I’ve seen drones hovering over fashion runways, “dancing” over Coachella crowds, and buzzing my backyard. But in my most “Legally Blonde” moments, I’ve often wondered when a drone could do something truly useful to me: deliver shoes. Ha! Why, I thought, can’t I order up a few pairs from Nordstrom, have them flown over, keep the one I like and send the rest back, all without leaving my desk?
Well, that fashion fantasy and more could come true in the 2020s with the next generation of tech giving us even more opportunities to shop faster with AI and data-mined precision, including browsing “the real world” through smart glasses, and stocking our closet with the help of a “synthetic stylist.”
“The era of fashion and technology becoming inextricably intertwined is upon us,” said Amy Webb, chief executive officer of Future Today Institute.
At the same time, concern about the climate and sustainability is feeding anticonsumerism sentiment and global protest movements. That has also spurred innovation; the rental and resale sectors are booming, and bio-materials (in 2019, Central Saint Martins launched the first master’s course in bio-design), and digital clothing (Louis Vuitton has already designed skins for Riot Games’ “League of Legends” and Moschino for Electronic Arts “The Sims”) are opening up alternatives to producing more physical product.
“The path has been laid by the gaming industry, and it’s clear there’s an entire generation comfortable making purchases of purely digital items,” said Matthew Drinkwater, head of London College of Fashion’s Innovation Agency, which explores emerging technologies and how they impact the fashion industry.
Here, futurists weigh in with 10 fashion predictions for the new decade.
1. We will wear smart glasses, and they will not look like the banana-clip versions from “Star Trek: The Next Generation.”
Get ready for a big breakup. In the next decade, your phone will no longer be the center of your universe. Instead, smarter-looking smart glasses will be — and they won’t look cyber-punky like the failed Google Glass. (See the limited-edition pairs Gucci for Snap Spectacles 3 as one example. Apple could have smart glasses on the market as soon as next year, and Facebook has partnered with Luxottica to develop AR frames, according to CNBC.)
“People who may say there’s no way, I hate wearing glasses,” said Webb of Future Today Institute, making her case for mass adoption of connected frames. “But if you look at medical data, our vision is rapidly getting worse because human evolution has not been able to keep pace with tech evolution. Plus, glasses used to not be seen as a fashion accessory…it’s different with younger people today.”
Connected rings and bracelets will come later, offering payment, keyboard and two-way video capabilities. PayPal already has a prototype for a ring that will be a payment tool.
2) Outfit recognition will change the way we shop.
Outfit twinning as easy as a glance and a command? Smart glasses offering augmented audio, HD cameras and the ability to add 3-D hearts and birds to the subject before you are already on the market. But what comes next, pending the boost of 5G to improve functionality, will be the real game-changer: a digital overlay on lenses offering an immersive, mixed-reality experience.
“Anything you’d look at on your phone screen you will be able to look at on your glasses,” said Webb. “No one is going to read an e-mail that way, but you would get notifications, and could use recognition technology to look at a garment or pair of shoes to see the designer who made them. All of the behavior you’d see on Instagram, you can have with that search overlay…so you can search and shop the real world.” God help us.
3) Tech brands will produce covetable fashion goods.
Webb has a list of companies that will be leapfrogged if they don’t adapt to what she believes will be a wearables revolution, and at the top are frame manufacturers. “Chanel doesn’t make glasses, Luxottica does, but there’s nothing stopping Amazon from becoming Chanel’s new [glasses] partner,” she said. “If the companies that are part of the glasses licensing world don’t figure out some tech partnerships fast…I don’t see how they don’t get disrupted. And who’s to say in the future that some of the most glamorous fashion brands aren’t the tech companies? I wouldn’t count out Amazon or Google becoming a desirable brand for wearable tech.”
4) We will all have our own stylists, synthetic stylists.
“Imagine a world where you have your own fashion consultant or stylist who is synthetic who can see through your glasses…come into your closet with you, look in the mirror with you and say this is the best look for your body type,” said Webb, predicting that AI will overhaul our wardrobes. (At CES, Samsung’s STAR Labs hyped its coming “artificial humans,” which could theoretically become these synthetic stylists.) “That same digital assistant will also be able to access a database of global fashion trends, then enhance whatever you have by shopping a store while looking at what’s in your closet. It could radically shift everyone’s approach to retail and make people start to value quality over quantity and shop their closets more.” (The stylist could also access how much money you have in your bank account, which could be a good thing.)
5) If not Louboutin pumps, penicillin by drone?
“Amazon has been hyping drone delivery for years, and Google has gotten FAA approval to test it in the state of Virginia,” said Doug Stephens, a futurist and the founder of the Retail Prophet. “But the degree to which we will see drones flying into highly populated areas and delivering commodity consumer products like Louboutins in the near future, I’m not sure.”
“What we could see,” he continued, “depending on the trial in Virginia, is drones serving more remote areas, and maybe restricted to products considered to be vital, like medications.” Well, that is important.
6) The online shopping boom will have to answer for the climate crisis.
