During the peak of last year’s pandemic outbreak, there was soaring demand for online shopping and related services such next-day delivery, buy online, pick-up in-store and curbside pick-up. COVID-19 also spotlighted the importance of sustainable practices as consumers woke up to the fact that the choices they make when shopping can negatively impact the environment.
These two themes were the top news of WWD last year, and while many retailers and brands made investments in digitalization and stepped-up efforts to be more sustainable, the fashion industry still has a long way to go. To shed light on where the industry is now, and where it’s headed in regard to digital optimization and sustainability, Miles Socha, International Editor of WWD, moderated an in-depth session, which was done in partnership with Frankfurt Fashion Week, titled, “Fashion’s Future, Now.”
Socha was joined by Dirk Schönberger, Global Creative Officer of MCM, and Holger Max-Lang, President of Northern and Eastern Europe, Turkey and the Middle East at Lectra.
When asked what fashion brands and merchants need to do when considering investments in technology and sustainability, Max-Lang said companies need a thorough assessment of its business as well as its vendors and supply chain partners. “For those companies which are more advanced in this respect, now is a good time then to make sure that all software systems are up to date with the latest possible versions,” he said, adding that “as a next step, companies should do everything in order to implement 3D technology for visualization. And then, probably even more important than visualization, is focusing on quality.”
Schönberger agreed, and said MCM had been on track with e-commerce investments well before the pandemic struck. But when it did, everything changed — most of all, shopping in stores. “We needed to switch gears within a very short period of time to the e-com business,” he said, noting that the pivot to digital not only included online selling, but how MCM engaged customers and promoted itself, digitally. Clienteling and digital marketing became the new norms.
“We’ve created much more assets digitally than we’ve ever done before,” Schönberger explained. “So, we kept on creating new images, and new inspirations for the consumers. And then, of course, we also contacted our consumers directly, as much as you’re allowed to, giving them the services they demanded. This closed the loop between brick and mortar and digital retail.”
Even now, as stores reopen, Schönberger said e-commerce and related services remain in high demand. And for the future, he sees a blend of both physical store shopping experiences and online shopping, and engagement — including 3D experiences online.
With sustainability, Max-Lang said efforts need to focus on the supply chain and sourcing, and requires a SKU-level understanding of material, product development and market demand. “This means leveraging artificial intelligence, and big data analyzation,” he said.
“And this will result in changes to the individual collections,” Max-Lang said, adding that fashion brands, to be more sustainable, have to prioritize production runs, consider smaller lot sizes and understand where products are made. “And this means, for European brands, sourcing can’t be located in Asia anymore. They have to be located in Europe. But, this requires new processes, and it requires also new technology because the majority of service production partners are equipped with technology geared for mass production.”
Max-Lang and Schönberger both said technology, including 3D visualization, AI, and data analytics, play a big role in a post-pandemic fashion retail market where digital optimization and sustainability remain top priorities.
For its part, Lectra, which recently acquired Gerber Technology, has responded to these new market demands by positioning its PLM solutions as collaboration tools for across the entire value chain. “We have understood in order to cope with recent developments and also to fulfill the expectations of our customers, we need to do more, beyond just the supply chain,” Max-Lang said. “We need to follow the connection between the supply chain, the brand, and the retailers.”
“It’s also very urgent that we find solutions because the fashion industry and the products produced every year is huge,” Schönberger said. “And it is our duty to look for solutions.”