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Is Digitization The Savior Of The Fashion Industry?

Digital Fashion

Digital transformation of fashion design and manufacturing is viewed as both an opportunity and a threat, depending on who you ask. The perceived threats include job security, creativity, and loss of the “human touch” in fashion design and garment-making. The opportunities span time and cost savings, vast and swift sustainability gains (including removing textile waste and reducing the need for dyeing, water use and the carbon emissions generated by physical sampling) and the ability to manufacture small quantities of products profitably.

Other creative industries, such as gaming and film, have adopted digital tools and subsequently platforms that link design, the beating heart of all the products created for human consumption, with every other person and process necessary to bring that design to life (whether that be on a screen or in physical form). It follows that these industries have therefore provided a blueprint for the digitization of fashion—or have they?

To put this debate into the current context, the sustainability pressures facing the fashion industry point to digital transformation being necessary, rather than optional. The rising cost of raw materials as the planet’s resources dwindle, the carbon and financial costs of manual garment sampling and shipping back and forth from manufacturers in Asia to Europe and the U.S., and the switch from two seasons per year to monthly (or weekly) product launches to keep up with social media trends, mean that the only way to meet global consumer demand is to digitize and streamline manual processes. Indeed, the question seems to be how can the industry progress in a manner that is sustainable, ethical and profitable without digitalization?

To draw parallels and find out what fashion can learn from the gaming and film industries, I spoke to Remo Gettini, a serial innovator who is ex-Dreamworks, and DWA NOVA, and now the CTO of the human-centric app-based community of 16 million buyers and sellers of fashion, Depop. What is holding fashion back? Why has digital transformation been so slow? What steps should the industry take to transform expensive, slow, manual, unethical, unfair and unsustainable practices into processes fit for today’s consumers, who want a paradox of constant newness (often personalized) within the planetary bounds?

As CTO at DWA NOVA, Gettini worked with brands ranging from Tommy Hilfiger to Nike and Burberry to navigate the digital landscape and define and implement digital solutions for product design, development and merchandising. “The fashion industry has the opportunity to increase its creativity way beyond what it can currently imagine,” says Gettini. What it lacks is access to human-centric technologies fit for the creative nuances and ephemerality of fashion design. “How do you express the value of a Burberry scarf in a 3D render?” asked Gettini. This is a tough question and one that is being asked by fashion brands, too.

Why has 3D digital design fallen so far short for fashion, I asked? The answer, according to Gettini, having spent decades orchestrating digital transformation as a solutions architect, technical director, and CTO, is that digital design has been borne out of engineering and is based on CAD/CAM solutions, which are “not creative or intuitive in a way that empowers designers.” His view is that the solutions on the market right now, CLO3D (one of the newest CAD solutions for fashion) included, are driven by technical specifications that still do not bridge the gap between creative design and product creation.

The width of this gap is astonishing if you think about the current turnover of styles and speed of fashion, paired with dwindling order volumes as e-commerce has ushered in a shorter shelf-life for styles that are driven by fleeting Instagram trends. This is a phenomenon Depop knows only too well as they provide a seamless platform that integrates social-media trends, e-commerce, and online communities.

The second barrier, he believes, is that solutions providers approach fashion like it was any other industry. They present the same tools to fashion as they do to automotive, aerospace and architecture. “This just won’t work with fashion,” he says. “Fashion needs a platform that plugs creative design into the supply chain painlessly and without designers having to change the way they work. This is fundamental. Designers should not be asked to drop their manual design and illustration techniques in favor of a mouse and keyboard.” To Gettini’s mind, this is where digital transformation “falls at the first hurdle.” So what is the solution?

Reflecting on the strategy of digital transformation at Dreamworks, he explained that they gave designers a tablet and pen so that whatever they drew was digitized—the action was the same, but the options for color, texture, and effects were greater. They expanded the designers’ toolkit, rather than changing it. This unleashed their creativity and the rest of the digital solutions were built around translating these digital sketches into products that could be manufactured via CAD/CAM solutions, seamlessly.

