On June 10, Jing Daily’s editor-in-chief Enrique Menendez and former dean of the School of Fashion at Parsons School of Design, Burak Cakmak, hosted a webinar on how the implementation of technology has disrupted the fashion industry since the COVID-19 outbreak. Featuring speakers including MeiMei Ding, the founder and CEO of fashion management and market development group DFO International; Mia Kong, style director of Dazed China; Ian Hylton, president of Chinese fashion label Ms MIN; and Noam Levavi, founder of retail-tech startup ByondXR, the conversation explored how brands and retailers can best navigate the future in light of the changing luxury and fashion landscape.
The webinar started with looking through the reflection of recent social discourses in the fashion world, from going through COVID-19 to fighting for social justice, and how important digital transformation is for the industry in order to survive. Following Enrique's briefing on the digital shift of fashion weeks, Ding and Hylton dug into the details of their experiences and insights of engaging in this March’s digital Shanghai Fashion Week. Cakmak and Levavi addressed how technologies such as 3D printing, virtual reality (VR), and augmented reality (AR) will power design, selling, and buying processes.
With perspectives from institutions, creatives, brands, and tech entrepreneurs, the webinar envisioned how the fashion industry is collectively moving forward with the acceleration of technology. Below, we highlight five key takeaways from the webinar.
From Shanghai Fashion Week to London Fashion Week, going virtual has been explored more and more by fashion committees, brands, and buyers. The fashion world — an exclusive community dominated by brands, media outlets, and capitalists — is becoming more inclusive due to the COVID-19 crisis, as well as the ongoing social justice fights. As virtual communication has become the new normal, both consumers and industry insiders are engaged in online events and able to speak out. And technology is helping fashion get back to its nature of self-expression.
As Menendez noted, fashion weeks were open to a handful of attendees, such as buyers, fashion editors, journalists, and influencers. Whereas a virtual presentation allows for everyone to tune in and experience it. More importantly, the essence of fashion shows has been brought back under the virtual format. Cakmak added that, “nowadays fashion shows are more marketing-driven than buying-focused. Brands pay higher attention to how much media coverage the show can generate rather than the products and collections themselves.” Without all the pageantry, the dramatic staging, flamboyant celebrities and influencers, now only the products and a brand’s identity speak for themselves.
According to brands that have experimented with virtual shows and livestreaming, these practices not only give customers access to the event itself, but also can generate more conversations between brands and their customers. As Hylton talked about Ms MIN’s digital experiments journey on the webinar. “We’ve adopted the idea of livestreaming three years ago and figured out the purpose of going virtual is all about making connections with our customers.” He also shared some impressive results of the brand’s most recent livestreaming event last week, which had 5,400 online watching. “Though the livestreaming usually lasts hours, the engagement of virtual presentation is even higher than the physical shows where people come and leave soon after.”
With livestreaming now thriving, fueled by social and e-commerce platforms, customers can have real-time communication with brands and purchase products while they are watching. Customers’ voices can be seamlessly delivered to brands and vice versa. The “See Now, Buy Now” model that was earlier regarded as a disruptor in fashion retail has become a widespread phenomenon in China’s digital landscape.
Whether brick-and-mortar stores or fashion shows, the journey is all about customer and audience experiences. As technologies such as VR and AR are taking off and have been implemented to both online and offline scenarios, brands can stage immersive virtual shows, incorporating the right lighting, music, and atmosphere similar to the real ones; and in the process, leverage VR and AR tools in physical shops to engage customers through virtual try-ons and experiential merchandising.
“But this is just the beginning,” Cakmak said in the webinar, “other fulfillments like online fitting is about to happen.” The rapid technological improvements are consistently breaking through boundaries between reality and virtually. Having an online presence is no longer an emergency alternative to having a physical presence amid the COVID-19 crisis. It opens up more possibilities for the fashion industry to reimage retail and drive an online-to-offline commerce.
For some brands, the concern on the return on investment for these new technology tools is a concern, though many are betting on them given their sustainability and cost-effectiveness. Hylton recommended that brands can take baby steps, “adopting technology is expensive in the beginning, but in the long-term will save more money.” Cakmak also advised resource relocation as a potential solution, “money spent in the physical store can be transformed to the digital channels.”
In addition to retail, Cakmak offered how design and manufacturing sectors are engaged with digital transformation: “3D designs have been widely implemented to showcase clients each details of products; thus this revolution means less investment in manufactory but needs experts to help brands build up the virtual platform.” This transformational journey not only facilitates sustainability but also saves more revenues for brands.
The webinar ended up with predictions and expectations on how the fashion world will move forward with the acceleration of technology in the next few months. Digital transformation of the industry is undoubtedly promising despite the overall unpredictability in many aspects. Ding pointed out that there will be more innovations coming from independent brands, as they know how to use digital tools to tell their stories, which will also leave more room for wholesale to engage in the creative journey.
Cakmak agreed that the digital transition brings a lot of opportunities for newcomers as well as traditional players and encourages them to put less attention on fashion weeks and more on products and customers. Yet, his only concern is cash flow for emerging and niche brands. As he proposed, “online platforms and retailers should give priority to smaller brands to help them survive the pandemic, maintain their business, and allow them to show their creativity.”