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2019 highlights: The year in innovation news

2019 was a big year for innovation and the Current Daily has been tracking it all throughout – from the rise of 5G-enabled experiences to the continued push towards a circular economy. 

Here, we highlight some of the most interesting stories from the year, outlining why they are an important indication of where the industry is moving in 2020 and beyond.

5G will drive 100m people to shop in AR

Augmented reality took center stage this year as its user-friendly features meant a growing number of brands – and social media platforms like Instagram – started adopting it as a core engagement strategy.

In April, a Gartner report highlighted that 100 million people will shop in AR once high-speed 5G mobile services roll out more extensively. This means the experience is going to be more seamless than ever, giving it better real-time rendering, shorter download times and reduced latency. Retailers seem to be on board, as 46% of them plan to deploy either AR or VR. Check out our piece exploring what other benefits 5G will bring retail.

Fashion brands have only met 21% of their circularity targets for 2020

If there’s one thing to be sure, there’s no escaping the growing momentum around shifting to more sustainable practices as an industry. But is there really progress being made? In July, the Global Fashion Agenda (GFA) launched its second yearly assessment of fashion brands and retailers to find that only reached 45 (21%) of the 213 targets the industry has set for 2020 will be met. 

This means the 90 signatories of the GFA’s 2020 Circular Fashion System Commitment, which includes fashion companies like adidas, PVH Group and Inditex, will have to hurry if they want to achieve more in the next year. We talked a lot about the need for action in this space when a further collaborative group was announced: the G7 Fashion Pact. If you ask us, it’s time to say enough to the pledges, rather give us some tangible outputs.

H&M to trial clothing rental for the first time

Talking of sustainability, one are where we have seen a lot of action and experimentation this year is in new business models. Rental is making serious strides at all ends of the market, but perhaps most interestingly within fast fashion just recently as the H&M Group announced it will trial clothing rental at one of its H&M Stockholm stores. Members of its customer loyalty program can now rent selected party dresses and skirts from its 2012-2019 Conscious Exclusive collections.

Recently, its brand COS also launched a pilot where it is renting out clothes through Chinese subscription rental platform YCloset, which customers can access through a monthly flat rate. We also published a deep-dive into the different opportunities we see for the industry in rental, here.

Allbirds CEO calls out Amazon product copying

In November, Allbirds’ co-founder and CEO, Joey Zwilinger, wrote an open letter to Amazon’s Jeff Bezos after discovering the e-commerce platform was producing its own wool sneakers similar to the brand’s most popular style.

Instead of going the usual lawsuit route, the founder took this as an opportunity to highlight his brand’s sustainability mission. In the letter, Zwilinger highlights that Allbirds’ sustainable philosophy is open source, and it has thus far helped over 100 brands who were interested in implementing its renewable materials into their products, suggesting Amazon might like to do the same. It was a bold move but one that sparked a conversation around the role of collaboration once more, and its critical place in true innovation.

Gen Z loves TikTok. Can fashion brands learn to love it too?

Gen Z quickly adopted Chinese social media platform TikTok as their app du jour this year for its bite-sized video content. Currently, 66% of the platform’s 500 million global users are under 30, according to data analytics firm, Business of Apps.

Brands have started to follow suit, tapping the app to drive engagement and ultimately sales. Content varies from crowdsourced, as in a recent Burberry campaign that saw users challenged to create the brand’s logo with their fingers, through to more refined, such as in a snippet of an interview with singer Shawn Mendes for Calvin Klein. We explored various other brands setting TikTok precedent, here.

Lush abandons social media

While TikTok has been taking off, elsewhere social media is slowing for some. Vegan cosmetics brand, Lush, for instance decided to shut down all of its activity in the UK as it became “tired of fighting with algorithms” or paying to appear on news feeds. Instead, it suggested a hashtag where fans would still be able to speak to the brand.

Lush’s bold move speaks to fight playing out for anything still resembling organic reach. As consumers become jaded over being ‘sold to’, brands are having to find novel ways to reach them, beyond the influencer route. One other area we’re tracking here is those owning their own conversation channels, as with both Glossier and H&M of late.

Coty acquires majority stake in Kylie Jenner’s beauty business

2019 was the year of major acquisitions in both beauty and fashion. While LVMH recently announced it was snapping up Tiffany & Co for $16bn, other names included Farfetch buying New Guards Group, which operates streetwear favorite Off White for $675m; Shiseido acquiring cult skincare brand Drunk Elephant for $845m; and more recently, Coty acquiring a majority stake in Kylie Jenner’s beauty business, Kylie Cosmetics, for $600m. 

The latter served as particular confirmation of how brands build and grow in this day and age. Jenner, who was 18 when she started a single ‘lip kit’ line, used Instagram to form a direct conversation with her audience. In 2019, this seems like an obvious strategy, but the reality star’s foresight to do so in 2015 has undoubtedly been her recipe for success.

How luxury fashion learned to love the blockchain

Amid growing concerns over the proliferation of counterfeit goods, luxury brands also began to embrace blockchain as an important authentication tool this year. 

Earlier this year, we heard about how LVMH launched its own platform, Aura, which is currently being piloted with some of the brands in its portfolio and will further expand in the future. Kering and Richemont meanwhile are said to be exploring this too, while De Beers is using it to trace its diamonds. Once matured, the technology will undoubtedly make its way into the hands of the consumer, who will be able to better understand where their possessions are coming from. We also tracked some of the other innovations in the transparency space; an area that continues to heat up.