He stressed throughout our conversation that the technology “needs to disappear” and leave only the impression that the work is easier, better and more creative. “Human-centricity is the key to digital success.” In fact, at Depop, the users never talk about the app. They talk about “the experience, the friends they make, the communities they join, the clothes they buy—never the technology,” says Gettini.

What else would Gettini do to fast-track digital transformation in fashion? From a C-level perspective, he would hire new talent graduating from fashion colleges with 3D design skills and an appetite for creative digital design in place of traditional methods of fashion design. He would place these new recruits with the current crop of designers and task them with developing the next collections collaboratively, to leverage both approaches. Fundamental here is the integration of digital design in the actual design and development of products, rather than as an isolated “project.” “

There is no point running a separate pilot to dip your toe in—digital-native designers need to be introduced into the process as part of the business, not as an experiment,” he says. This triggers memories of views shared with me by digital designers working in siloed departments at global brands, who express frustration that digital solutions are adopted within their departments, but do not influence or integrate with other departments, or the supply chain. The very “project” approach that Gettini warns against is a common approach, it seems.

So what does the digitization of fashion design mean for the future of Depop? Depop currently has 16 million buyers and sellers of fashion on its app (the tip of the iceberg, according to Gettini), and in all likelihood, they have the next generation of fashion designers on their platform, too. What would happen if the Depop community could create and share digital fashion designs for crowd-vetting, that are connected to digital manufacturing facilities allowing production on demand, to the quantity determined by the seller (and demanded by the Depop community)—a kind of “Unity for fashion,” as Gettini calls it? This is something that Depop is currently looking into as a possible evolution of their fashion platform. This example further illustrates how 3D digital design has the power to provide fashion-on-demand in a more sustainable manner than the current model of overproduction and inevitable deadstock creation.

During a recent conversation with Kees Jacobs, head of insights and data, global sector consumer products and retail at consultancy firm Capgemini, he explained that in the past decade, digital fashion solutions have been prioritized in consumer-facing domains (website, mobile, in-store experiences) where tech solutions can increase customer engagement and facilitate customer services. On the subject of 3D digital design adoption, his experience has demonstrated that “the urgency to do this is less. The top line (for digital solutions) is retail.”

He went on to state that “we see a big shift happening with digital twins of consumer and products and where the two meet.” Regarding the top two investments fashion retailers should make that promise good ROI, the first was data analytics solutions, and the second area was “consumer engagement and the digital avatar (to allow) the use of CGI to be able to have digital experiences around the products.” Who should retailers look to for these solutions, I asked? Capgemini is working with large players (including Microsoft) and a number of smaller, highly specialized startups to deliver on digital avatars, products, and experiences.

It seems that a potential future direction for the fashion industry is implementing digitized fashion illustration at the first stage of design to connect to 3D CAD/CAM software and equipment for on-demand manufacturing, then eventually the digital product presentation tools at the consumer end. Of course, this is dependent on 3D design tools being adopted by designers and brands, which still proves to be a challenge, based on the views of Gettini and a number of designers I have spoken to at global brands. The challenge is largely due to the technical nature of the interfaces currently on offer to fashion designers via 3D design software.

In addition, the preference for hand-drawing and painstaking manual design techniques still dominates amongst senior designers and creative directors (for whom the design and development processes are often structured to accommodate). Indeed, 3D digital design is still notably absent from the curriculums of top fashion colleges, with many 3D digital designers being self-taught (or from a gaming or film background). The fashion design students I have spoken to who are exploring 3D digital design are learning from online tutorials and forums in place of being taught formally at university. If a “Unity for fashion” does emerge, a new generation of fashion designers who buck the tradition of a fashion college education may yet define, and design, the fashion of our future.

Follow me on Twitter or LinkedIn. Check out my website.

I am a sustainability and fashion tech journalist, innovator and public speaker with several years of experience working across this growing sector. I am also Director of the innovation agency BRIA, where we create materials-tech collaborations and sustainability innovations with brands from both the fashion and technology sectors, directly combining my knowledge of the latest developments in fashion tech with my cross-discipline approach to developing new materials. As one of few specialists with career experience of working in the fields of both science and design, as well as previously running a fashion brand, I use my expertise to write about the new emerging sector of fashion tech, along with the advances which will drive sustainability in the fashion industry. I have written for a number of publications, including HuffPost and my own platform, Techstyler, and have been invited to speak about fashion tech at numerous conferences and events, including delivering a TED talk.

