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Fashion retail of the future

Using our crystal ball, Drapers looks ahead to the fashion industry in 130 years’ time.

Iris hcr fw17 0380


Iris van Herpen autumn 17

The future has arrived. The fourth industrial revolution is in full swing, drone deliveries are a regular sight in our skies, Hyperloop is propelling us between cities in minutes and maybe, just maybe, humans have landed on Mars. But what does the world of fashion retail look like?

The explosion in 3D content happened long ago. Now our focus is on blending virtual and augmented realities. Smart glasses are everywhere and the view through them is remarkable. Advances in scanning, depth-sensing and facial tracking allow us to create hyper-realistic outfits that can be downloaded on to our avatars, our friends and the environment around us. We can dress ourselves in Snapchat filter style, buying digital clothes and accessories that will never be physically produced. A new holographic world has opened up in front of our eyes.

Sensor technology at yarn level has transformed the concept of wearable tech. We are no longer carrying smart watches and bags – the very fibres of our garments are connected to the internet. It has created a new platform for the body that has changed how we interact with each other, transact in stores and engage with brands. We have the ability to download content to clothing, and share patterns by nudging against each other. We are effectively wearing the internet, giving the idea of a “wardrobe update” a whole new meaning.

The use of sensors has also made retailers smarter. They know where we go when we wear certain clothes, how often we wear those clothes, who we meet when we wear them and when we take them off. Retailers are responding in real-time to our every moment. Hole in your jeans? Receive an instant notification offering a repair or a discount on the new self-healing pair that just came into stock.

Throughout the supply chain and in stores, robots are now a reality. They have allowed brands to move production closer to market, and deliver hyper-personalised product on demand and in a matter of hours. It has transformed how we produce and retail fashion. Soft robotics are embedded into fabrics and garments, so they can be adjusted on demand. Forget waiting for alterations. That function is now built in.

The huge amount of data now created because we live our lives online has allowed for fascinating new possibilities through artificial intelligence. It has moved beyond the now-expected ability to deliver relevant and personalised content – now computers have learned how to design, and AI stylists are mainstream. The phrase “Alexa, what shall I wear today?” echoes throughout UK households.

The products we sell and the way we sell them have changed beyond recognition. But what’s interesting is that we have used technology to return retail to its roots. We’re using it to make meaningful, emotional connections with consumers and create magical experiences that will continue to surprise and delight them for the next 130 years.

Matthew Drinkwater heads the Innovation Agency at the London College of Fashion, University of the Arts London


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