Automation in retail: an executive overview for getting ready

Automation was another big tech focus this year, particularly for its potential impact on retail, from supply chain management to last mile delivery. This shift is putting pressure on retailers to rethink their operating models, distribution centres and headquarters, with McKinsey warning that brands that fail to implement it into their strategy risk falling behind. 

Automation is something we’ve long been talking about for the sake of efficiency, but there also comes a significant ethics conversation to be had here, which the industry is exploring. We agree, now is the time.

What Fortnite could mean for fashion

The global gaming market is expected to reach $180bn by 2021, and fashion brands are realizing the valuable potential in this. Free-to-play video game Fortnite has grown into a multi-million dollar business by selling clothing to image-conscious gamers, for instance. This monetization of player aesthetics, more commonly known as ‘skins’, has opened the door for retailers to cash in on the virtual world. 

Going forward, we expect more brands to invest in digital garments or utilize gaming to drive product discovery. We accordingly explored how gamification is being used in the shopping journey by brands like Kenzo and Nike to both increase engagement and build brand loyalty.

How are you thinking about innovation? The Current Global is a transformation consultancy driving growth within fashion, luxury and retail. Our mission is to solve challenges and facilitate change. We are thinkers and builders delivering innovative solutions and experiences. Get in touch to learn more.

Retail sustainability

UK brands push for government support in sustainability

The UK fashion industry is calling for the government to support further sustainable development, according to a new report.

The study, released today by trade publication Drapers, asked the respondent’s opinions on the recommendations made after the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) completed its inquiry into the environmental and social impact of the fashion industry in February 2019. This focused specifically on the disposable nature of the fast fashion industry.

While almost all of the 370 business leaders and professionals agreed to the committee’s proposed implementations, 85% of them said the government is currently not doing enough to support the industry’s development in this regard.

94.9% of respondents supported the EAC’s recommendation that calls for mandatory sustainability targets for retailers. Furthermore, 97.1% support the introduction of fines for companies that fail to comply with the Modern Slavery Act. The same consequences are to apply to retailers that do not meet zero-emissions targets (96.4%).

But, when asked what additional actions the government should take to encourage the industry to become more sustainable, respondents also called for more investment in recycling infrastructure (84.1%) as well as the outlawing of unsustainable practices (71%).

Interestingly the majority of retailers (92.2%) reached a consensus that sustainability is a commercial imperative for their businesses. This statement is clearly driven by changing customer demands, with 91.6% saying there is a growing interest in sustainability from their customers.

Mary Creagh MP, chair of the EAC, also commented on the necessity of government intervention in the fashion industry at the Draper’s Sustainability Conference earlier this year.

How are you thinking about your sustainable strategy? We’re all about finding you the perfect partners to do so. The Current Global is a consultancy transforming how fashion, beauty and consumer retail brands intersect with technology. We deliver innovative integrations and experiences, powered by a network of top technologies and startups. Get in touch to learn more. 

business Editor's pick

Gucci launches Changemakers program to foster diversity and inclusivity

Gucci has announced the launch of Changemakers, a program that aims to support industry change and foster more diversity and inclusivity. The initiative includes a multi-million dollar fund, a scholarship program and a global employee-volunteering framework, and follows the company’s announcement of an internal action plan launched in 2018.

The multi-year fund will allocate $5 million towards investments in community-based programs in cities across North America, with the aim to build better opportunities for the African-American community and communities of color at-large. A parallel fund of the same monetary value will be established in the Asia Pacific region.

The scholarship program, which focuses on empowering young people through education, will offer scholarships for college students across various disciplines in fashion throughout the region. Over the course of four years, students will receive a $20,000 grant towards their education.

Both student grants and non-profit organizations will be partly selected by a dedicated Council composed of community leaders and experts in social change, in order to ensure that whatever the program embarks on is done so with transparency and long-term impact. The Council includes Harlem couturier and Gucci ambassador Dapper Dan, fashion activist Bethann Hardison and Eric Avila, professor of history and chicano studies at UCLA.

Lastly, announced in 2018, the volunteering campaign is focusing on the label’s 18,000 employees by allocating up to four paid days off for volunteering activities in their local communities. This represents 8,000 days of volunteer support in North America, the first region involved in the program, under four main pillars of volunteering: equality, support for refugees and the homeless, protection of the environment, and education.

The Changemakers Program can be seen as a proactive response to the brand’s recent scandal over the insensitive design of a baklava sweater resembling blackface. Following the controversy earlier this year, the brand announced a series of long-term initiative, which includes the hiring of a global director for diversity and inclusion; a multi-cultural design scholarship program in partnership with colleges in 10 global cities; and the hiring of five new designers from around the world for Gucci’s design head office.

Dapper Dan’s collection for Gucci

“I believe in dialogue, building bridges and taking quick action,” said Marco Bizzarri, Gucci’s president and CEO. “This is why we started working immediately on the long-term infrastructure at Gucci to address our shortcomings. And now through our Changemakers program, we will invest important resources to unify and strengthen our communities across North America, with a focus on programs that will impact youth and the African-American community.”

Dapper Dan, a longtime Gucci fan but also vocal critic of the ‘blackface’ scandal, said, “It is imperative that we have a seat at the table to say how we should be represented and reimagined. Through our work together, Gucci is in a position to lead the overall industry toward becoming a more inclusive one.” He later added on Instagram, “This does not end with Gucci, it begins with Gucci.”

Additional reporting by Camilla Rydzek.

How are you thinking about brand messaging? We’re all about finding you the perfect partners to do so. The Current Global is a consultancy transforming how fashion, beauty and consumer retail brands intersect with technology. We deliver innovative integrations and experiences, powered by a network of top technologies and startups. Get in touch to learn more.