Village: How to Combine Tech and Luxury Fashion in China the Smart Way

From Alibaba’s tech investments to the growing popularity of livestreaming, China is experiencing the same excitement as the rest of the world when it comes to the revolutionary impact that virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), and artificial intelligence (AI) is set to have on the luxury fashion industry.

While actively embracing these new technologies, China, like any Western veteran in this field, knows that “fashion and technology is a double-edged sword,” meaning that their intersection should be cautiously examined. A recent event by Village, a communications agency based in London, offered critical insight into this topic that Chinese fashion and luxury practitioners can learn from.

On Thursday, a group of experts, including designer Golan Frydman of Fyodor Golan and fashion tech innovator Brooke Roberts-Islam, gathered for a panel discussion to dissect the ever-evolving relationship between fashion and technology. The panelists spoke about the multifaceted roles that technology can play and reflected on its potential impact in the luxury fashion industry today.

The panelists discussed the following four principles for luxury brands to consider when incorporating technology into their endeavors, both in China and abroad.

1. The luxury fashion industry should still be consumer-oriented.
The arrival of new technologies should not change the basic fact that the luxury fashion industry is a consumer-oriented business. Thus, one tendency that luxury designers and practitioners should avoid is to “adopt technology to their work for the sake of technology.”

New technologies, when used appropriately, can empower brands to provide customers with better experiences. “New technologies allow people to get deeper into the experience and create an imaginative world,” Frydman said. It also “brings a little bit of democracy to the design cycle of luxury fashion,” as users’ preferences can now be assessed ahead of time using tools like AI.

In fact, China saw the development of the intersection of AI technology and fashion take place as recently as New York Fashion Week. There, Chinese fashion designer Chi Zhang used AI technology to identify fashion trends and apply it to his designs. Working with China’s tech giant Tencent, Zhang discovered what color, fabric, and patterns that consumers in the Chinese “post-95” generation like most through data analytics.

2. A distinction between AR and VR should be clearly made.
Those in the luxury fashion sector often like to talk about AR and VR together, but the experience these technologies can generate is remarkably different, sometimes even opposite. Deciding what to use “depends on what story you are trying to tell as they are very different tools,” said fashion tech innovator Roberts-Islam. AR “takes over the reality and allows the users to be more engaging with other people,” while VR creates a virtual and often private space for people and tends to be less interactive than AR. Therefore, luxury and fashion brands need to choose wisely between the two technologies to serve their different goals.

3. Care about the ROI of your tech investment.
One question that sparked debate during the event was how brands can measure the cost-to-benefit of technology investment in their business. Certainly, new technologies, such as VR, have the potential to benefit the retail industry by freeing it up from the physical restrictions keeping them from luring in customers from the other side of the world. However, the cost of providing customers with devices and gadgets to gain access to new tech and maintaining them is not a small expenditure for most luxury fashion businesses. What’s more, when a customer is enthusiastic about testing a hi-tech headset in a store, it does not necessarily guarantee that he or she has the desire to purchase a $1,500 handbag.

4. Tech can help make your production process smarter and more sustainable.
When one panelist mentioned “the fast fashion industry is the second most-polluted industry in the world,” many members of the audience were surprised. The help of big data and predictive models may help solve this problem in the future as brands can now estimate the quantity of goods customers will demand and manufacture only what is needed. In China, some indie fashion designers have already taken a lead in abiding by sustainable fashion practices and setting up eco-friendly models for the rest of the industry to follow.

To watch Jing Daily’s video of the discussion, Creative Futures: Exploring the Relationship Between Fashion & Technology, on Facebook, click here.

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