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Journey of Digital Transformation in Fashion

In February, Kim Kardashian-West stepped out in yet another logic-defying outfit, this time a one-of-a-kind, vintage 1998 spring/summer Thierry Mugler gown.

Within 24 hours, fast-fashion brand Fashion Novo had knocked it off for a bargain basement price, and a customer waiting list. Such is the speed of the fast fashion cycle, and while Kardashian-West condemned it, it’s celebrities like her, that often provide the fuel for these big-business retailers.

Between 2002 and 2015, clothing sales almost doubled to $1.8 trillion. Fast fashion alone is expected to reach $2.1 trillion by 2025. On average, we’re buying 60% more and keeping it for half as long as we did 15 years ago. Australians in particular, are the second-largest consumers of new textiles, yet our local retailers are struggling and there is a seemingly endless procession of stalwart brands announcing they’re going into administration every other week.  

Our March panel showed us that the future might not be so grim though, with an emerging convergence between the survival Australian retail and the survival of the planet, driven by digital.

We explored:

  • What is digital transformation in fashion

  • How values are driving a new retail landscape

  • The re-emergence of bricks-and-mortar

  • Digital as an enabler for ethics (supply chain transparency and sustainability)

  • Advances in manufacturing

  • The role of data

With panelists:


What does ‘digital transformation’ mean for fashion?

Transformation occurs when there is a problem to solve or a need to be met, and digital often has a role in the solution. Whether a business is striving to catch-up, seeking to remain on par, or ambitious to set-the- pace, the most successful transformations are those accountable to a need and the customer, rather than driven by trend or hype.

Businesses from every sector, not just fashion, have matured to the where digital shouldn’t be considered separate, but integrated. Over the past decade retail megastars like Amazon and Asos have evolved the conversation from bricks-and-mortar and/or/versus ecommerce, to service design, supply chain and logistics management, and personalisation.

New values and a new approach

 Just like businesses have matured, so have customers, and a new generation of buyers with a specific set of values and expectations are driving change. 

Consumers are reacting to digital amnesia, tiring of the fast fashion cycle and increasingly concerned about the earth they stand to inherit.  They’re seeking to bond with brands that mirror these values, and which are open and transparent about their purpose and philosophy as well as how garments came to be, and their impact.  

While this level of transparency and artistry generally means a higher price point, these consumers appear willing to pay, but you must engage them in the experience.

Old bricks, new tricks

A return to experience means that bricks-and-mortar is finding a new role in the retail landscape. Myer and David Jones – who have long struggled to find their competitive footing since the entrance of the likes of Asos and The Iconic - have both publicly aired tentative plans to reimagine their flagship stores as ‘experiences’. 

It’s not as simple as redeveloping a retail space for consumers to step in and out of though, they want to bond with brands.  This means finding ways to engage through shared values at every touchpoint by telling the story of your brand, and your garments, combining the tangible with the intellectual and the emotional.  For example, luxury retailers are working more collaboratively in fibre and textile advancements to develop a more informed narrative around their collections.

At the SME-end, Arnsdorf relaunched in 2016 with a business model that is women-led, committed to transparency and sustainability, and a belief in the transformative nature of fashion. The cornerstones of Arnsdorf’s approach are:  

  • Supply-chain transparency made possible by bringing design and production in-house

  • A focus on a quality-driven, trans-seasonal core range designed for longevity over trends and a complimentary smaller, periodic releases of statement pieces

  • ·Customer service and personalisation – communication with customers, one-on-one styling sessions, free alterations for the life of your garment 

Arnsdorf expanded its ecommerce store, and styling sessions (run out of the Collingwood factory) to two bricks-and-mortar, with plans for a third.  Now the majority of customer spend occurs in-store.

How does digital enable this? Hint: Data. The answer is always data.   

 In the new age of values-driven, personalised, experiential retail, data remains Queen.  No transformation can occur without it, and there are some key tasks to undertake to get it. 

Identify your touchpoints and paths to conversion. All of them.

In an omni-channel world, your customers are coming at you via all sorts of weird and wonderful ways.  It’s important to map and track them all, collate the data, and identify your champions.

Pick your platforms, set them up well, and stick with them.

Identify the platforms that are going to suit your long-term needs, maintain your data, add to and build-out as needed, but ultimately stick with them.  Replatforming is a dangerous move and one local retailer lost 30% of their $60 million revenue changing their ecommerce platform.

Generate your own.

Passively collecting data through pixels and the-like isn’t the only way - you can ask for it. There are plenty of cheap widgets that you can add to your product pages, or generate emails to your customer base to request product reviews.  Many include an option for discounts to be offered in exchange for feedback.  

Data is your gateway to insights, so get the expertise you need.

Data is at its most powerful when it’s being interrogated.  Data Scientists are the experts in taking qualitative and quantitative sets to present insights that hold a mirror up to your business and show you the way forward. These insights might be answers to your businesses questions, or expose a need or problem your customer didn’t know they had.

Functionality is the new luxury

Data insights and advances in materials and manufacturing are leading luxury brands into performance and the functional needs of the customer are central to design and development.

These functional needs are also aligning with sustainability.  Stella McCartney - a self-described ‘vegetarian brand’ that has never used leather, skin, feathers, or fur - is aiming to be 100% regenerated nylon (ECONYL) by 2020, and uses polyester made from recycled bottles.

The fashion supply-chain is often difficult to track, with many parts of the process being outsourced, often to countries far from the reach of head office.  In addition to being environmentally friendly, these materials and manufacturing processes are often more traceable and ethical, making it easier to be transparent with the customer.  

An economy of scale

 Scalability is tricky to master in any industry.  In 2017 Burberry burned $50 million worth of unsold clothes, accessories, and perfume. In five years they burned $150 million. Advances in manufacturing and supply chain management assist not only in creating transparency, but - together with sales data - help you manage over-production and supply.

Businesses can also create an economy of scale with the tools themselves - why have one tool do one job, when one can do two? Or three? An example might be a clothing label that scans to reveal garment care instruction, environmental impact, and supply chain information to a customer on their phone. However, this functionality might just be one feature of software that helps your business in other ways.

Where are the opportunities?

 Digital, and tech-led transformations are igniting passion and connection through shared values.  The most powerful thing any fashion business can do in the current environment is understand and articulate their value proposition, build a business model that reflects it, and tools that help you execute it.

If your business is looking to transform and grow, start with;

The customer journey after conversion.

Bonding means loyalty, and loyalty means repeat purchase.  Find ways to communicate and engage with your customers beyond their purchases.  Emails are still the most powerful converter, and if your customer purchases online then there is a lot of opportunity between the receipt and receiving.

Test, test, test.

 Instagram and Facebook are now ultra-competitive ad landscapes, and if you’re looking to map your paths to conversion and identify your champions then you need an intuitive and robust platform that allows you to publish, test, monitor, and interpret.  Don’t wed yourself to one too soon, be sure to trial and few before you commit to one.  

Make innovation business-as-usual.

Digital transformation doesn’t happen just once.  Many of us will go through four or five major shifts throughout our career, and if you want your business to not only be prepared for change but embracing of it, then you need to create a culture of innovation.  Find a way to make R&D a regular event (and follow through on the ideas), hold hackathon style days, or simply encourage employees to attend industry events and conferences.   

Playing it safe is playing to fail.

There’s a lot to be said for a gut instinct. If you’ve been collecting and interrogating the data, see a gap that the customer needs filled, then go for it. Fashion is as much about the business as it is about passion and artistry, so with the right alignment of vision, values, and digital, success could well be within reach.