Digitalization in the Fashion Industry: Re-imagining Consumption and Sustainability
Author: Kelsi Lee
For the first time in history, Paris Fashion week was held virtually in 2021, challenging the way traditional fashion shows have previously been held. While the event is known for the masses of high status celebrities, some of the season’s hottest trends, and luxurious after parties, all that was required for 2021 was your best sweatsuit, a laptop, and your comfiest couch. Despite the restrictions on public gatherings across Europe, designers took it into their own hands to ensure the show still went on. From Maison Margiela’s mini-film to promote their ‘Co-Ed’ collection, to Mugler’s use of computerized-imagery to create a digital versions of models such as Bella Hadid, the adaptability and adversity shown through the event illuminated what fashion tends to do best — reinvent itself over and over again. However, digital catwalks are not the only way the industry has interacted with digitalization. Start-up apps are reinventing the way that fashion and textiles are consumed, and how retail stores can gain a competitive advantage in customer satisfaction. From 3D garments to interactive mirrors, artificial intelligence is providing solutions to some of the biggest challenges in the fashion industry, in particular, environmental sustainability.
3D Bella Hadid from Mugler’s Spring/Summer 2021 collection —
unveiled in October 2020
Start-up apps — are we getting closer to our Clueless closet dreams coming true?
Clueless character Cher interacting with her virtual closet and stylist in the 2001 film
Inteli Style and Nobal Technologies — iMirror
Just like Cher, you can now have a personal stylist at the touch of a button and on demand. Inteli Style, a London based company, uses AI powered styling to personalize the customer experience of retail fashion. The company claims to use AI to analyze the latest catwalk photography and images from social media to compile knowledge on current trends and what styles look good together. If this hasn’t caught your attention, perhaps this might: A smart mirror that suggests styled outfits and clothing items using the most advanced visual and style recognition engine. Nobal, a Canadian based company, is a partner with Inteli Style that also uses AI to provide retailers with a unique fitting room experience. While customers are still able to try on physical garments, the iMirror suggests other items that might be of interest, ways to style the item, and allows customers to interact with store employees to request different sizes and different colours. What’s really changing the game here is that this data-driven service is not restricted to delivering outfit recommendations and a unique customer experience to customer segments. The iMirror is able to reach customers at the individual level and provide them with a personalized experience that is tailored to them and their style.
DressX — 3D garments
Perhaps one of the largest problems the fashion industry has experienced is the rapid change in trend turnover. Recognizing both the apparent reduction in trend lifespans, DressX is an app that aims to challenge consumption habits and reduce the amount of clothing waste that ends up in landfills. By using DressX, users simply sign up, browse the catalogue of available items, purchase items for nearly a third of retail prices, select their favorite photo of themselves and check out. In about 1–2 days preceding their purchase, customers receive their favorite photo of themselves wearing the item they purchased. While it may seem wild to some, this avenue of consumption can be very admirable to an influencer’s lifestyle. One of the ways trend turnover has sped up is with the presence of the “purchase-Instagram-return” cycle. Influencers show what is trendy right now, but what their audience rarely sees is that these pieces almost never stay in their closet. Habits like this were DressX’s call to action — if the new generation of consumers is driven by newness and online content validation, how is the environment going to handle the mass amounts of clothing that are discarded after little wear? The answer — digital fashion. 3D garments not only look realistic, fuel demand for artists’ work, and offer customers access to global designs, they also reduce the shopper’s carbon footprint and make their consumption more sustainable.
Nina Doll — 3D designer with DressX
One of my favorite 3D designers that has partnered with DressX goes by the name of Nina Doll. Located in Berlin, Nina has a background with classic tailoring and design but is currently focusing on 3D garments and their influence on human emotions. What I love most about her pieces are how realistic the textures look on the models, and her use of bright colours.
Lime top by Nina Doll on DressX — $30.00 USD
Love lust dress by Nina Doll on DressX — $45.00 USD
Latex Blue pants by Nina Doll on DressX — $30.00 USD
A sustainable future in the fashion industry looks hopeful. In particular, I think that DressX’s software and innovation addresses and responds to the ever changing behaviour of consumers, and it has the potential to disrupt what consumption has traditionally looked like. By replacing physical clothing items with 3D garments, environmental waste is no longer a cause for concern, nor is exploitative labour as seen in the fast fashion segment.
Considering that roughly 84 percent of clothing and textiles end up in landfills, 3D garments provide a solution to reducing this percentage while also being flexible to the wear-once pattern textile consumption appears to be following. While there is still an obvious need for retail fashion and physical garments, 3D clothing provides an optimistic solution to reducing the gracious amounts of water, chemicals, and other natural resources to create the products offered at retail stores. It is estimated that 2,700 litres of water is required to produce a single cotton shirt. Considering how much clothing ends up in the landfill, precious resources like water are constantly wasted on items that can also take more than 200 years to decompose, generate greenhouse gases, and strain groundwater and soil with chemical dyes and toxins from fabrics.
Overall, the digitalization of fashion is creating an emerging space for 3D designers in the industry and providing solutions for the future of fashion and the planet. In terms of Inteli Style and Nobal’s iMirror, I can foresee some skepticism from consumers concerning personal data and privacy. While we are living in an age when consumer data is giving companies a better competitive advantage, it may cause some discomfort in an intimate setting such as a department store change room.