knitwear as an example of great Fashion Tech, which plays into consumer desire for personalised product. The appetite for such product is expected to increase as consumers seek to differentiate themselves from an increasingly homogenised product (and content) offering.
As a fashion designer, reflecting on these upcoming changes there’s a definite air of disruption on the horizon. We’re seeing the greatest shift our industry has ever seen, said Simon Chambers of model agency Storm, which now has a social media influencers division ‘Storm Vision‘ to reflect the demand for curated and personal content spurred by the digital revolution.