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Fashion is Going Digital, and Here’s What Experts Say Will Shape the Future

While many fashion companies are focused on surviving during a particularly tumultuous era, Foresight Factory’s director of research and analytics Nick Chiarelli is looking ahead at the mega trends that are emerging now—and will shape the future.

Speaking at Lectra’s Fashion Goes Digital event, Chiarelli described how PESTLE—politics, economy, social, technology, legislation, environment—analysis focuses on some of the driving forces that hint at how the future might unfold. The global population will swell to 8.5 billion by 2030, and though in the 1950s New York City became the original megacity (characterized by 10 million or greater inhabitants) Asia will host more than 30 such metropolises by 2025, Chiarelli said. In the U.S. and the EU15, 162 million workers are turning to the gig economy, and many (16 percent) out of sheer necessity. Another 30 percent get the bulk of their income from these freelance, no-strings gigs, according to Chiarelli’s research.

“People prefer the certainty of misery to the misery of uncertainty,” Chiarelli said, citing the famous quote from the late American author, Virginia Satir.

Here are some of the trends Foresight Factory sees on the road ahead.

Trend: Mechanized trust

In short, President Trump and his quickness to call out “fake news” has put the issue of trust squarely and prominently into the public agenda, according to Chiarelli. In a climate in which everything is questioned, many consumers are looking for definitive proof and actionable accuracy when investing in a product, especially in industries like apparel where supply chains are notorious for taking shortcuts and are increasingly coming under scrutiny.

That’s where blockchain could be a gamechanger. Already, British designer Martine Jarlgaard teamed up with Provence to inject unflinching transparency into the brand’s supply chain, from farm to fashion, in perhaps what is the apparel industry’s first high-profile blockchain application, though it was a one-off experiment and has yet to be scaled. Brands have long aimed to present a certain carefully polished image to their consumers, but they’re now turning to technology like blockchain to document every product lifecycle moment in an effort to improve consumer trust. Though it has numerous potential applications, blockchain offers the largest gains in the supply chain, optimizing internal processes and even providing pricing transparency, Charielli said.

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Some forward-thinking brands have made the decision to include pricing breakdowns on clothing labels, revealing just how much of the final cost went to raw materials, production, profit and more, he added.

Trend: Casual connectivity = wearable

Though wearable tech in fashion was all the rage when it first appeared on the scene, much of that hype has cooled off, Chairelli said. That’s because initial wearable product launches were more about razzle dazzle and less about improving the user’s experience in a truly meaningful way.

However, the pendulum is swinging back in the other direction. While early efforts in wearable fashion focused on putting the tech front and center, the next generation will make the technology fade into the background, Chiarelli said.

“The technology we have right now is not very good at leaving us alone,” Chiarelli said. Going forward, the most successful wearables will incorporate embedded technology—notifying users “only when it knows we have to be interrupted,” he added. Tech will be integrated into the environment around us, Internet of Things-style.

This more evolved way of design thinking already has come to fruition in products such as Ministry of Supply’s AI smart jacket, which has some of the “wearable” sizzle we’re used to but also a lot more functionality in the form of intelligent temperature regulation.

Trend: Customization and co-creation

No surprise here: after decades with mass production as the de facto standard, consumers are now demanding tailored produced and often want to be involved in the process. Today, 22 percent of consumers polled by Foresight Factory have already customized a product in store or online prior to buying, and another 42 percent are interested in doing so. By 2025, 35 percent of consumers will be customizing their products, according to Foresight forecasting. NikeiD is one of the greatest examples of this phenomenon; $600 million worth of the $2 billion in orders placed through its e-commerce were customized in some way, according to fashion design consultant Nora Kühner.

Trend: Life on demand/direct to consumer

More than ever, the world is consumer driven, and especially so in China where 34 percent of those polled by Foresight Factory say they use services that deliver to their location in two hours or less. “Now is a key opportunity,” Chiarelli said, and delivery startups such as Belgium’s Parcify can use your smartphone GPS to track your real-time location and deliver orders to you wherever you are.