While it is difficult to predict the future, one thing is clear: the fashion industry is rapidly evolving, particularly when it comes to customer expectations and the emerging possibilities that come with new technology. Tech is influencing all areas of fashion, from the design process to the moment a piece gets in the hands of the consumer. In terms of customers, they want access to new trends quickly and, most of the time, they don’t want to have to step out their front door to get it. These major factors are shaping the future of the fashion industry in ways that were unimaginable just a few decades ago. While there is a lot that will continue to evolve in the years to come, these are some of the most notable innovations and fashion industry trends that have already begun to influence the fashion world.
Consumer Demands for Instant Gratification
Across all industries, the consumers of today are much different than they were just a few years ago – and they will continue to evolve. Consumers are driven by a desire for instant gratification. Any company that can’t meet those demands will eventually fail, and that will continue to become even more true in the future of the fashion industry.
Fashion customers are no longer willing to wait for certain trends to hit the shelves. Once they see something on the runway, they want to head to their favorite store or hop online to add the piece to their wardrobe. Many big brands have caught onto this need for “fast fashion”, and have created their design process and supply chain systems to meet this demand. They are better prepared to spot trends and quickly work them through the system so that they can find their way into the hands of the consumers when they want them. Many higher-end brands are now finding ways to compete with this fast fashion model by closing the time gap between runway and release. This fast fashion demand will continue to take over fashion industry trends.
Change of the “Seasons” Mentality
The fashion seasons system has been a staple of the industry for decades. Traditionally, you would see the fall and winter looks on the runway in February, and the spring and summer looks on the runways in the fall. However, the future of the fashion industry won’t be centered around this seasonal system. This is largely due to the rise of fast fashion and consumer demands. Fast fashion brands are now focused on micro-seasons throughout the year. They continuously pump out new designs, feeding the needs of customers who want to stay on trend and access new, constantly evolving fashion designs.
More Environmentally and Ethically Conscious Consumers
While the instant gratification of fast fashion has become a high priority for consumers over the years, there is also an increasing desire for more sustainable and ethical fashion – which can clash with the systems of fast fashion. Fast fashion production systems often function on less-than admirable work standards with low-wage positions for lower level employees. Fast fashion also creates a lot of waste – lower-quality garments have a shorter lifespan, and quick production speeds lead to more unused textile waste. In 2013, 15.1 millions tons of textile waste was created, much of which releases methane into the environment.
These values are particularly important among younger consumers who will continue to shape the future of the fashion industry. According to a survey of US millennials, 75% said that they would either definitely or likely change their consumption habits to reduce their impact on the environment. On top of that, 83% said that it was important to them that companies implemented programs that improved the environment.
While customers want access to trends as they hit the runway, they also want to ensure the clothing they are wearing has been produced and sourced in a sustainable and ethical manner. In the future of the fashion industry, companies will have to continue to find ways to bridge these gaps in order to meet the complex but important standards set by socially and environmentally conscious customers.
Using Artificial Intelligence to Predict Trends and Reduce Return Rates
Artificial intelligence will continue to be used as a part of the design process in the future of fashion design. Using data collected from customer buying habits, companies have started to use artificial intelligence technology to take this data and predict fashion industry trends. This helps companies more accurately hit the mark when it comes to releasing new designs. They can be more confident that they will be putting out pieces that customers will actually be seeking out for their own closet. Artificial intelligence will continue to become more sophisticated over time, using data to better understand customer needs and habits, and in turn inform the company on the optimal next steps to take.
In addition to predicting trends, artificial intelligence may be a useful tool for reducing return rates. In a 2018 survey, 41% of consumers stated that, when online shopping, they buy multiple variations of a product and then return what doesn’t work. Additionally, 42% of respondents reported that they had returned a product purchased online in the last six months. In the future, artificial intelligence could potentially reduce returns by using data to connect customers with products they are more likely to keep.
Emergence of Automated Technology in Manufacturing
Automated technology has become a major resource in many industries, and it is just as valuable for fashion industry warehouses. For example, currently in warehouses, many brands use automated storage and retrieval systems to help locate and acquire inventory. In the future of the fashion industry, however, automated technology will move beyond just the warehouse. Garment cutting and sewing robot technology will become more sophisticated, and will be better equipped to handle the needs of the manufacturing of quality fashion pieces. This type of technology can limit human error and speed up the production process, benefiting companies in the long run.
Implementation of Innovative Inventory Technology for Better Transparency and Tracking
The future of fashion technology doesn’t stop there. More and more often, companies across industries rely on innovative technology in order to track inventory as it moves in and out of the warehouse, and more accurately and quickly gather data. This includes radio frequency identification technology (RFID), hands-free devices (such as wrist scanners and voice picking systems), and cloud-based software. As this technology continues to evolve and new software and hardware emerges, companies will be better equipped to gather data, workers will be able to finish their tasks much more efficiently, and management staff members will have a much more comprehensive view of the entire supply chain.
Blockchain technology is another piece of the puzzle that will allow for greater transparency when it comes to company practices. Future fashion technology will include giving each manufactured piece a digital identification. With this identification, both companies and consumers can view the history of a garment, from sourcing the fabric to the final release on store shelves. This will hold companies accountable for maintaining high ethical standards along the entire production and distribution process.
Continued Evolution of Distribution
Traditional retail stores no longer dominate consumer shopping habits. In 2018, it was reported that, among internet users, 57% had purchased fashion-related products online – making fashion the most popular online shopping category. Additionally, fashion e-commerce rates have steadily increased since 2003, and are expected to continue growing in the future. Physical retail locations have felt the effect of this shift. Over 5,994 retail stores closed in 2018.
In order to keep up with this evolution, companies have needed to assess their distribution strategies – and will continue to do so in the future as consumers increasingly turn to online shopping and brick-and-mortar stores become increasingly obsolete.
Direct to consumer brands have become incredibly popular, using the power of the internet and social media marketing as tools to connect with customers who are constantly online. This system is also incredibly efficient, as there is no need to compete for placement in stores, the supply chain is less complex, and there is no risk of manufacturing too many products. Subscription boxes have also become a popular avenue for brands to distribute their pieces. This is a viable option for already established brands looking to diversify distribution, as well as newer brands that never moved into the retail space in the first place. Customers are able to subscribe to these services (typically on a monthly or quarterly basis), receive pieces based on their style, size, and preferences, and then return what doesn’t work for them.