The fashion industry has always been a driver of technological innovation, from the invention of the sewing machine to the development of e-commerce. Even today, this branch of technology is changing faster than ever, according to analysts at CB Insights. Robotic cutters and artificial intelligence algorithms that predict new fashion trends, smart mirrors in fitting rooms – innovations will automate and personalize a wide variety of market niches, helping manufacturers make more money. In its most recent report, CB Insights highlighted the main trends that change the fashion industry. The top five of them are listed below.
In the near future, robots will oust humans from apparel manufacturing, according to CB Insights. Even now, many startups are working to create automated sewing systems. Among them is SoftWear Automation, which is developing the Sewbots system with robotic arms, vacuum grippers and micromanipulators. The robot also uses computer vision to improve accuracy. Even the current version cuts production costs: one of the manufacturers reported that the use of Sewbots has reduced the cost of a t-shirt to $0.33. In February 2019, SoftWear announced the Sewbots-as-a-Service system, where a fully automated sewing line can be rented. It might even allow US companies to make clothing in the United States cheaper than outsourcing in Asia and with higher quality, CB Insights noted.
Robots are staring to be used in the manufacture of footwear. Nike uses a robot from the Grabit startup in the manufacture of sneakers. The manipulator uses electroadhesion to grip objects gently and accurately, which enables it to do the upper part of the sneaker; before that, the manipulation absolutely required a human operator.
New technologies will also help retailers eliminate the lines outside fitting rooms – the use of augmented reality will even save customers the trouble of undressing. Smart mirrors with AR are already used by TopShop; Uniqlo stores have mirrors that help buyers “try a garment on” in different colors without having to change (the color changes only in the mirror).
Retail chain Neiman Marcus used similar technology in some of its stores back in 2017 when it partnered with the Memo MiLabs startup and installed 58 digital mirrors in 37 stores. In 2019, the company launched an ‘exemplary’ store of the future in the heart of New York fitted out with latest digital technology. Customers can benefit from smart mirrors that film and then email the process of trying on clothing and makeup. Smart fitting rooms using the Alert Tech technology allow them to adjust lighting, communicate with staff remotely and even pay for purchases. Theatro voice assistant helps to optimize customers’ time spent in the store based on their demands.
Similar changes are happening in shoe sales. ConverseSampler AR application not only allows you to browse the Converse online catalogue but also to try on shoes by simply pointing your smart phone at your feet. By the way, Russian developers are working on similar solutions.
Ministry of Supply men’s garment manufacturer printed a tailored sports jacket using a 3D printer, which took 90 minutes. Adidas is cooperating with the Carbon startup to 3D print sneakers. First models, Futurecraft 4D worth around $300, are already in stores. The sportswear company joined the list of Carbon’s investors via HydraVentures. 3D printing promises to completely change fashion production – not only by customizing it but also by reducing expenses thanks to zero waste (usually produced during cutting).
New Balance and Reebok have also joined the race. In March 2018, Reebok released Liquid Floatride Run for which the Liquid Grip sole and an innovative shoelace system were produced using 3D printing.
CB Insights comments that in the future, 3D printing may significantly lower the costs of industrial shoe production, currently using expensive cutting dies, and simplify the manufacturing process.
Technological development can also make fashion stylists obsolete and replace them with a digital assistant. There are already some solutions of this kind on the market. For instance, EchoLook fashion assistant made by Amazon. The device costs $99 and can analyze your clothing style using only your photos. It also can recommend a better look with clothing and accessories being available immediately on Amazon.
Apparel manufacturers actively use chat bots as virtual stylists. Thus, ASOS has created a shopping assistant in Facebook Messenger, while Levi’s together with the Mode.ai startup are creating a virtual fashion stylist which will help customers pick ideal jeans. Even luxury brands cannot resist trying digital stylists: Prada has recently presented a personalized chatbot for a Chinese website.
Digital assistants can make the fashion industry more personalized. For instance, users can send photos of clothes or shoes they like to stylist bots and receive offers to purchase similar ones. Israeli startup Syte offers a solution with embedding a smart camera button in the website search field.
Technology also promises to radically change fabrics that are used in apparel manufacturing. The Modern Meadow startup is trying to ‘biofabricate’ leather without the rest of the cow, while Bolt Threads and EntoGenetics are making fibers from spider silk. Levi’s, a famous denim manufacturer, is cooperating with Google to create a smart coat which will be able to recognize gestures and even decline calls and play music on a smartphone. The smart coat is made of the conductive Jacquard Threads that combine thin metallic alloys with natural and synthetic materials and integrated sensors. Samsung tech giant has developed the Body Compass smart workout suit which can track your fitness levels like heart rate and respiration.
Smart footwear will soon occupy the market. Thus, Digitsole shoe design includes auto-lacing and heating (can be connected to a smartphone), the ShiftWear sneakers have flexible HD screens which display images or video. The Lechal startup is working on shoes with vibration actuators that point you in the right direction (by the way, there are similar solutions on the Russian market as well).
By Olga Blinova