When we think about what fashion will be like in future, most of us will imagine silver space-suit type outfits. However, back in the eighties, we imagined we would all be driving hover cars, which never happened (not where I live anyway!) So how realistic are these design futures? Let’s look at the emerging innovations and the challenges they face to find out.
The future, the planet and all our lives will all be heavily impacted by climate change so it is inevitable that design processes will become sustainability driven due to dwindling resources. Financially, big high street names have suffered recently with massive drops in sales, as they have failed to evolve while our shopping preferences have rapidly changed. Bricks and mortar stores have become increasingly expensive to run with fewer customers to sustain them. This is compounded by online disruptors such as ASOS and BooHoo taking larger market shares by challenging traditional working practices.
“There are historic changes happening in the fashion cycle, and at the same time significant technological advancements that are changing the industry”[i]
A big growth area in fashion sustainability is textile innovation. As the environmental impact of animal products and synthetic materials are becoming acknowledged, significant research is being made into creating alternatives. Leather substitutes have now been developed from pineapples, mushrooms, apples and tree bark and Bolt Threads[ii] have even invented a spider silk without the spiders. Read a post I wrote before on strange and wonderful textile innovations here.
Another area where designers are developing better use of resources is by through rethinking our waste. The fashion industry is incredibly wasteful, being based on the idea of the new, but the practice of circular fashion puts that ‘waste’ back into use. There are now many innovators with exciting recycled fibres and yarns such as Econyl[iii] who reuse abandoned fishing nets and Levis + Evernu[iv] who have created new jeans from old t-shirts.
Supply chain transparency will hopefully become industry wide with the use of Blockchain. This is a technology that is used in digital currencies such as Bitcoin and has the potential to give brand and customer the ability to trace every stage of their products journey. There is great hope that this will force better ethical practice within the garment sector. Some designers such as Martine Jarlgaard[v] have already seen success with her ‘smart labels’
“Full transparency and traceability becomes a stamp of approval allowing consumers to make informed choices with no extra effort.”[vi]
The automation of sewing machines is a hotly debated topic in the industry right now. As with any talk of automation there is widespread fear of massive job losses which would hit some of the poorest people in the world. Such robotic systems would, however, revolutionise the industry providing reliability and efficiency, while eradicating unethical practices. Production could be increased and waste reduced as less stock would need to be held. Uptake of this technology will lead to far more personalisation and customisation of garments as seen already with Adidas and Uniqlo.
“Customers will be able to design or customise their own clothing and then have in produced in automated factories and delivered within days.”[vii]
Most designers work to the traditional spring/summer and autumn/winter fashion cycle. However, the digital age has given us an expectation of immediacy. So in the last few years, buyers have wanted to be able to purchase designer collections as soon as the catwalk show has debuted. Only a few brands have been able to deliver this, but it is undoubtedly the way the future is going to look. As the designer, Tom Ford, clearly stated:
“The current way of showing a collection four months before it is available to customers is an antiquated idea, and one that no longer makes sense,”[viii]
As wearable tech becomes more widespread the digital world will become part of our clothing itself. Imagine being able to do everything you do on your phone through your jacket for instance? The Levi’s Commuter x Jacquard by Google Trucker Jacket already does some of this, so it’s not too far-fetched an idea. The digital space will become a bigger part of our shopping experience, as we have already witnessed with virtual changing rooms. Augmented reality has been utilised by many Zara stores[ix], giving the consumers more opportunity to interact with the brand in a new and exciting way. In store models come to life through the screen of a mobile phone while supporting easy click to buy options.
“Augmented reality is going to change the way that the fashion industry creates, showcases and retails its products”[x]
As we continue into the unknown future one thing is obvious; for fashion to stay where it should be, at the vanguard of change, designers need to collaborate and technology shared. Engineers, scientists, programmers and other technical experts will have to join forces with designers to tackle some of the big challenges of our times.
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