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Everything in the Apparel Industry Has to Get Smarter Right Now

Fibers, fabrics and garments are all getting smarter, and while retail has been the one in the bunch that’s trailing behind, consumer moves have clearly indicated that there won’t be much waiting around for retail to step into the new era of shopping.

Consumers may be consumers, but they’re also citizens with social concerns, environmental concerns and a need for new experiences, Sylvine Nuret of Parisian innovation and creativity agency Nelly Rodi, said speaking at an Avantex Paris panel this week.

[Read more from the Paris shows: Denim May be Dominating, but it’s Also Getting Cheaper and Manufacturers Will Pay the Price]

“Today an individual, when buying something does something more than buying, this person is constructing a personality,” Nuret said. “And it’s all those facets that govern trade at the moment.”

This new wave of connected consumers wants to be part of things like recycling the clothes they wear or understanding how their garments are being created.

“This is something more than just consuming,” Nuret said. “Retail is a citizen act.”

Successful consuming experiences now go beyond just having an efficient experience and walking out with a garment that provides the need or want sought—a successful experience is also one the consumer can share with others.

“This problem of social network is absolutely important. We see today that buying on social networks, conversational trade, is something that’s more and more relevant,” Nuret said, adding that 45 percent of Gen Z consumers are ready to buy from social networks. “This concept of social network enhances the way brands should think as an ecosystem today.”

Technology has largely been the culprit for the shifts the apparel sector has seen and it’s on track to continue shaking things up, whether retail is on board or not.

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“Technology used to be part of the economy and now it’s transforming the entire economy,” said Isa Hoffman, management consultant and founder of IHoffmann. “Smart services are actually the future—you are not selling product, you are selling a service.”

When Under Armour sells shoes, it isn’t just ringing up a pair of Speedform Apollo 2s, it’s connecting consumers to its UA Record fitness network and creating a community. Lululemon may sell yoga pants, but it’s also inviting consumers into stores to participate in free community yoga classes.

[Read more about how to connect with today’s consumer: Report: In a Sea of Sameness, It Pays to be Different]

Athletic brands may be ahead of other retailers in creating extended connections with consumers, but as Hoffman explained, companies are catching on and looking to do more. Noting the move to a sharing economy, even Mercedes has started pairing up with rental car companies to provide their own car sharing service, Hoffman said.

“I think companies will be much more open in the future,” she added. “These brands are cross sharing, cross merging. You can’t just stay on your own side.”

Bolstering that example, Kristina Dimitrova, founder and CEO of Interlaced, a future facing platform dedicated to accelerating adoption of wearable technology fashion, smart clothing and apparel, highlighted a partnership between Volkswagen and DHL.

The car company and the courier company announced a new pilot this month that will let consumers in Berlin use mobile addresses to deliver their DHL packages. In other words, package recipients will be able to have DHL drop their loot inside their cars.

As it’s still a pilot, there’s a select set of participants using VW Polos to test the service for four weeks, but if the program proves successful, the idea is that consumers with VWs fitted with equipment for in-car delivery, would be able to use the service. Here’s how it works: consumers register with DHL Parcel and select the trunk of their car as the delivery location in their customer profile. The driver can specify a two-hour time slot between 10:00 a.m. and 9:00 p.m. for DHL to deliver their parcel to any accessible place where the car is parked. The DHL driver gets a notice of the car’s location via GPS and issues a single use, time-limited code for access to the vehicle’s trunk. Once the trunk is closed and the package placed, the access code is canceled. Consumers could also leave returns in their trunk and schedule to have them picked up.

That’s the level of convenience consumers are going to come to expect from their experiences if they don’t already.

“We are in the user era,” Nuret said. “We must understand the consumer or the user’s ecosystem.”

More than brands understanding the ways their consumer lives, they will also have to figure out the most genuine way to reach them and communicate with them. Traditional advertising doesn’t work for a group of consumers seeking personalized experiences from brands that mean something to them.

“The notion that we can buy people’s attention is not relevant anymore,” Dimitrova said. “You have to earn it.”