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Do you see technology transforming fast fashion into personalised fashion? How realistic can such an idea be?

Verticals like fast fashion won’t completely adopt personalisation on production side
As the coronavirus pandemic rages on, the digital transformation that was earlier seen to be inevitable in the next 5–10 years has already begun. Fibre2Fashion explores whether personalisation at the mass level can become a reality soon.


We don’t get the sense that personalisation is a priority at this time and that is not to say it won’t be in the future. After covid-19, standardising the fit of the core lines would be imperative. Getting customers into the right fit the first time they try on a garment is of course the holy grail. Brands need to choose a fit standard to go with and stick to that fit standard.

Personalisation is the future, no doubt. It comes in different ways, shapes, models etc. I don’t think that we are going to have a clothes-3d printer at home someday soon, but an idea to forget about sizing labels, like “Extra large”, “34”, can come true relatively soon.

I think it’s important to differentiate between customisation and personalisation. Customisation, or selecting from a predefined set of options that a brand establishes, is here and impacting fast fashion. Many brands are already offering consumers the opportunity to customise garments online or in-store.

Personalisation, or giving consumers the ability to make a truly one-of-a-kind garment, is an entirely different beast.

Personalisation at the scale and speed of fast fashion is a massive supply chain challenge that will require a digital revolution of the industry, from how we develop garments to how and where they are made. And while most brands are actively looking at how to address this area, the industry has yet to overcome all of the hurdles to personalisation at scale.

Furthermore, I would hypothesise that consumers who take the time and effort to personalise their garments are more likely to wear them for a longer period of time. That is almost counterintuitive to the trend-driven fast fashion space. So, while customisation will certainly continue to rise in fast fashion, I am not convinced that personalisation and fast fashion are compatible.

Personalisation is not necessarily that different: the entire premise is for retailers to leverage their data to drive personalisation through experience, assortment, or location and delivery. These factors continue to remain a focus for retailers. For instance, retailers are now exploring more ways to execute final-mile delivery, such as by offering buy online, pickup at curbside (BOPAC) options. They will also continue to leverage attribution in their data to identify items with the highest likelihood of selling. Technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) make personalisation a reality for many retailers looking for a quicker ROI, as AI/ML capabilities allow them to combine their data and isolate the most predictive attributes to help them define the right product assortments.

This is a great point and I think highlights where the industry is going. With more shoppers buying clothes online now more than ever before, the opportunity for personalisation has never been bigger. At the same time, personalisation spans two different areas - style personalisation and size personalisation.

While we’ve seen a lot of style personalisation options over the years, we’re now seeing a strong push towards size personalisation and on-demand manufacturing. Companies that have found themselves stuck with physical inventory they can’t sell are now more interested than ever before in finding a way to stop making more clothes than they need. I think we’re going to see a major shift over the next few years towards on-demand manufacturing so people can go from personalising the style of existing clothes to making clothes specifically for them on-demand.

Technology and personalisation will have an impact on optimising the management of their supply chains and inventories as a first step. The next wave of innovation will be contextual intelligence and hyper personalisation that will drive more meaningful customer interactions. The online and offline retail worlds are becoming less distinctive and retailers are improving their omnichannel offering to meet consumers’ demands for ease of access and personalised dialogue. On the other hand, I don’t think that made to measure fashion at scale will happen tomorrow.

What we have all gone through in the past few months will have an impact on all aspects of society. No one knows for sure how it will affect fashion or retail with the exception that the online shopping experience will dramatically increase. Personalisation online is much easier to achieve than within a retail store environment. That being said, people like to investigate touch, feel and try on garments. With social distancing restrictions being implemented and limiting the number of shoppers permitted within a store, personalisation is a possibility.

It’s a long shot and I’m not expecting to see personalised fashion at mass level soon. The personalisation can work for specific niches such as suits and shirts, and sneakers, but my opinion is that the choice to buy a personalised item will still be a niche and not a generalised habit.

Fast fashion has been hugely scrutinised during this crisis, and there will be more calls for fashion to slow down. I don’t think personalised fashion is the solution for fast fashion, it is much deeper than that; a fundamental rethinking is needed, as companies have been learning new lessons on aspects of consumer engagement, sentiment, supply chain disruptions and social responsibility. Yet, personalised fashion can serve other purposes considering that consumers are becoming more experiential. I think we are experiencing a shift in the interlinked relations between technology, personalisation and experience. The focus is the consumers again, but this time planning a strong role in personalising their own experiences through engaging with smart technologies provided by the brands. It is another form and shape of e-commerce, with augmented and automated processes playing a big role. It is already happening, yet it depends on the brand’s philosophy and vision, in relation to the sought shape of relationship with consumers.

Yes, we’re already seeing a big trend in AI curation from retailers, including personalised “what’s trending” recommendations based on influential tastemakers, features that enable consumers to build their own wardrobes across a number of different brands, on their budgets, all in one place online. There’s also a strong move for mass market brands to provide a customised experience for consumers, such as Nike By You Custom Shoes, or beauty brands like Clinique’s custom-blend hydrator. This trend will continue to accelerate as customers expect more personalised experiences, and as brands hope to attract a wider range of audiences.

There's clearly a sharper focus on personalisation these days, and technology is playing a significant role as a facilitator for this. The fast fashion concept heralded by e-commerce is here to stay and personalisation is here to stay. More than 90 per cent of tomorrow’s transaction on e-commerce platforms will be driven by personalisation.

No concrete opinion yet. Still too early to gauge. But, it looks promising.

Our solution is focused on personalisation. Shoppers are able to get accurate fit and styling visualisations, which drives engagement, conversion and retention. Personalisation is a trend that is here to stay and will continue to rise.

Although personalisation and customisation has growing appeal, I still believe that most consumers want to buy into a brand’s designs rather than be given the freedom to design their own. This was something I researched in great detail, and the resounding sentiment was that most consumers don’t feel comfortable designing or customising products.

Where I see personalisation having mass application and appeal, is fit. However, a great deal of digital innovation is still required with brands and their supply chains for this to see adoption at scale. It comes back to my point that the fashion system needs an interconnected digital infrastructure to support new applications and innovations. I feel quietly optimistic as to the digital transformation that is happening as we speak, accelerated by the current pandemic due to necessity. So it might be sooner than we previously expected!

Similar to the process above, we believe that technologies are the only road to making personalised fashion universal. Here are three simple steps that could enable personalised/ on-demand fashion:
Step 1: Transform your physical designs to 3D digital designs by using 3D fashion design software
Step 2: Use a virtual model to do the fitting and create marketing assets 
Step 3: Launch your designs before production, and migrate into on-demand manufacture

Also, with everything going on in the world right now, we could expect to see more shifts from doing mass production in countries with cheap labour to nearshoring. With all the advanced automatic production equipment, PLM systems in place, countries with higher labour costs can still run these on-demand production models and still make financial sense. Take Amazon’s On Demand Apparel Manufacturing Patent as an example, the patent is designed to boost consumers’ interest in buying higher-margin apparel (like custom suits or dresses). It could also be applied to thousands of apparel companies serving as an affordable and efficient service for suppliers of all sizes.

Published on: 22/06/2020

DISCLAIMER: All views and opinions expressed in this column are solely of the interviewee, and they do not reflect in any way the opinion of Fibre2Fashion.com.

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