There is a well-known saying, a crisis is a terrible thing to waste. During the current pandemic, it’s wise to take these words to heart. More and more industries are lining up for government funding. It seems they are ignoring the opportunity to innovate. If you are among the businesses that have received loans or bailouts, hold on. This is a temporary relief.
Many industries are now thinking it’s time to innovate to stay in business and the fashion industry is one of them. Before the pandemic, the sales forecast for the fashion industry in 2020 looked promises. However, now that the fashion industry is disturbed by the crisis, retailers are concerned about their sales figures.
It is also clear that significant structural changes are in progress for all roles regardless of the industry be it the role of mortgage recruiters, data scientists, teachers, or engineers. These changes are likely to affect consumer behavior, the fashion calendar and not to forget the style of people in particular.
Innovations That Could Alter the Face of the Industry
The fashion industry does not need the government’s bailout. In fact, a comprehensive change is required. Unlike other industries, fashion has not been disrupted by technology expect for online commerce or last-mile logistics.
The change will not happen unless businesses focus on incremental innovation. Wondering how? These three innovations could radically change the industry as we know it:
#1: Warehouses with No Inventory
Instead of keeping an inventory, the orders must be processed on demand. Inventory is like musical chairs. If you keep holding it when the music stops, you cannot play anymore. It may be a source of future cash flow but it’s worthless in the present.
Now let’s imagine how the fashion industry on demand will look like?
- Manufacturers will no longer have to hold onto out of season stock. Factories can be paused and restarted as and when products are needed.
- Retailers won’t have to make purchase decisions 6 months ahead of needing the inventory. The stock merchandised can be restocked whenever necessary. This would minimize bad inventory.
- Brands would be able to increase/decrease product supply based on market demand. This would eliminate the need for warehouses, clearance sales (because of excessive inventory), or sold out products.
- Did you know 30% of all products manufactured each year become a part of the landfill because they are not sold? Innovation can make fashion more sustainable than before. Real sustainability starts when the right quantity of products are manufactured.
#2: Distributed Supply Chain
On-demand manufacturing means that the product exists in the inventory only when it is required. It is then distributed where it is wanted. For instance, as the year 2020 started, production in China has stopped. With distributed manufacturing, supply chain resiliency can be improved. This would provide customers with real-time access to various markets. This could also reduce transportation impact, tariffs, or create local manufacturing jobs.
#3: Creation Driven Industry
Because of manufacturing and material minimums and cash flow timings, it can be expensive for a brand to be wrong. When products are made on-demand in real-time only, nothing will be dependent on volume. A creator could be designing, selling, or making a garment without risk.
The fashion industry is an art. When talking about AI and machine learning for designing and forecasting, we lose track of it. Significant investment in fashion-based technology is focused on the magic performed by talented humans instead of where it makes a difference.
Lead by Example!
Steven Tai, a London-based fashion designer has taken an innovative approach to reach his buyers in the lockdown. He has created a virtual look book that includes 360-degree gifts of his collection. The buyers can see the whole look in detail. The results were amazing!
Half of the orders placed by his customers were generated by looking at the look book. This demonstrates the power of digital tools to support the business even during these trying times. It makes it clear that this crisis could be the start of something new. Perhaps a business that’s more sustainable than ever.
What’s Stopping Us?
The biggest obstacle in implementing innovation in the fashion industry is human factors. Many organizations including their employees can’t adopt, manage, and implement the new technology introduced in the fashion industry.
The need of the hour is to test digitalization solutions and provide means for implementing them. There is also a learning curve that must be addressed. Whether or not change occurs will depend on how feasible the technology is.
It’s time we use science for empowering art in the fashion industry. We must stop digging. Yes, change can be painful but we can rise above the crises with the eight capital and build a responsible fashion industry. Startup culture must be promoted even further and organizations must show a willingness to innovate. The digital disruption could take a while but the future looks good.