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The big innovation trends shaping 2018

Stella McCartney teamed up with bioengineering firm Bolt Threads
Stella McCartney teamed up with bioengineering firm Bolt Threads

Underpinning the fashion and luxury industries right now is both a tough retail environment and a landscape of intensifying competition – from Amazon to the bevy of new direct to consumer players. While sales are steadily on the rise, with The McKinsey Global Fashion Index projecting global industry growth from 3.5 to 4.5% in 2018, there are still big challenges ahead.

As we’ve seen time and again, survival is no longer a guarantee merely based on heritage; innovation in an age of rapidly evolving consumer expectations is what will drive staying power.

However, while that word – “innovation” – means newness in a literal sense, when it comes to looking at trends for the year ahead, we are very much talking about evolution not revolution in terms of what matters for retail and fashion brands.

For 2018, then, the big areas of focus will continue to be around augmented reality, artificial intelligence, the voice interface, blockchain, the circular economy, new materials, customisation and fulfillment.

Those tech terms tie into some big overarching trends shaping the future of the industry too; namely the sense of an increasingly frictionless shopping experience, more personalised and relevant consumer interactions and the drive of a serious sustainable agenda.

Here are the things you need to be thinking about…


Augmented reality

In 2017 we saw the launch of Apple’s ARkit and Google’s ARcore, making augmented reality development on the devices we all use everyday incredibly simple. This push into the mainstream has led to a forecast of 900 million AR-enabled smartphones by the end of 2018, according to consulting firm Digi-Capital. With that of course comes increased consumer expectation – research from Digital Bridge shows that 69% of shoppers now want retailers to launch AR apps within the next six months.

We’ve already seen the likes of Ikea, Anthropologie and Burberry doing so to both facilitate shopping and make for some fun experiential use cases. As Apple CEO Tim Cook told Vogue: “Over time, I think [these features] will be as key as having a website.” 2018 then is your year to tool up. What is your AR strategy going to be?


Artificial intelligence

Big data strategy is more of a reality for retailers and brands than ever thanks to the role of machine learning within artificial intelligence. Now, decisions can be made based on detailed and real-time consumer insights. The largest benefit for businesses at this point lies in providing greater relevancy or personalisation to the consumer – from tailored recommendations to highly individualised messaging.

We’ve seen this gaining velocity over the past 12 months from the likes of Sunglass Hut, Yoox Net-a-Porter, Shop Direct and Topman both vying to increase conversions, but 2018 will bring us all the more. Look out for the way in which the store of the future continues to evolve off the back of data-led insights also, and don’t forget to keep on top of the ever evolving chatbot space as a fundamental part of your customer service approach.


The voice interface

There will be an estimated 1.8 billion users of voice assistants – like Amazon’s Alexa and Apple’s Siri – by 2021, according to Tractia. That kind of progress is already well underway, hot on the heels of simple facts like Amazon’s Echo devices being the biggest sellers on its website this holiday season. Last year we saw retailers starting to figure out where their place was in this landscape – Walmart teamed up with Google Home; others like Perry Ellis launched a fun personal styling app through Alexa.

Based on the simple mantra of needing to be where your consumers are, it’s time for the rest of the industry to start exploring how they too can use voice. At some point we’re going to see such technology assistants as the gatekeepers to shoppers, turning traditionally targeting and messaging on its head.


Blockchain

Blockchain is another tech word that’s been bandied about nonstop of late, but the chips are starting to fall as to what this can really mean for the industry. While cryptocurrencies are having a real do or die moment, the more relevant applications of blockchain for fashion brands lie in authenticity and transparency. Authenticity is about anticounterfeiting above all else, while transparency sits alongside sustainability. Both are about validating supply chain data, with blockchain by its immutable nature supporting that very fact.

London designer Martine Jarlgaard recently led the charge in terms of transparency, turning to storytelling to showcase each step of her supply chain through blockchain company Provenance. Expect 2018 to see more of these types of initiatives on a marketing level, as well as a broader movement to start thinking from the ground up in terms of integrating such technology into the foundations of the organisation.


The circular economy

On the subject of sustainability, the drive for less waste, and the move towards a true circular economy is also gaining headway. In 2017 we saw H&M announce its goal to be fully circular by 2030 and to only use recycled or other sustainably sourced materials. No small task, but a bold statement highlighting the work that’s got to go in between now and then.

The key, according to Nielsen, is that 72% of millennials and 73% of Generation Z say they would pay more for brands with sustainable offerings, meaning doing good is also key to strong business today. It’s not possible to be in this industry without thinking about this side of things in some way or another as a result, making this year a critical time for all involved. Strategy around the three R’s: reduce, reuse and recycle, will be a big focus for 2018, from new innovations shaping the possibilities around recycling techniques themselves, to a continued focus on areas like the sharing economy and resale sites.


