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Digitalisation is the future of fashion and it is fast

By Maddy White

Sep 5, 2018

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Fashion

Sep 5, 2018

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Social media is an extremely influential part of our everyday lives. From Instagram to Snapchat and more, today’s fashion retailers are using these online spheres to encourage ‘fast fashion’: the quickest possible turnaround from design to manufacturer to consumer. And that’s really detrimental to our waste issue, isn’t it? Actually, not necessarily. Digitalising fashion is probably a crucial step to the survival of the sector, particularly in Britain.

The British high street is in peril; more shops are closing and many brands have gone into liquidation. This is due to several reasons, one being consumer spending has decreased and another is the rise of digital giants—like Amazon—who have entirely dominated the market. This trend aligns with the fashion industry too. Founded in 2006, online fashion retailer Boohoo claimed in their 2018 financial report to have 6.4 million users, up 22 percent from the previous year. The entire company had a pre-tax profit of £43.3 million for the year leading to February, which represented a 40 percent increase on 2017 figures, with revenue hitting £580 million, almost double last year’s £295 million.

The British high street is in peril; more shops are closing and many brands have gone into liquidation. This is due to several reasons, one being consumer spending has decreased and another is the rise of digital giants—like Amazon—who have entirely dominated the market. This trend aligns with the fashion industry too. Founded in 2006, online fashion retailer Boohoo claimed in their 2018 financial report to have 6.4 million users, up 22 percent from the previous year. The entire company had a pre-tax profit of £43.3 million for the year leading to February, which represented a 40 percent increase on 2017 figures, with revenue hitting £580 million, almost double last year’s £295 million.

The increased speed of fashion because of a digitalised process has enabled companies like Boohoo to reap massive benefits as proven in their financial report. Hundreds of styles are uploaded every day to the website, with likely just as many discontinued and sent to the sales page. The company reportedly sources 50 percent of its production from U.K. factories—a very high proportion, as for example ASOS produce around 3 percent of products in the U.K.—and distribute these garments from a central warehouse in Burnley. This is impressive as less than half a century ago, the clothing manufacturing industry in the U.K. employed 900,000 people, by 1999 this was down to 130,000 and now it is less than half. Companies like Boohoo are bringing textile manufacture back to the U.K. in a more innovative way.

Fast fashion also doesn’t have to mean cheap, however with examples like ASOS and Boohoo, the two seem to work in tandem. Fast fashion needs to be locally produced in order to make the production ethical, reduce air miles and at face value, be the fastest method. The process cannot be completed so quickly halfway across the globe; it is just not viable.

Despite the rise of fast fashion, this is an industry that produces waste, a lot of it, and consumers are more aware of this than ever. According to EDGE, a company that connects and supports emerging designers, about 15 percent of fabric intended for clothing ends up on the cutting room floor and it takes more than 5,000 gallons of water to manufacture just one t-shirt and a pair of jeans. Surely though, creating products via fast fashion would only act as an antidote to the above? Retailers do not have to order products in large amounts, they can instead order smaller numbers, see how they are received and then purchase more. This is a more ethical approach to a potential overproduction problem. Yet, this doesn’t counter the idea that consumers could be ordering more clothing, therefore likely throwing them away more regularly.

Fast fashion that it ethically sourced and produced could be the U.K.’s chance to revive the textiles sector, which has been in decline for decades. There are many constraints however on implementing an ethical version of fast fashion and it is not what consumers might initially think. Fast fashion is reacting to trends, increasing production line speed, and not overproducing. ‘Fast’ could certainly be the future of fashion, as it offers huge opportunities like garments to be locally produced rather than being created and shipped from offshore sites. Utilising the internet, social media and collecting data enables a digitalisation of the fashion industry, which will only continue to grow as the high street fades and online giants soar.