Due to concerns over COVID-19, fashion brand Marimekko live streamed its annual summer fashion show (usually held in central Helsinki) on Instagram while inviting fans to take part and share their own summer catwalk looks. Digital reach has skyrocketed due to the worldwide lockdown and fashion shows are next to adopt these techniques as London’s Fashion Week will be entirely virtual. Although virtual events will not replace physical experiences, they are here to stay, particularly as virtual and augmented reality technologies take these to new heights.
We’ve seen how brands such as Nike and Hugo Boss have used 3D photorealistic and virtual technology to severely reduce development times whilst also eliminating the need for physical prototypes. Previous years included heavy testing and experimenting with certain useful gadgets and features but 2020 is planned to be the year of the digital appetite. Taylor Stitch allows customers to pre-order digital designs before they even go into production and soon due to 5G’s improved download speed and reduced lag times customers may be able to “try-on” designs in the form of an augmented reality filter before checking out in-app. The staggered timeline of the spring/summer seasons are used to give brands enough time to gauge the interest of retail buyers and customers but these days that gauging can be immediately accessible and the increased speed and agility of brands like H&M, Zara, or Top Shop mean that hyper-rapid satisfaction of trends make way for fast fashion. The greatest benefits of technology come at a cost to sustainability.
There are upsides to technology though. 3D printing can reduce fabric waste by upto 35% whilst also satisfying consumer needs for personalization and H&M aim to use 100% sustainable resources by 2030, an impossibility a couple dozen years ago. It isn’t just corporations that cause problems however. On average, 40% of online purchases are returned and with data and AI capabilities, retailers are attempting to more effectively match customer preferences and reduce the returns rate.
A huge force in the industry is sustainability. As consumers become increasingly conscious of the damage the fashion industry is doing to the environment, more and more of them are willing to pay a slightly higher price point to know they are making a difference. With 70 million barrels of oil being used in manufacturing polyester alone and 11 million garments ending up in landfill in the UK every week, now nearly one-third of consumers say they put effort into finding clothes that are labelled “environmentally friendly”. The fashion community also has been an immediate practical help in the current global medical emergency with factories and studios that were able to pivot to producing hand sanitizer, medical gowns and masks assisting local hospitals in short supply.
The fashion landscape is shifting. Long-held beliefs are being questioned and rewritten as consumers battle between the ethical questionability of their favourite brands and their desire for cheap, satisfying, and comfortable clothes. Designers have always been adoptionists and creative’s but is this sustainable in the modern age? These questions can only be answered with time. The hope is that social and environmental importance will prevail with market leaders, choosing corporate responsibility over making a quick buck.