New materials

One key area of innovation central to the sustainability or circular economy movement lies in the actual materials used. Bioengineering is particularly picking up pace. Biofabricated leather from Modern Meadow just got its first outing with the launch of Zoa, while lab-grown spider silk from Bolt Threads saw its first luxury partnership with designer Stella McCartney in 2017.

Other names like VitroLabs are also worth keeping an eye on, as well as those experimenting with different fibres produced from the byproduct of harvests including pineapples, mushrooms, oranges and grapes. If last year was about experimentation, 2018 gives us the opportunity to move towards application and real commercial viability.


Customisation

If you pull together some of the above trends – personalisaton and sustainability fundamentally – there’s little escape from the idea of customisation as a penultimate thought for 2018. If you can make something tailored to the individual, waste is lower, usage lasts longer, conversions are higher… the list goes on.

This is not new – we’ve been monogramming for decades – but the continued roll out of flexible manufacturing options from start-ups like Unmade, or with Shima Seiki printers as the likes of Ministry of Supply have used, as well as large scale automated systems like the Speedfactory from Adidas, are making this both quicker and more possible at scale. If that wasn’t enough, beware the A word once more: Amazon recently won a patent for an on-demand manufacturing system for apparel. That could be a game changer.


Fulfillment

In case Amazon hasn’t yet been mentioned enough above, one final point to note continues around just how to make your time from order to delivery faster than ever. With the e-commerce juggernaut setting the precedent amid a consumer landscape of instant gratification in the on-demand economy world, it’s become somewhat of a race to the bottom for fulfillment.

The fact is, if we’re offered 30-minute drone delivery down the line, or even more realistically the 90-minute arrivals of our Gucci wares from Farfetch, as we saw launch in 2017, we’re more than likely going to take it. The question of need no longer comes into it. This space is ripe with start-ups offering all manner of assistance – from types of delivery options to opportunities for simplified returns. So what are you doing to pick up the pace? Time is quite literally of the essence.

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business digital snippets e-commerce film mobile product social media Startups sustainability technology

What you missed: Burberry’s ARkit, AI transforming Shop Direct, Stella McCartney and The RealReal

Burberry's new ARkit integration
Burberry’s new ARkit integration

A round-up of everything you might have missed in relevant fashion business, digital comms and tech industry news over the past fortnight.


TOP STORIES
  • Burberry turns to Apple for augmented-reality fashion app [Bloomberg]
  • AI will transform every retailer, says Shop Direct boss [Drapers]
  • Stella McCartney wants you to resell her goods in new partnership with The RealReal [Fashionista]
  • Could kelp be the future of sustainable fashion? [Observer]

BUSINESS
  • Direct to consumer brands vs commodities: who will prevail? [LooseThreads]
  • Decoding Chanel’s Gen-Z strategy [BoF]
  • More luxury stores closed in China over the last year than in any other country [Jing Daily]

SOCIAL MEDIA
  • Target will begin incorporating Pinterest’s Lens visual search technology [AdWeek]
  • John Lewis pioneers Facebook’s 360 shoppable ad [Campaign]
  • Dior debuts Weibo story, stays in lead with Chinese millennials [Jing Daily]
  • Inside Birchbox’s 40-person social media war room [Glossy]
  • Snapchat debuts Sponsored 3D World Lenses at Advertising Week New York [The Drum]

MARKETING
  • Gant to launch ‘Couple Thinkers’ TV show on YouTube [Fashion Network]
  • Nas brings street cred to effortlessly cool animated ads for Timberland [AdWeek]
  • Why United Colors of Benetton is parting with catwalk convention to showcase its brand DNA [The Drum]
  • Fashion brands still succumbing to the high-priced artsy film [Glossy]

RETAIL & E-COMMERCE
  • Patagonia has launched its own online thrift store [PSFK]
  • New Macy’s loyalty program nudges customers to spend more [Retail Dive]
  • Uniqlo’s retail empire embarks on a digital revolution [Nikkei]

TECHNOLOGY
  • AR is now a must-have in retail [Business Insider]
  • A way to repeatedly recycle polyester has just been discovered [Eco-Business]
  • These high-tech knitting machines will soon be making car parts [Bloomberg]
  • Fashion’s future may rest on an old technology: glue [Fast Company]
  • Modiface is becoming the go-to provider of augmented reality to beauty brands [Glossy]

