How I know innovation will kill fashion as we know it.
BUSINESS BY ACCIDENT is how I sometimes refer to myself getting involved in the fashion industry. My first company within this industry was co-founded around 2005. With no prior experience or education within fashion, design or the textile industry some friends and I started a playful project, which turned into an award winning fashion brand.
Fast-forward a couple of years and well into the cycles and rhythm of the industry, I started to gain interest for sustainability thinking and the larger changes around the globe. With such an influential and trend directed position in society, how come the fashion industry acts and operates in a seemingly outdated way.
It’s a self proclaimed position on the forefront of trends. Fashion is the never fading pioneer of remixing design from various sources of our society. Among its most powerful strengths is the ability to dictate how we feel. For millions of citizens it is a creative output and a visual way of statement and self-expression. Over the decades fashion has been able to unite people, create bonds, community and taking a stand for noble causes or in politics. The latest would be British designers making fashion statements on Brexit. One could say fashion is a central piece of the DNA we call pop culture. →However the fashion industry has yet to be disrupted.
A worker whose daily wage is kept lower than the cost of your crafted cappuccino manufactures most of the items in our wardrobes. Production of textiles is among the top three polluters of the environment. Brands push consumers to unhealthy buying habits and leave us stuck with overstocked wardrobes. The number of items we own leave us using new clothing as little as 6–7 times, according to a study by the Textile University in Sweden. The International Labor Organization (ILO) estimate that over 170 million children are forced into labor and a substantial part of this number is the textile industry. Consumers are indirectly in an abusive relationship with their fashion brands. Subconsciously we all know this to be true. Nevertheless there is little aid to break the pattern. Pollution, child labor, overconsumption stinks of an industry clearly not fit for the 21 century. Disruption is long overdue in every area of the industry.
This is what will happen over the next 10 years and why change is inevitable.
A large number of the fashion brands you know of today will become irrelevant and cease to exist. A few brands will have to make tough decisions and transition with change. The new frontrunners will be skilled and focused on innovation and networking. They will become the Tesla or Google of the fashion industry, and highly platform based. The new generation of people behind fashion production will utilize 3D and kinematic printing in modern studios for digital fabrication. With the present rate of technological advancement, the next 5 years will provide us with the everyday shirt or dress digitally fabricated, in less than 10 minutes. If you need to alter colour or pattern of your garment, the smart fabric will be able to instantly change according to your flavour, instead of you having to purchase yet another item. The technology for this is already here. Besides the independent startups entering this growing field, giants like Google are seeing innovation plus textile as the future. Why they created the jacquard project to bring smart textiles to another level. According to Dr Ray Kurtzweil, by 2025 we will spend more time with augmented reality, shopping for fashion, and then printing it locally or at home. Technology based companies are an essential foundation in the future of fashion. Out goes sewing machines and in comes artificial intelligence and its buddies.
If today’s brands fight over consumers buying their products the future giants in fashion will instantly connect you with every garment on the planet. You will bypass ownership for accessibility. Creating access will evolve to assume pole position as the new commodity for people and brands. Building wardrobes will fade to the past unless it is built to partner with the on demand of the access revolution
Jason Silva — The on demand revolution (2.44)
As these technical advancements are either here, or being developed rapidly, ask yourself this; who do you suppose will bring these products and fashion services to market? A brand operating based on low cost labor using sewing machines or an innovation driven start up backed by a global community and perhaps crowdfunding?
Innovation waits for no one, yeah no one
You might ask yourself why the established fashion industry simply couldn’t adapt and buy the latest technology and innovation. For large brands money would obviously not be an excuse. The answer lies in habit or culture, which are two areas today’s fashion brands are less likely to change over night.
A key aspect of this perspective (non-changing brands) is to understand that most established organizations within the fashion industry have one primary function. Over time they have optimized to maintain the organizations rhythm of productivity and efficiency. Innovation on the other hand has little to do with productivity or efficiency. Innovation happens from the outside. A great example from another disrupted industry would be AirBnb. None of the founders had a background in hospitality, they entered with an outside perspective. The same goes for the car ride service Uber, who launched based on strategic innovation on a networking platform. It is safe to say Uber’s innovation would never have been initiated from the taxi industry. Once a giant and market leader, DVD renting chain, Blockbuster, was forced to shut down 2010 due to new ways of distributing movies online. What most people don’t know is that Blockbuster several times in the early year of 2000 turned down the opportunity to buy a little company named Netflix. Blockbusters CEO demonstrated considerable short sightedness and clearly underestimating the power of change.
Doing something new always trumps knowing something new
DISRUPTION IS INEVITABLE in all industries and fashion will be no exception. Innovation always stems from taking risks and is essentially practising doing things you have never done before, asking new questions gained from new perspectives. Have you ever heard of a start up with a risk management program, probably not. With large corporations you will find heaps of people assessing risks, and avoiding failure to ensure predictable, reliable, standardized results. This approach happens to be the most efficient approach to stay away from innovation.
For any company in fashion, regardless of size or number of years in business, change must always be seen as opportunity. We all share the common knowledge of today’s fashion industry, as a global polluter, exploiting cheap labor and a driver of unhealthy consumer behavior. However knowledge is not power, it is actually only potential power. It all comes down to action. After all doing something new always trumps knowing something new.
As technology waits for no one I encourage CEO´s, board members and entrepreneurs to try something new. Remember doing old stuff in the future is rarely innovative or successful.
// LINK LIST //
Fashion designers on Brexit (article)
Child labor in textiles (article)
Google’s textile project (text + video)
Who is Ray Kurtzweil? (text)
DIGITAL FABRICATION →3D printing
DIGITAL FABRICATION →4D printing