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Fashion technology — be careful what you wish for

Posted by Paula Fifield on 13th March 2018

Last week Wildfire launched a business development campaign focused on fashion companies that are differentiating themselves using technology. From the research conducted and the many companies I’ve engaged with this week, I find myself with mixed feelings about how this industry appears to be evolving and what the future has in store for fashion.

Fashion on demand

Consumer demand is quite clearly driving fashion businesses to deliver collections more rapidly. Surprise, surprise, we want it all and we want it now…something that appears to be the habit of our lifetime.

However, I can see how this defies the whole image of haute couture and the business of high-end fashion houses. For example, Dolce and Gabbana (D&G) presumably justifies its high prices on the basis of the length of time, effort and creative ability that goes into crafting garments produced by the label.

Being willing to pay thousands of dollars / pounds for a hand-sewn D&G basque-style dress surely loses its appeal if this fashion line is being thrown together by robots in their hundreds and punted out the door to anyone and everyone?

The garments that are displayed on the world’s catwalks are flagrantly copied (the biggest form of flattery of course) by other brands, but the concept of cookie-cutter fashion is far from appealing for most people, I would think.

Brands and beliefs

I am absolutely an advocate of technology and have loved learning this week about how 3D printing is helping brands customise products, how AI can help determine whether something is ‘fashionable’ (and therefore likely to be desirable) and how apps can help me try make-up on — without ever having to leave my house. But I do wonder if all technological progress is ultimately good for brands.

I’ve heard several talks by psychology experts recently that tie consumer-perceived value squarely to history. Beyond utility, it’s usually the origin and authenticity of the product that gives it its value. Scarcity is also something that drives a higher value.

So are high-end fashion brands diluting their value by making their products more readily available — either in the sense of time or quantity (and, by association, quality)? In addition,  will today’s fashionista (that considers style to be a religion) feel that all of this technology is tearing the soul out of their beloved industry?

If brands and technology are changing the status quo, perhaps consumer belief and value systems also need to change in order for brands to maintain the value we currently perceive them to have.

Future fashion progress may still lie in the past

Interestingly, Dolce and Gabbana, turned to the past for innovation, even now claiming to want to ‘use the past to project it into the future’. Is the link therefore in modernising the business of fashion, whilst making the sure the brand still has a firm connection with the past?

D&G’s 2018 runway, which saw a parade of drones carrying beautiful handbags, seems to suggest that this is one brand that is supremely clear on how to maximise technology innovation to strengthen sales and protect the brand.

However, D&G’s Mediterranean backstory, which includes narratives such as ‘a woman who simultaneously reveals and conceals brassieres and corsets, lace, lingerie and veils, and who is disturbing in her impetuous sensuality’, shouldn’t be allowed to be overshadowed by technology.

But perhaps by embracing technology D&G will ensure that the brand story continues to be told, long after its stoically non-tech peers cease to exist.

Image: https://unsplash.com/photos/f76zzdCEBgw

Paula Fifield

Paula began working with the agency in 2007 as Business Development Director and was appointed as a board director in 2011. Prior to Wildfire, Paula worked at Sun Microsystems, Orange and Morse Group in a range of marketing, customer relationship management and business development roles.

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