Sustainability has joined variety and affordability as key concerns for the fashion industry.
How do clothing brands cater to the one in seven consumers who don’t wish to be seen in the same outfit twice, while also appealing to those who care deeply about sustainability?
The fashion world has entered a conflicting space.
People want variety, affordability and sustainability, so clothing retailers are turning to innovation to secure healthy profits, win loyal customers, and achieve environmental targets.
Socially conscious shoppers are embracing two growing trends: second-hand clothing and usership over ownership.
Several large brands including Selfridges, H&M, and Europe’s largest online fashion retailer, Zalando, have announced sustainability initiatives that focus on second-hand stores.
Perceptions of ‘thrifting’ are changing, as these stores feel less like a suburban op-shop and more like new, high-fashion stores.
Confirming the popularity of used-clothing platforms, Poshmark was valued above $US7 billion in its first day of trading on the Nasdaq in January.
Many platforms have been popping up in recent years that offer clothing for hire.
It started with infrequent, expensive items like formal gowns and men’s suits, but has expanded further into everyday clothing.
There are companies that own and lease the apparel, such as Rent the Runway, or platforms such as The Volte (founded in Perth), which allow people to hire their designer pieces.
There is also a movement towards clothing-as-a-service (Trunk Club by Nordstrom, for example), shifting into a subscription model akin to Spotify for music, or Netflix for movies.
In the push for longer-lasting, better fitting and/or recycled materials, brands are experimenting.
Adidas, Reebok and New Balance are all releasing shoes with 3D printed components.
Adidas has been developing its Futurecraft line of sneakers for five years in partnership with 3D printing company, Carbon.
Its ‘STRUNG’ shoe combines athlete data, 3D printing and robotics to offer a bespoke fit and optimal performance.
While they are not being promoted as ‘sustainable’ shoes, the production time is 70 per cent less than traditional shoes, the custom fit should reduce sizing issues, and the thermoplastic polyurethane material is fully reusable.
LG and NET-A-PORTER have also recently collaborated, creating material that is very long lasting and easily machine washable, extending the lifespan of clothes and using less electricity to clean.
Gucci has invested in in-house prototyping and testing with its 37,000 square metre ArtLab, which employs 950 people.
The team focuses on innovation and R&D activities for creating new materials.
On average, 40 per cent of orders are returned, predominantly due to clothing that doesn’t fit or doesn’t look good.
Every year, 21 billion tonnes (800,000 tonnes in Australia) of discarded textiles go into landfill and 10 per cent of all carbon emissions are attributed to the apparel industry.
Some companies donate their returned items to charity, instead of putting it in landfill.
Online retailer The Iconic has gifted 89,000 items to its charity partner, Thread Together.
Despite some existing solutions, returns are still one of the biggest problems in the industry. One key piece of technology being explored is smart fitting tools.
ASOS, Macy’s and Walmart are all reported to be trialling options.
Zeekit uses mapping technology to scan clothing into 80,000 segments.
This can either be mapped against sample models (in various shapes/sizes) or you can dress yourself virtually.
The Israeli company claims its technology has reduced client returns by 36 per cent.
Meepl is a Swiss company, acquired by Zalando. Wearing form-fitting clothing, you stand in front of a mobile app, it scans your body from each side and creates a 3D render of it.
You can use it to map your measurements against off-the-rack garment data or use your 3D avatar in a virtual change room.
MySize (another Israeli company) uses a mobile phone’s gyroscope as the user moves it over their body to determine the dimensions.
Chief production and operations officer Billy Pardo says the fashion industry often resorts to vanity sizing: labelling down a size so customers believe they are thinner than they actually are.
Inconsistency in sizing is a primary cause of returns.
Retailers and fashion brands are working on countless captivating and impressive customer experience tactics.
Everything from AI-driven design such as Stitch Fix; Valentino making virtual streetwear for games like Nintendo’s Animal Crossing; and Uniqlo’s virtual mirrors.
While delighting shoppers with a great experience is critical, it looks like the fashion front-runners will be the companies that master the art of variety, affordability and sustainability.