When we talk about Fashion Technology, what do we mean? There are three distinct sectors that make up the varied initiatives of Fashion & Tech mergence. Each is at a different phase of integration and development, each is pioneered with different intentions and by innovators with different backgrounds, and each affects different groups of people. Technology will eventually be universally employed within the fashion industry to streamline our businesses, our consumption, and our daily lives. For the time being, we are still working through the pain points and residual effects of the early arrivers. We can confidently assume that the most exciting inventions are yet to come, especially in wearables, but also in platforms for B2B and Listed below, from most to least developed, are the three sectors of Fashion Tech:
Online platforms: In both B2B and B2C, online platforms are altering and streamlining the exchange of goods. Net a Porter is a great example of Fashion Technology that was a game changer for the luxury fashion industry. NaP has since spurred the development of flash sale luxury sites (Gilt), luxury garment rental sites (Rent the Runway), and many more online business models. The great feat was to prove that consumers are willing to spend big $$ online, sight unseen. LeNewBlack and Joor are two B2B examples of accessibility between buyers and brands with an integrated ordering system. RewardStyle is a platform that revolutionized the monetization of fashion blogs.
There are also community based fashion platforms such as Polyvore whose success shows that fashion's aspirational culture was craving a creative outlet. It's the idea that you don't need to own all of the items you covet in order to display your fashion sense. The foundation is laid, and more and more commerce will move online. As that happens, the commerce and curation models will blend to create a more engaging experience for the consumer, and a place for the aspirational consumer on what would, in some cases, be an otherwise prohibitive platform.
Experience Creation: This can be anything from how the brand uses Instagram and Facebook to build their following (think Burberry's famously successful use of online), to how they use tablets to enhance the in-store experience. One of the most recent examples of laudable fashion tech mergence is the drone camera live stream from the Fall 2014 Fendi runway. Of the three categories, this is perhaps the most transparently marketing based. Incorporating a high tech element in brick and mortar settings creates a kind of cache because it is still not totally main stream. Many of these efforts remain overtly gimmicky, however these practices will eventually become ubiquitous across all markets form luxury to mass market.
Wearables: This is basically any kind of technology that you attach to your person. The biggest market now is in fitness and health, but there are many other directions being explored. For the time being, wearables seem limited to the categories of eyewear and jewelry items, i.e. wrist watch, bracelet, or ring, 3D printing, and wired clothing, with color changing or LED capabilities, although we are also starting to see some patches, mostly in the medical field. Because we are really in the early stages of wearables, there is a huge amount of work left to do in this category.
Wearables are the final frontier because of the incongruent demands of aesthetics and engineering in product design that are more easily overcome with the separation of front and back end design, and the flexibility of experience creation that simply uses technology as a vehicle. That is not to say that all the work as been done in the other sectors, as expressed above.
Surveys have shown evidence that a great number of people abandon their wearables within three months of purchase. The current momentum will do little to advance the wearable industry if we don't begin to see some truly indispensable products on the market. the hype might actually be detrimental to the growth of the sector if the offering remains so limited.
While it is exciting that designers are starting to team up with engineers on product development, this will mean very little until the functions of the device segue into a seamless lifestyle change, possibly from smart phone to wearable.
Where do your priorities lie? Online platforms? Customer engagement on and offline? Or wearables? Do you see another frontier? We are in a period where questions outnumber certainties. It is a time when big ideas have the room to come into their own. This is the space to think outside of existing parameters, because technology is a tool where anything can be realized and fashion a state of mind where the imagination knows no limits.