Five Movements Driving the Future of the Fashion Industry Ecosystem
By Avihay Feld
Chief Executive Officer, Browzwear
What we think of as “fashion” is very trend-driven. The businesses that make fashion happen are far less so. In fact, it’s surprising that this industry, one perceived by most consumers as exciting and fast-moving, changes incredibly slowly. That’s why, when speaking with the perspective I have as CEO of a fashion industry enabler, I try to avoid making sweeping predictions about what trends we’ll see in fashion’s business ecosystem.
By 2024, a projected 30 to 40% of collections will be produced to trend, which is a good thing for industry and the planet.
Still, especially given the tumult through which the industry has gone over the past few years, the need to change is clearer than ever. With the goal of gaining the responsiveness and efficiency that will enable our industry to not just survive, these changes are happening. But “trends” isn’t the right term. Trends come and go. These are gradual shifts, more accurately referred to as a movement that I expect we’ll see in 2023 and beyond.
Technology first, fashion second
The old way of doing things—making big orders 50 weeks ahead of time, selling merchandise at low margins with the hope of making it up in quantity then throwing 30 to 50 percent of your merchandise away—is finally changing. It’s not lip service this time.
Instead, we’re seeing a movement in the industry that’s “tech first, fashion second.” Epitomized by companies like Amazon and Shein, this new model is focused more on leveraging software and building compelling online experiences. Things like AB testing and optimizing based on the best performance may be the status quo for many businesses, but it’s a new territory for fashion.
Of course, not every brand needs or wants to be a Shein. Sustaining quality and maintaining brand reputation are very important. Still, what they can do is move toward the Shein model in a way that is in line with their identity.
As more businesses in the fashion industry undergo digital transformation, I expect we’ll see a larger movement toward leveraging data for product development and manufacturing, which will enable them to produce less while selling more of it.
This is another area in which Shein has proven a leader. First, they come up with thousands of new styles, then they produce a small quantity of each and use and see what performs best. The data enables them to make decisions quickly so they can manufacture what customers want now, not what they might possibly want six to nine months from now.
But this isn’t something most brands can do right away, so I see 2023 as a year of practice and learning. By 2024, a projected 30 to 40% of collections will be produced to trend, which is a good thing for industry and the planet.
Connecting the Supply Chain
Moving Manufacturing Next Door
Factories are faster and more agile than brands, and in 2023, I believe we’ll see more brands establishing relationships and adopting systems that enable them to collaborate better with these factories.
The more connected the brand is with manufacturers, the faster they’re able to do small quantities. If one factory doesn’t have the capacity, it’s no big deal, there are others you can approach.
Since manufacturing is about margins, they’re often ready, willing and able to do quick runs of small quantities. In many cases, they can use materials that they have on hand in the factory, which speeds time to market.
The mere fact that more factories will accept orders for smaller quantities also levels the playing field quite a bit, so more businesses, and smaller businesses in particular can compete in the market. Previously, it was difficult to find factories that could - and would - produce small quantities. Now, this barrier is being removed and they have a bigger chance to play in the game.
Quite literally a movement, we will increasingly see production happen closer to points of distribution. Part of this is being driven by the fact that China is increasingly saving its manufacturing capacity for internal use.
Technology is making this enormous shift feasible, and as machines get smarter, it will be possible to bring much of the manufacturing that the West lost in the past 50 years. This won't happen overnight, but it has already begun. Leveraging automation, it will be possible for micro-factories to operate in markets with higher labor costs, such as the US and EU. At first, it will be basic styles, such as underwear, knitwear and other simple items, made locally, but as hardware improves, complexity will increase.
The Beginning of the End of Trend Forecasting as a Business
I doubt the average shopper ever wonders why fast fashion companies have very similar styles and colors each season. We in the industry know that it’s because many rely on the same trend-forecasting agencies. I know this might make me a few enemies, but, as the above changes solidify, I simply can’t see where these agencies fit in. Or at least not in the form they are today.
As tech adoption in the industry grows and we gain the ability to automate the production of more complex styles, I expect to see more companies act as their own trend forecasting agency. What I mean by that is that they will increasingly look at what their customers are responding to today to advise what they produce (literally) tomorrow.
None of these changes are easy, and we certainly can’t expect them to happen all at once or in a short timeline. Unlike fashion trends, the movement is already here and it’s not going away. I do believe that, in 2023, we’ll see an acceleration. And perhaps in three to five years, the industry will be a completely different, more efficient, sustainable and profitable game than it is today.