The use of technology in fashion industry is something that hasn’t been discussed as excitedly as, say, tourism or online retail. That’s because like medicine, diagnosis and surgery, the fashion industry’s offerings are highly personalized and the current automation technology is probably not advanced enough to tackle that.
That technology is impacting every walk of life is such a cliché now that we barely mention it. Yet, there are some areas that have remained a challenge to technology tools like Artificial Intelligence (AI).
This post discusses the impact of technology, automation and AI on the fashion and apparel industry. It focuses on two key applications of technology in the fashion industry: made-to-order stitching and sales. Finally, the post explores the role of AI in the apparel and fashion industry and the challenges ahead.
Technology in fashion industry and made-to-order clothes
It’s like a dress-designer visiting your home the way it happened in royal families (we presume) – you choose the apparel design and the clothes are home-delivered.
Bespokify does more or less the same thing. Except that there are no dress-designers visiting your home (sigh).
Custom designed and fitted apparel patterns in seconds, it says. The way they present it, there could be a revolution in waiting in the online retail clothing and the fashion industry.
This is how Bespokify, the apparel and fashion design software by a company based in Singapore, works for apparel retailers, apparel brands, corporate uniform manufacturers and even the tailor round the corner.
First, you select, from an inbuilt pattern library, a pattern you think might be popular. Of course, you are free to add your own design to the library if you wish to have your own design.
Next comes the measurement stage. There’s an option of 3D measurement . Alternatively, you can key in measurements manually.
There’s an in-built predictive API that not only reduces the number of measurements you need to feed but also helps create the best fit possible by optimising the measurements required.
When the design and the measurements are finalized, you can instantly plot or cut or print patterns and proceed. And lo! the technology enabled clothing will soon be ready for shipping.
3-D body scanners technology in fashion industry
There’s an alternative too. You, the consumer, would walk into the boutique and get inside a specially designed cubicle. You strip down and a 3-D body scanners with proprietary algorithm scans your body and swiftly takes measurements.
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Once the measurements enter the software, you can choose from and customize designs. These measurements are relayed to a unit in China where they fabric is cut – manually at the moment – and the dresses are shipped.
The key element that most people here miss is customers with a digitalized file with their body measurements.
In future, if you have such a file ready, you could jump from one website to another till you find a dress you love. You simply upload your measurement file – and even that could be optimized some way – and lo, you’ve ordered a perfectly customized dress even without getting up from your chair.
Of course, costs remain steep. Isabella Wren dresses, the brand that uses this technology, cost as much as $500.
For smaller online retailers, inventory costs can be crippling. So the ultimate test would be when smaller retailers could order in smaller numbers. Better technologies could help cut down their order size from hundreds to dozens and to ultimately the dream number one.
Using technology in apparel sales
Recently, an article in the Wall Street Journal discussed how apps are helping salespeople in the apparel industry.
This is how it works. When a customer visits the store’s website (not the physical store), they are connected to the available salesperson online at the nearest store (assuming the store has multiple locations).
Just as the salesperson would do it during an offline sale, they would understand what the customer is looking for. Based on the requirements shared by the customer, the clothes’ salesperson swings into action and offers assistance over the app to the customer.
Depending upon the way the interface or the app is designed, the customer may be able to view the salesperson but the salesperson cannot view the customer. This, WSK reports, is done to prevent the salesperson from being too pushy.
The whole idea is to use whatever channel the customer is most comfortable with – offline, online, app, whatever. Importantly, the app can be made more fair to the salespersons.
Even without a specialized app, customers were already buying online – only the salesperson wasn’t not credited for all the efforts they were putting in.
Over a year back, WSJ reports, Amazon had filed a patent where it could accept customers’ orders, print a pattern and have it cut and assembled by robot. Apparently, Amazon has put the commercialization on hold, at least for the time being.
The two challenges for technology in fashion industry
3-D printed dresses and AI, fashion technology are bringing a sharply increased degree of convenience to fashion industry customers.
However, two challenges lie ahead.
The first challenge to technology is handling fabric and soft material. As a piece of cloth gets cut, stitched and moved across the machine, it is likely to fold or crease. This is in sharp contrast to a piece of metal which remains uniformly stretched throughout any processing done upon it.
Technology that can handle this moving and crumpling fabric is available, but the costing is quite high.
The second is the challenge technology in fashion industry that’s actually universal: loss of human jobs. For instance, Bangladesh, one of the major producers of outsourced dresses worldwide, is witnessing a steep fall in the number of new jobs added in the garment and textile industry – from 300,000 to 60,000. Some claim this could bring back manufacturing to the USA, but the fact remains that employment in third-world countries will be at a severe loss.
With more technology, we probably want more personalization too, where we have the freedom to choose things that exactly meet our needs. For instance, consider selecting a bag: there are so many details you’ve to look for. Will technology make that easier and less expensive?