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The Ultimate Challenge for Fashion's Digital Transformation

The rising adoption of emerging digital technology is a worldwide phenomenon that crosses many industries.

Author:
Janne Souza

The Digital Transformation is not exclusive to fashion. The increasing adoption of digital technology is a worldwide phenomenon that affects all industries and has changed how businesses and markets operate and provide value to their consumers. 

The disruption of digital technology means, fundamentally, a radical change in business culture, requiring constant challenge of the status quo, constant experimentation, and, on occasion, resilience in the face of failure. But, in the end, what does Digital Transformation means for Fashion? 

The disruption of the fashion industry by digital technology.

With the advent of the pandemic, the fashion industry's growth, both in terms of transparency, ethics, and sustainability, as well as in terms of creation and development towards the digital, has accelerated a process initiated decades ago. This pandemic era is presenting a moral and ethical challenge for brands and retailers, but at the same time, the alternatives found in digital production have shown the way to solve problems that have been overlooked or delayed for a long time. 

Brands are constantly being pressured to take responsibility for the huge environmental and social negative impacts that the industry causes. Such as high levels of emissions and misuse of natural resources in supply and production chains, as well as transparency crises and controversies involving fashion companies for burning stock, forced labour or violations on factory workers. Labor abuses, poor working conditions, and exploitation are some of the biggest and most sensitive subjects, but fashion brands argue that they lack the capacity to manage 100% of their supply chain, from manufacturers to factories, and so on.

According to Accenture research, brands' biggest fear of sustainability and accountability stems from their desire to avoid exposure and connection with bad practices, corruption, and other issues in the supply chain. A lack of trust was observed by 54 percent of surveyed businesses, resulting in a sales loss of $ 180 billion.

Sustainability is about ethics. Consumers are increasingly seeing transparency in the supply chain as a required value and digital technology helps fashion brands, retailers, and suppliers in developing and implementing effective transparency and sustainability programs.

People working in a fashion factory making clothes
Factories, retailers, suppliers and brands all benefit from the adoption of digital tech.

The many challenges and advantages of digital fashion.

The greatest advantage of a digital asset is the potential for it to change the entire fashion supply chain, starting with the design and development of individual pieces and collections. Fashion brands and designers will explore new innovative territories; new ways to create, sell, and produce personalized items, resulting in many more new uses and values for fashion goods. They must bridge the gap between what consumers want and what they get in terms of quality, experience and transparency.

In this sense, 3D digital product creation is critical in the fashion digitization phase, providing greater leverage over manufacturers and suppliers, as well as new marketing opportunities, promotion, and sales, freeing designers' and marketers' imagination from the tangibility of physical content. Digital assets also generate digital data that can be tracked and optimized. Accurate data equals accurate power.

Fabric factories, retailers, and brands all benefit from 3D in the same way: it speeds up the design process, saves prototypes, and lowers the cost of product sample and photography. These advantages become apparent in a variety of circumstances. Digital materials will surely be used for brands that adopt digital product creation. However, suppliers must recognize and embrace the benefits of 3D technology immediately.

Brands as well as manufacturers need sampling and product photography to start advertising and selling in their online or physical store. To achieve a consistent quality, digital fabrics can easily be fed into a render pipeline. In comparison to physical photo shoots, 3D renderings save a significant amount of time, physical and financial resources due to their scalability.

Simply digitizing parts of the operation, primarily the shopping process, is insufficient. The entire process of creating, producing, and purchasing must be redesigned and fully connected in the digital world. From conceptualization through conversion and beyond, creating a consistent omni-channel and synchronized system that involves aligning physical and digital processes and ultimately delivering an interactive and engaging experience to customers will be key to success.

PlatformE RIPE White Product Configurator technology platform
3D digital product creation is critical in the fashion digitization.

The principal role of digital technology in fashion.

The role of the consumer has shifted from that of a passive spectator to that of an active trend maker. They demand engagement and a product made in accordance with their beliefs, since they understand that fashion goods are more than just artifacts and not only status symbols; they have a deeper meaning, and they function as a representation of certain values of the individual who owns them.

Customization and personalization are a growing trend in fashion that is leading the industry to digitize product design, promotion and manufacturing in order to streamline sales and production to speed up the lead-time. Mass customization is pushing the fashion industry towards an on-demand production model that ultimately represents a fundamental shift in the industry's mindset and culture, accelerating the digitization of processes and materials, guiding fashion through a new industry revolution: the Industry 5.0.

Industry 5.0 establishes a new paradigm for all industries. It is a response to the crescent demand for social and environmental responsibility and it means substantially a new industry era that brings countless benefits for everyone, including brands, workers and society in general. Industry 5.0 will demand companies to pursue innovation and embrace the digital transition as a way to improve the development and production of industrialized products and stay competitive. The empowerment of consumers as a result of the globalization of social media and communications implies a permanent shift in the industry's social role and philosophy. Companies must play a proactive role in tackling social challenges such as resource preservation, climate change, and social development.

Fashion must switch to a digitally based approach in the face of the pandemic and the many issues that have been underlined with it and accelerate the consolidation of the digital transformation. Changes in the global economy, as well as challenges and demands for growth, business performance, and sustainability, are driving this trend. With the limitations and threats posed by the pandemic, the change began with an effectively operational role to keep supplying the production and distribution chain to the final consumer while continuing to produce from physical samples, which is actually the industry basis.

Primarily, digital technology empowers brands to have full control over the supply chain, ensuring complete transparency and a thorough understanding of their social responsibility by monitoring and guaranteeing that their suppliers are committed to following the brand's principles and policies. In addition, they will be able to rely on data and concrete evidence to demonstrate their efforts to minimize polluting gas emissions and environmental harms at each stage of the supply chain.

Digital technology by itself does not solve any problem; rather, it serves as a tool for addressing real-world fashion challenges, which are primarily social and environmental. Technology serves as a catalyst for progress in the fashion industry, as well as a solution to issues that did not seem to have a viable solution.

From material scanning to 3D product creation and development, from sale to production and distribution, fashion still has many issues to deal with. The ultimate challenge for fashion brands is to implement digital transformation in all aspects of their business culture and all the processes.

Making sustainability a structured process starts with planning; it should be a priority that aligns with the main business growth targets, among other things. Brands would have to review their KPIs by assuming the cost and losses of overproduction, striking a balance between their growth ambitions and operating plans, as well as the competitive threats they face. To do so, they will need a supply chain that is completely traceable, measurable, connected, and transparent. Incorporating long-term sustainable innovation into their core product design, production, and supply chain processes using digital technology.

Read more: Fighting Fast Fashion with Big Data: A Chat with Gonçalo Cruz, PlatformE's Co-founder

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