Source: Is Digitization The Savior Of The Fashion Industry?

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‘Rich’ Or ‘Poor’ Clothing Affects Split-Second Decisions About Competence

Humans are famously judgey—it’s one of our more unfortunate traits. It wouldn’t be so harmful if judgments, especially first impressions, weren’t formed so quickly (i.e., in less than a second), so prone to error, and so hard to break. To this end, a new study from Princeton University finds that first impressions of a person’s competence can be strongly affected by the clothes he or she is wearing, and can be made in a tiny fraction of a second. And, the study found, even when people were paid to ignore clothes as a relevant factor, they couldn’t.

The study was published earlier this month in the journal Nature Human Behavior.

The researchers carried out a number of experiments to look at the effect of clothes on perceived competence. They showed participants pictures of people from the shoulders up, wearing either “rich” or “poor” clothing, though none of the clothing items the respective groups were really extreme examples of either (ratings of the different types of clothing were also validated by testing them out on another group of participants beforehand).

People wearing rich clothing (e.g., suits and ties) were judged, again and again, as being more competent than people wearing poor clothing. Even when rich clothing was informal (see photo), it still triggered higher ratings of competence than informal poor clothing.

And even when participants were expressly told to ignore clothing, or paid to ignore it, they still made the same competence judgments. The same was true when participants were given information about the professions and incomes of the people in the pictures, to try to counteract the bias. Finally, it occurred when the participants were given varying amounts of time to make a judgment, from 0.129 seconds to one second.

The study obviously has lots of real-world application, namely that already-disadvantaged people might face more disadvantage if they cannot afford “rich” clothing. “Poverty is a place rife with challenges,” said study co-author Eldar Shafir in a statement. “Instead of respect for the struggle, people living in poverty face a persistent disregard and disrespect by the rest of society.

We found that such disrespect — clearly unfounded, since in these studies the identical face was seen as less competent when it appeared with poorer clothing — can have its beginnings in the first tenth of a second of an encounter.”

The authors urge that effective strategies to counteract bias be researched further. In the meantime, some practices already in place may help: making certain decisions about job applicants or students based on resumes or other “on paper” criteria may reduce at least some of the bias.

“Just like teachers sometimes grade blindly so as to avoid favoring some students,” said Shafir, “interviewers and employers may want to take what measures they can, when they can, to evaluate people, say, on paper so as to circumvent indefensible yet hard to avoid competency judgments. Academic departments, for example, have long known that hiring without interviews can yield better scholars. It’s also an excellent argument for school uniforms.”

But there’s still a lot at stake. Humans likely evolved to make very quick decisions based on physical attributes, and we’re still trying to overcome that “ability,” as it can be wholly inaccurate and a contributing factor to persisting inequality.

“Wealth inequality has worsened since the late 1980s in the United States,” said lead author DongWon Oh, a PhD student at the time of the study. “Now the gap between the top 1% and the middle class is over 1,000,000%, a mind-numbing figure. Other labs’ work has shown people are sensitive to how rich or poor other individuals appear. Our work found that people are susceptible to these cues when judging others on meaningful traits, like competence, and that these cues are hard, if not impossible, to ignore.”

Follow me on Twitter or LinkedIn.

I fell into writing about health shortly after grad school, where I realized I didn’t want to work in a lab for the rest of my life! My main areas of interest are the brain and behavior, as well as what influences the decisions we make about our health, and how we can change it over time. As an undergraduate, I studied English Literature and Biopsychology at Vassar College, and got my PhD in Biopsychology and Behavioral Neuroscience at CUNY’s Graduate Center in New York City, where I grew up and live now. My work appears in other publications, including the magazine of the University of Chicago’s Business School, YogaGlo.com, TheAtlantic.com, and the American Psychological Association. Please email me at alicegwalton [at] gmail [dot] com or visit my website www.alicegwalton.com

Source: ‘Rich’ Or ‘Poor’ Clothing Affects Split-Second Decisions About Competence

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