Six Ways Technology is Changing Fashion For Good

Photography courtesy of Instagram/@thredup.

From fit to fabrication to fashion weeks, there’s lots to look forward to

“I tend to have rose-coloured glasses when looking at the industry,” says Toronto-based journalist and Electric Runway founder, Amanda Cosco. Her view of the fashion world is not only positive but global and multi-dimensional, as she’s provided insight into how technology is changing fashion for over five years on her innovative and informational platform.

After exiting 2020 – a year that saw virtual runway shows across the globe, a huge bump in e-commerce consumption, and consumers’ awareness of their carbon footprint at an all-time high – it’s no surprise that she’s feeling optimistic about the future of fashion. And she shared the six key ways we’ll see the industry continue to improve, thanks to tech innovations.

A better fit is within reach

“With so much moving online, our expectations are getting higher as consumers,” Cosco says of how user experience is continually being scrutinized and refined. And this user experience is perhaps most important when it comes to our satisfaction with an online purchase because it needs to fit without being physically tried on first; after all, how eco-friendly is it to keep buying and returning pieces if they’re not the sizing or silhouette we expected?

Cosco says that we’ll continue to see more leaps in fit technology, from brands like Unspun’s use of body scanning technology to the release late last year of an improved version of the Zozosuit – a sensor-covered wearable that helps retailers and brands better understand the contours of a consumer’s body.

Sustainability efforts keep on growing

Speaking of Unspun, Cosco also notes that the brand’s customizable, on-demand manufacturing approach addresses pervasive sustainability issues within the fashion industry as well. “You take pictures of yourself, answer some questions and pick finishes, and they send you a pair of custom-made jeans that wouldn’t have otherwise been manufactured,” she says. “It’s a complete reversal to the mass manufacturing model that we’re used to seeing.” She adds that “it’s interesting that bigger companies like H&M have worked with a company like Unspun, because they know that what they’re doing is the future, and the way [fast-fashion retailers] have been doing business has bottomed out.”

Technology is also improving the way companies and creatives source more sustainably minded textiles, with Cosco pointing to the example of Queen of Raw’s use of blockchain in creating “a marketplace for excess materials.” The New York-based platform, which was founded by Stephanie Benedetto, highlights that for every yard purchased from the site, 700 gallons of water is saved.

“Additionally, you have ThredUp, which is using artificial intelligence to pair shoppers with thrift clothes,” says Cosco, addressing the potential in previously owned clothing – for both purchase and rental – to reign, thanks to connections created online. “The second-hand market is only being enabled by technology.”

Inclusivity and self-expression will thrive

Brick-and-mortar shopping comes with a whole host of prohibitive issues for different shoppers, from entry being barred for wheelchair users to cash registers not being accessible for those shorter in stature to clothing racks being separated by gender. By contrast, the digital world makes room for many, and welcomes self-expression in countless forms.

“We’re seeing this with games, where people will change their ‘skins’, even paying money for new [ones],” Cosco says of domains like Animal Crossing: New Horizons, which utilize QR codes to enable players to choose pieces from even the most high-end brands. “We’re living more online, and it’s becoming more of an outlet for the expression of who we are via fashion,” she adds, noting that the ability to switch up our style while gaming replaces the fast-fashion impulse to always have something new on – but without the same environmental impact.

Experiential is in a new dimension

Pre-pandemic, you couldn’t interact with the fashion world without hearing the term “experiential”, which described how you related to a brand’s products, ethos and community IRL. “Before, we saw the store as the centre of experience,” Cosco says. “Now brands that are still betting big on experiential are looking at digital to create those experiences.”

She highlights the recent immersive pin locations created to celebrate the collaboration between The North Face x Gucci; and we’re all waiting to find out exactly what Monday’s announcement about the “interactive, entertainment-first” launch of AZ Factory means. The label – which was founded by beloved designer Alber Elbaz – is set to make its debut on January 26th during next week’s Haute Couture events, and has exclusive partnerships with e-tailers Farfetch and Net-a-Porter to launch its wares.

Fashion Week evolves ever-more

In addition to wondering what Couture Week will bring in terms of presentation style and the designs, other imminent fashion weeks are also set to remain online only (both London Fashion Week and Stockholm Fashion Week said this month that their events in February would be entirely digital). What that involves, enticingly, is anyone’s guess.

Cosco notes that last year’s fashion week presentations presented a bit of muddiness around their format. “Is it a livestream? Is it a fashion film? Is it a meet-and-greet with the designer?” she recalls about the myriad of ways brands chose to introduce their latest collections to the world. “We saw lots of experimentation, and it’s interesting to see what happens when creativity has constraints.”

Accountability is inescapable

 If fashion week as we knew it represented a centrepiece of fashion as a whole, I don’t think that centre is holding anymore,” Cosco says while discussing how technology has changed not only the way we see and buy fashion, but also how the business of fashion operates. Recalling the Circular Fashion Summit she attended last year (virtually, of course, thanks to the use of an ocular headset), she says that as an industry “we’ve been questioning our role in keeping some traditions alive and squaring that with this new wave of digital.”

That doesn’t just mean companies are finding better ways to create sustainable products, though; Cosco says that there’s been an important uprising within the garment worker community online, giving it a necessary voice when it comes to factory and brand practices.

Ultimately, Cosco sees only a way forward for fashion thanks to a year where we learned to live online. “For people like me who have been looking towards the future of fashion and wishing that markets would adopt quicker, it’s been exciting,” she says. “[But] it’s bittersweet, of course, that it took a pandemic to get the industry to catch up.”

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