PRODUCT
  • Google and Levi’s ‘connected’ jacket is now on sale [TechCrunch]
  • To make a new kind of shoe, adidas had to change everything [Wired]
  • How these female engineers reinvented the bra [Fast Company]

START-UPS
  • With lab-grown leather, Modern Meadow is engineering a fashion revolution [BoF]
  • Amazon has acquired 3D body model startup, Body Labs, for $50M-$70M [TechCrunch]
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Editor's pick product Startups sustainability technology

MOMA exhibition highlights biofabrications and new technologies as the future of fashion

The Stella McCartney x Bolt Threads dress on show at the MOMA
The Stella McCartney x Bolt Threads dress on show at the MOMA

The Museum of Modern Art’s first exhibition dedicated to fashion design since 1944 presents garments and accessories that have had a profound impact on global culture over the last century.

In “Items: Is Fashion Modern?”, a total of 111 pieces span everything from the Little Black Dress and Levi’s 501 jeans, to the hoodie, the bikini, the stiletto and the Sari. About 30 of the items are also complemented by a new prototype, however – a commissioned or loaned piece inspired by advancements that signify where the industry is moving next.

These have been created by designers, artists, scientists, engineers, and manufacturers – those able to respond to the idea of these “indispensable items” with pioneering materials, approaches, and design revisions. Included is a t-shirt featuring the first lab-grown leather from bioengineering firm Modern Meadow; a dress woven from artificial spider silk by Bolt Threads marking a new partnership with designer Stella McCartney; and a new take on a customisable Breton shirt by 3D knitting company Unmade.

There’s also a fibre-optic Richard Nicoll dress on loan, created by wearable technology company XO, in partnership with Disney, as well as newly conceived versions of the pencil skirt, the biker jacket, the jumpsuit and more. Meanwhile, a wider zone in the exhibition devoted to new technologies and visions of the future, also features Issey Miyake’s A-POC and Pierre Cardin’s Cosmos Collection along with Gore-Tex, the leotard, and the Moon Boot.

Paola Antonelli, the MOMA’s Senior Curator for the Department of Architecture and Design, and its Director of Research and Development, shared her insights on the forward looking aspect of the exhibition and what it means for the future of fashion. Head over to Forbes to read the full interview.

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business digital snippets e-commerce film social media Startups sustainability technology

What you missed: Robotics in retail, biotech’s luxury nod, Amazon launches Spark

The rise of robotics in retail
The rise of robotics in retail

A round-up of everything you might have missed in relevant fashion business, digital comms and tech industry news over the past week.


TOP STORIES
  • ‘We’re at the onset of an industrial revolution’: The rise of robotics in retail [Glossy]
  • Biotech gets the luxury nod with Bolt Threads x Stella McCartney tie-up [Forbes]
  • Amazon launches Spark, a shoppable feed of stories and photos aimed at Prime members [TechCrunch]

BUSINESS
  • Will the death of US retail be the next big short? [FT]
  • 10 major retailers that could go bankrupt in 2017 [RetailDive]
  • Miroslava Duma on the biggest sustainability problems facing the fashion industry [Marie Claire]

SOCIAL MEDIA
  • Instagram encroaches on Snapchat’s turf of social media influencers, winning their hearts, minds and posts [CNBC]
  • Snapchat’s e-commerce boss says World Lenses could transform how brands convert online shoppers [The Drum]
  • Nordstrom hones Snapchat strategy for annual anniversary sale [MarketingDive]

MARKETING
  • Adidas debuts lifestyle app All Day [Fashion United]
  • Pharrell Williams powers Old Navy’s 2017 back to school musical [BrandChannel]
  • Valentino integrates shoppable video for exclusive AW17 pre-launch on Mytheresa [Fashion United]

RETAIL & E-COMMERCE
  • Legacy retailers define strategy in competitive terms. Retail upstarts define it in terms of their customer [LeanLuxe]
  • Everlane to open first flagship store [RetailDive]
  • LLBean rebrands to be more digital, less direct-mail [AdAge]
  • CEO Matt Kaness on the future of ModCloth, post-Walmart [Glossy]

TECHNOLOGY
  • The permanent future of conversational commerce: eBay’s RJ Pittman on AI and chatbots [Forbes]
  • Researchers develop green method for artificial spider silk [Fashion United]

START-UPS
  • Modern Meadow to unveil its creative materials platform at fall exhibition [Modern Meadow]
  • NewStore raises $50 million for mobile commerce [TechCrunch]
  • Meet Shopshops, an interactive, online retail experience for fashion-savvy Chinese consumers [Fashionista]
  • Syte.ai, a visual search startup just for fashion, closes $8M Series A [TechCrunch]
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business digital snippets e-commerce film social media Startups technology

What you missed: Google’s fashion week plans, Style.com opens, Tom Ford’s second movie

fashion tommy gigi carnival
Tommy Hilfiger’s carnival plans at New York Fashion Week

A few days before New York Fashion Week begins and needless to say much of the focus is on those plans – from Tommy Hilfiger’s carnival to Misha Nonoo’s Snapchat show, not to mention an update on Google that will see fashion brands curating what their search results look like pertaining to the new season.

