2020 has undoubtedly accelerated the rise of digitization in the fashion world. And while it’s not just e-commerce that’s gotten a boost, shoppers’ increased propensity to buy online has fueled some of the back-end processes that have the potential to revolutionize the industry.
Paul Magel, president of the business applications and technology outsourcing division at New York’s Computer Generated Solutions, believes that the events that have shaped this unprecedented year at retail could change the sector for good.
As the pandemic hit in full force this spring, fashion shows, trade shows and opportunities for in-person interfacing with brands were all but axed, leaving labels to find other channels to reach buyers and shoppers. “While the trend was already heading in this direction, the pandemic accelerated the loss of traditional tactics for apparel and footwear retailers including fashion shows and in-store shopping,” Magel said, “forcing a shift toward digital marketing and brand awareness efforts that turned the model upside down.”
As the sector moves forward into a new year, he added, “we can expect this shift to further propel the digital age of self-expression in which consumers demand to be heard and possess an active role in shaping fashion.” Amid a crisis that has forced consumers into their homes and onto their smartphones, shoppers are taking a more active role in shaping the future of fashion through follows and likes. “Brands need to deliver on this desire by joining the trends and conversations that are taking social media by storm,” Magel said.
What’s more, these platforms can provide brands with invaluable data to help shape their assortments and product flow, he added.
“In 2021, fashion brands will integrate more analytical tools to monitor trends on apps such as TikTok,” Magel said, adding that companies must invest in technology that ties their supply chains together seamlessly, “from concept through consumer.” This real-time monitoring and engagement will help them “quickly create and deliver relevant, personalized product designs.”
As these processes gain steam, apparel companies are likely to look for more data-driven skillsets in their potential hires, he added. The pandemic has accelerated brands’ already-growing dependence on predictive analytics and AI, creating a greater need for employees who possess these talents and giving rise to opportunities for companies to upskill their current workforces.
Next year, Magel said, “We can expect to see an even more technical set of employees join the fashion and apparel community.” The Covid crisis has also ushered in a broader acceptance of remote work, which “has opened the door to the global talent pool as well.”
U.S. brands are already hiring data scientists from Asia, he said, contributing to a truly diverse and globalized workforce. Brands may continue to look abroad for these skilled workers as their company makeup continues to shift “from laborers to technophiles.”
Brands will also continue to evolve at the factory level, Magel said. “The fashion and apparel manufacturing industry has traditionally relied on skilled laborers, refusing to automate certain tasks and jobs,” he explained. But the disruptions caused by the pandemic have made implementing AI and automated processes a priority.
“Apparel companies are using AI to automate factory tasks that are too dangerous for human employees,” he added, creating “new opportunities for laborers to take on managerial or technical roles.” Magel also said that more apparel companies will likely begin crowd-sourcing contractual support from factories, rather than relying solely on long-term partnerships. Designers and product development teams might upload projects to a portal, he said, where potential suppliers could bid on the work.
While it’s clear that fashion’s supply chain is undergoing a rapid metamorphosis, Magel believes that these technological and data-driven changes are necessary. “This expanded network of resources will fuel success for these companies in 2021 and beyond,” he said.