Attention influencers and avid instagrammers—the days of having to squander exorbitant amounts on one-time statement outfits are over, as companies have launched virtual clothing lines that could be purchased online for a reasonable price and be edited right onto your photo.
The pioneer of this technology is the Norwegian company Carlings, which launched its first digital clothing line back in November in response to a swelling number of influencers purchasing one-off outfits exclusively for social media purposes. Their collection, titled ‘Neo-Ex’, derived its style from video games such as Tekken, and featured bright neon colours and futuristic looks. Influencers and instagramers could purchase one of the 19 outfits on offer for £9 to£30 and submit a photo of themselves to Carlings’ 3D designer team, which would then digitally tailor the clothes onto the buyer’s image.
The digital-clothing trend caught on like wildfire, and now companies around the world, such as Moschino, The Fabricant, and Nike, have been dropping their very own virtual designs.
Aside from being financially accessible (at least for the time being), virtual clothing offers a solution to the polluting habits of the fashion industry— currently responsible for 10 percent of the world’s carbon footprint and the second-greatest contaminator of local freshwater around the world.
In an interview for Elle, Kicki Perrson, brand manager at Carlings Sweden, said, “By selling the digital collection at £15 per item, we’ve sort of democratised the economy of the fashion industry and at the same time opened up the world of taking chances with your styling, without leaving a negative carbon footprint”. Persson further stated that due to the incredibly positive responses Carlings is expected to launch its second virtual clothing line this summer.
Naturally, influencers seem enthused at merging fashion with the virtual realm. Daria Simonova told Elle, “I really love this idea because firstly, it’s environmentally-friendly and secondly, clothing nowadays is more like an art form for social media. Digital clothing is super convenient, and the design potential is huge because it’s way cheaper”.
Overall, digital clothing seems to be a fairly promising innovation. It is eco-friendly, affordable, and allows for uninhibited creative freedom. Yet, the ultimate impact of virtual fashion will depend on the future of this rising technology and its application.
Virtual clothing currently exists as a social-media-centred enterprise, and its main function is to be worn online for promotion purposes and likes-mining. It seems, however, that the majority of fashion-industry waste isn’t generated by influencers, but by the masses whose lives don’t revolve around Instagram and who gain more satisfaction by touting their outfits in the real world. And so as long as virtual clothing is trapped within the confines of social media, its ability to scale-down fashion induced pollution would be limited.
Digital fashion could prove far more environmentally friendly if it is ultimately used as an augmented reality feature that replaces real clothes. Furthermore, if clothing-design softwares became a household product it would enable millions of people to run wild with their imagination while spending zero resources on attire. True, augmented reality isn’t likely to penetrate the mainstream market in the immediate future, but it isn’t light-years away from us either, and we would greatly benefit from beginning to visualise its potential contributions to society—as far as fashion is concerned.
Virtual fashion is on a trajectory that can only be expected to accelerate and expand over the next few years. It remains to be seen whether it will live up to its ideal of rendering the fashion industry more sustainable or simply fuel the social-media inferno of brand and image-building.
France recently received waves of congratulations on social media for moving to ban the destruction of unsold luxury goods within the country. With Paris aiming to be the world’s capital of sustainable fashion by 2024, it seems natural that they’ve now begun cracking down on the industry’s harmful practices.
As a widespread practice within the luxury sector in the country, it is estimated that more than $730 million dollars of returns and unsold inventory were routinely destroyed by retailers in France. The reason? For brands to maintain a sense of luxurious mystic and exclusivity. Much of this wastefulness, unfortunately, was due to an inability for fashion houses to quantify the demand for luxurious goods within the volatile industry they operate in.
As the world shifts its focus on each and every industry, and their unsustainable practices, the fashion sector itself has seen much of the backlash in terms of environmental action. The age of fast fashion has defined our generation, with an H&M around every block, providing racks of new items just days after similar trends have aired on the runway. The fashion industry in recent years has been almost characterised by its wastefulness, with a demand from consumers for sustainable products being a brand new concept. In the midst of all the chaos, one of my favourite proposed solutions aimed at helping luxury brands lower their environmental impact is the integration of AI within supply chains and stores. Which brand is possibly forging a solution to lead within this space? Gucci.
Typically, when looking at technology within the fashion industry, brands have been slow to adopt the newest gadgets and gizmos. Though the fashion industry is large and all-powerful, its size and seniority makes it hard to adapt, especially when looking at new operational practices. This slow adoption has hurt many, with 2017 having been the worst year on record for brick-and-mortar retail stores, with an estimated 6,985 stores closing across the U.S. that year alone.
Fashion’s inability to harness the potential in technology has hurt their bottom line, their attractiveness, and, most importantly, their impact on the planet. So what is the future of fashion? The management consulting company McKinsey has stated that proper AI integration can help reduce forecasting errors up to 50 percent, resulting in an overall inventory reduction for companies between 20 to 50 percent, an attractive and cost-effective opportunity.
Kering, an international luxury company based in Paris, is looking to be the first to aggressively push for the integration of AI within the industry. The company owns luxury goods brands, such as Gucci, Balenciaga, and Yves Saint Laurent. Kering is hoping to utilise the promised power of artificial intelligence to help brands decide on where to send new products, with Gucci being the first within the group to integrate such technologies. The technology will also be used on the sales floor, providing sales assistants with mobile applications to help increase sales by providing real-time information on available colours and sizes, as well as full access to client’s past purchases, and ultimately collect data points.
With brands like Gucci hoping to grow at twice the rate of the luxury sector standard this year, the use of artificial intelligence can prove to be a new competitive advantage for companies looking for aggressive growth. With every data point having the potential to unlock consumer trends on both a personal, regional, and national level, the value of collecting consumer data is evident. The Age of Information has shown the profit in collecting, analysing and summarising consumer data. Utilising this information to substantially reduce an international fashion brand’s impact on the planet is just the kind of solutions needed in this dire time.
The trend towards sustainability has been raved about in recent years, with searches for ‘sustainable fashion’ having said to increase by 66 percent in 2018. But as with many trends, consumers must be wary of what they are actually buying, and what products and practices are truly sustainable. Many products take advantage of marketing opportunities by ‘greenwashing,’ using ‘eco-friendly’ terms purely for marketing needs. Real change won’t come in the form of just stickers and logos on products, but systematic changes to how an industry as a whole operates.
Though trends within the fashion industry are hard to call too early on, Gucci’s steps to integrating artificial intelligence is exactly the direction luxury brands should all be marching towards. Creating a more sustainable supply chain, through better understanding consumers, is not only better for any company, but better for the planet as well.