Also hitting the headlines over the past week has been everything from M&S cutting head office jobs, Smashbox’s virtual reality campaign and our interview with Westfield’s Lindsey Thomas. Don’t forget to check out our full list of upcoming events at the bottom too…


TOP STORIES
  • This fashion week, Google gets a new look [NY Times]
  • Condé Nast’s Style.com is now open for business [The Industry]
  • Tom Ford makes comeback at Venice festival with his second movie [Reuters]
  • H&M open entries for 2nd annual innovation grant [Fashionista]

BUSINESS
  • Marks & Spencer looks to cut up to 500 jobs at London head office [The Guardian]
  • How online fashion companies use data to enhance sales [Fashion United]
  • The Blonde Salad ups the ante [BoF]

SOCIAL MEDIA
  • Innovating on Snapchat: Misha Nonoo, Ann Taylor Loft and River Island [F&M]

RETAIL
  • How the founder of Farfetch is politely reinventing the boutique for the digital age [The Telegraph]
  • One year on: How Westfield Bespoke, the retail tech space piloted in San Francisco, is winning [Forbes]

TECHNOLOGY
  • Smashbox goes behind the scenes of a photo shoot in its foray into VR [AdWeek]
  • Here’s how shoppable video will (finally) work [Venture Beat]

START-UPS
  • In-depth with Modern Meadow: the start-up bioengineering leather in a lab [Forbes]

UPCOMING EVENTS
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Editor's pick product Startups technology

In-depth with Modern Meadow: the start-up bioengineering leather in a lab

Modern Meadow
Modern Meadow

It’s one thing to say you’re working on the future of textiles, but it’s another altogether to be doing so with living cells.

That’s the premise of Modern Meadow, a biofabrication company growing animal-free leather in a lab. Until now it’s operated in the research and development space, but a recent $40 million Series B round of financing led by Horizons Ventures and Iconiq Capital, will enable it to now transition into manufacturing.

In a few years, that means we’ll be able to buy products that do indeed look and feel like leather, but are engineered from collagen protein instead. The result has the potential to have a significant impact on leather as a $100 billion raw material market; helping to satisfy increasing demand as well reduce the harm it currently has on both animals and the environment.

Head over to Forbes to read the full interview with Modern Meadow’s chief creative officer, Suzanne Lee, who talks about exactly what enhanced properties these leathers can have, the role sustainability plays in the need for this work and what the limitations are to get it to market.

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Editor's pick product technology

The future of fashion: 10 wearable tech brands you need to know

emel and aris - wearable tech
Emel + Aris

When we think about wearable technology today, the first thing to come to mind is still clunky wrist-worn devices – smart watches and fitness trackers that no matter how hard they try, haven’t yet truly nailed looking like something we all want to wear everyday. In fact, that “fashion” aspect of wearables continues to have a really long way to go in terms of true integration in our lives.

Didn’t we all imagine we’d have completely connected wardrobes by now? As Matthew Drinkwater, head of the Fashion Innovation Agency at London College of Fashion, said to me for a story in Wired UK: “It’s 2016, where’s our smart clothing? Where is it?”

Indeed, “fashion tech” as a term rarely means anything close to what we actually put on each morning and rather still relates to things like dresses that light-up – beautiful Cinderella gowns that enhance the wearer on their journey along the red carpet for instance (Met Gala anyone?). Or lingering memories like that of Google Glass and its collaboration with Diane von Furstenburg… Say no more.

As a starting point, all of these launches have been incredibly important in terms of experimentations that lead the industry forward, but they also do a relative disservice to “wearable technology” as a category to be taken seriously in fashion.

So what are the solutions that are going to win? Head over to Forbes for an outline of 10 brands to be aware of in the rather small but fashionable wearable tech space. There’s Google’s Project Jacquard jacket with Levi’s, Emel + Aris, The Unseen, Zenta, XO and Thesis Couture, as well as some that stretch what the term “wearables” might mean – stepping beyond connected textiles into deeper fibre science with Bolt Threads, Spiber and Modern Meadow.