Times of crisis and uncertainty gives us the perfect opportunity to take a look at ourselves and see how we can improve. One common theme around innovation, growth, and development, is that crisis can be a positive thing. As we are currently faced with uncertainty, I think the fashion industry as a whole can make significant adjustments. Rather than wait for government aids and relief packages, the industry can truly innovate in this period. Relief packages and funding, although helpful, only postpone the inevitable development that will bring about a more thriving sector.
In a way, the current fashion business model is outdated. Although there are some exceptions to the rule, it takes nearly eight months to get a finished product to market. In addition, the fashion industry currently relies on outdated tech that minimizes creation and innovation. What the industry needs is investments that will bring about a complete and lasting change.
The Small Picture
In the last two to three decades, the fashion industry has not changed except in one key area; eCommerce. Although technology has played a role in shaping economies and other sectors, the fashion industry is playing catchup. A seismic change will not happen if we continue to focus on small innovation (the small picture), we need to think big and see the bigger picture.
We’ve identified three innovations that have a long-term impact on the fashion industry.
If you genuinely want to make an impact in the fashion industry, create your offerings on-demand. Inventory can sometimes be a poisoned chalice. Inventory is seasonally based. One moment it is worth everything, and in another moment, it becomes worthless. However, shifting your business to an on-demand phase means you reduce the risk and wastage from having inventory.
No inventory means brands and designers can make various aspects of their business viable. The demand for specific products would increase or decrease supply. There won’t be wastage or clearance sales for old inventory. By extension, manufacturers won’t hold on to out-of-season inventory, and retailers won’t need to make purchasing decisions months before they need inventory.
In the long run, the fashion industry would be far more sustainable. Reports suggest that more than 30 percent of products manufactured annually are never sold, and they end up as waste. After all, the key to sustainability is making an appropriate amount of products.
Efficient Distributed Supply Chain
In the economics of things, on-demand manufacturing means production takes place when a product is needed. On the other hand, distributed manufacturing means production only takes place where a product is wanted. Brands and designers with long term goals should focus on the latter. What this means is that if production is halted in one particular location for one reason or the other, it could be picked up in another location. A distributed supply chain minimizes location risk, gives real-time access to customers, create jobs, and so on.
Emphasis should be on creation
Put simply, brands and manufacturers are too afraid to make mistakes that they stop trying and take the easy route. Nowadays, because of limitations to materials, cash, and production flow, being wrong is a bit too expensive for designers and brands. But in a market where a product is demand-based, nothing depends on volume. A designer could design and sell a single piece as efficiently as a thousand without any risk. The fashion industry needs to return to a creation driven industry, as it can help the industry get back its lost soul and passion.
In as much as we try to make fashion a science, it will always be an art. We sometimes lose sight of this when we see to merge technology and fashion. In a way, a sizeable portion of investments has gone into fashion tech, with emphasis on “acts of magic,” carried out by talented designers. In retrospect, it would be of more significant benefit to channel these investments in areas where it can actually make a difference, such as value chain infrastructure.
When it comes to fashion, I feel science still has a key role to play. We just have to get our priorities right. That is why I propose we use science as a platform to empower fashion. Even though this might sound like a pipe dream, but I feel the groundwork for the future is laid.
There is a common saying, “if you notice you are in a pit, stop digging.” Now is the time to drop the axe and stop digging. Although change can be a slow process, with the drive from the industry and investors, we can use these uncertain times to create a more stable and thriving fashion industry. There can be more opportunities for retailers, brands, designers, manufacturers, and communities. This uncertain times, coupled with the spots of crisis here and there, is the right time to reshape an industry, push it forward. So, when people look back at the year of the pandemic, the fashion industry can beat its chest and say, “this is what we did to drive the industry forward.”