WWD broke the news earlier this week that Amazon is preparing to leap into the luxury market in the next few months, offering digital storefronts to a handful of fashion brands looking to take advantage of the seller’s speed and efficiency. But at what cost?
“We’re starting to get to the point where we will see public service messages that if you are going to order five things online this week, you should have them all delivered at once,” said Stephens.
While it may be the Amazon logo that comes to mind as the symbol of the gluttony of consumerism, he suggests the retail giant may actually be the white knight. With its vast network of trucks and drivers, Amazon will become a shipping company all its own with the ability to streamline routes and waste, and the gold standard used by all retailers: “They could put UPS and FedEx out of business.”
7) Rising concern for the environment coupled with the appetite for re-commerce (projected to eclipse fast fashion by 2030) could make “new” a dirty word in fashion.
“The main focus will be services around the afterlife of a garment,” said Geraldine Wharry, founder and managing director of Future Insights, noting pioneers Patagonia and Atelier & Repairs in the U.S., Christopher Raeburn in the U.K. and newcomer ReCouture out of Tokyo, an experimental repair shop that will take your shoes and give them a second life by redesigning them.
Upcycled collections are on the rise (see Jonathan Cohen’s new Studio capsule collection, and the creations of Los Angeles-based artist Etai Drori, who uses Louis Vuitton beach towels, canvas and other materials to make custom looks, Dapper Dan-style, including Rosalia’s 2019 Coachella stage look. (I wonder if we are in for a new surge in DIY, or a patchwork trend?)
Bio-materials could be another answer to overproduction. H&M has already made clothes out of citrus fruit waste and North Face jackets made from spider silk. But the field is not without drawbacks, like the additional crops and chemical processing required to produce the materials.
“A more sustainable future is about looking at new technologies, yes, but it’s also about going back to traditional methods and traditional fibers,” said Wharry. “It’s not just about fabrics grown in the lab because most of them are not at scale; it will be a bit of both.”
8) Luxury brands will offer rental subscription services (sign me up).
In 2019, Bergdorf Goodman (sneaker reseller Goat), Selfridges (Vestiaire Collective) and Burberry (the RealReal) are just a few of the luxury players that forged new partnerships to grab a piece of the growing resale market. It’s only a matter of time before luxury houses themselves launch their own resale or rental services.
Gucci flirted with the resale market when it teamed with Melet Mercantile in Montauk last summer, and could be the first brand to offer what I’d expect would be a monthly bag rental service. How cool would that be?
9) Brick-and-mortar retailers and fashion brands will work even more closely with entertainment properties.
American Dream already has Nickelodeon Universe, and soon Dreamworks Water Park. Tyra Banks’ Modelland theme park/shopping experience is slated to open at Santa Monica Place early later this year. HBO, Showtime, Amazon and Netflix have hosted fashion pop-up shops and experiences to promote shows like “Euphoria” and “Handmaid’s Tale.”
But I would like to see more close collaboration between the industries in real time.
Imagine if the last season of “Stranger Things” had been filmed in a mall that you could actually shop year-round? (The Georgia ghost mall where season three was filmed is currently up for sale.) Westfield already hosts a Dreamworks Immersive VR experience at its L.A. mall; but what if that was programmed as a Gucci pop-up that let you shop alongside a digital Alessandro Michele, or sit and experience the runway show from Milan in AR? Every mall should have a TV show filming at it full-time. That would boost traffic.
“If online media has become the store and Amazon a de facto search engine, now, we’re seeing physical stores becoming media channels, and their primary purpose is not the distribution of goods, but as a stage for experiences where consumers can smell, taste and touch,” said Stephens of Retail Prophet. “It’s about staging productions around products, and treating customers as an audience that comes in to participate in a show.” Still waiting to see who will be the maestro of this one.
10) We’ll be coveting (and buying) the latest in designer pixels.
“There is a future roadmap for the industry that alongside physical product allows for digital product to become monetizable,” said Drinkwater of London’s College of Fashion, citing the explosion of the FaceTune app and other face filters. “As body tracking and facial tracking improves on mobile devices, it will become possible to do a Snapchat-like layer for your body.…We could get to a point as cloth simulation improves where we can replicate virtually how a garment moves physically, and create photo-realistic digital experiences for consumers, where you can’t begin to tell the difference in what’s real and what’s not.”
He’s seen an explosion in interest in digital clothing in the last 18 months to two years, both from brands because of its operational benefits for the supply chain (Netherlands-based “digital fashion house” The Fabricant made headlines for selling a digital-only dress for around $9,500 on block chain), and from consumers, particularly in the gaming arena.
“The success of ‘Fortnight’ in particular is really interesting. It made about $1.8 billion last year — and there are some estimates the market for digital content is around the $50 billion mark. The skins you buy within the game are purely cosmetic, there is no benefit to your performance, it’s simply a style choice,” Drinkwater said.
Fashion schools have tweaked curriculums to incorporate more 3-D digital design to cater to the growing market. “As these experiences become more accessible, and technology makes them more realistic, it will be an inevitable part of any business strategy from luxury brands to street to fast fashion to be thinking about what kind of digital product or digital twin to a physical product could exist.”
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