As the world — and fashion — becomes increasingly automated, mindful design will be gaining ground across the board.
Dissecting some of the trends examined in Fjord’s Trends 2019 report, cofounder and chief client officer Mark Curtis pointed to three key ones — the Inclusivity Paradox, Synthetic Realities and the Last Straw — that should affect the fashion industry in the months ahead. Founded in 2001, Fjord, a design and innovation consultant business, culled information from 1,000 designers working in its studios in 28 cities across the world.
Fjord’s latest report noted such advancements as how British and U.S scientists are engineering an enzyme that eats plastic to fight pollution and how Gumdrop has collaborated to design a Gumshoe, which is made from gum scraped off the streets of Amsterdam. In March, a driverless shuttle bus designed by minimalist Japanese retailer Muji, in collaboration with Sensible 4, will hit Helsinki streets. This concept of brands with no history in mobility integrating it into their primary service layer is something Fjord researchers expect to see more of. Nike, for example, introduced a curbside pick-up service at its Melrose Avenue concept store in Los Angeles.
Partially fueling such interest is the United Nations’ prediction that the number of people living in cities could double to 6.5 billion by 2050. By 2030, more than 9 percent of the world’s population will live in just 41 megacities — those with more than 10 million inhabitants — and municipal infrastructures are struggling to keep up, the report noted.
While WeWork focused, until recently, on offering individuals and small businesses physical coworking spaces, now it’s augmenting its physical space offer with digital information gathered from its 268,000 members in 287 locations across 23 countries. WeWork uses this data to give real-time recommendations to big corporations on how to get more out of their spaces and reduce employee churn.
In regards to the Inclusivity Paradox, Curtis said that broad-scale segmentation may have worked well in the past for corporations, but now consumers are expecting to be treated as individuals. “All large organizations including large fashion companies have basically built themselves on scale and efficiency — selling the same thing to customers over and over again,” he said. “More recently, companies like Inditex have made a major effort to shorten their production time so they’re increasingly selling more and more different things.…Their inventory has changed a lot, but it’s still fundamentally rooted in lots of the same thing,” he said. “Artificial intelligence is beginning to impact this. Over time we’re going to be able to talk to everyone like they were individuals.”
For example, major Western brands including Burberry and DKNY haven’t managed to crack the massive Muslim fashion market, said Curtis, noting a more individualized and psychological approach is needed. Eventually, such customized approaches will become more economically sound, due to the ability to amass ample data to understand people at a micro-level, Curtis said. “We will have created the systems to create services for them on a much more individualized level.…The interim step is to begin to look long and hard at mind-sets and understand those mind-sets. You may only be able to do that in clusters of four and 10. It’s basically post-demographic consumerism.”
Determining the age and gender of customers does not provide sufficient information — an idea that Netflix vice president of product Todd Yellin has voiced, Curtis said. “We’re increasingly looking at cross-population mind-sets — the ways in which people think about the things that they wear, they buy, their finances, the way they get around the world etc. These mind-sets become hugely important. They don’t track well with the demographic standards.”
The Inclusivity Paradox started in the Sixties when parenting took more of an everybody-is-special track and has become increasingly prevalent with younger generations, according to Curtis. “The upshot of that is this strong need that everybody has to be relevant because we’ve been told since we were babies that we’re special. Now we expect special and to be treated as special, and to know why we’re relevant. And we expect this from corporations,” he said.
Synthetic Realities is expected to initially have an effect on the marketing side of the fashion industry, and then on product design. Dove U.K.’s “Real Mum” advertising campaign, for example, used GAN technology to amalgamate unrealistic depictions of motherhood in media and social networks. The AI system learned from the data it was trained on, producing an increasingly accurate sample of photorealistic images. The end result was meant to be “perfect mum,” but the intended irony was not always easy to spot, according to Curtis. “Why would you continue to hire models for photography or to demonstrate your clothes, when you can use artificial intelligence to make models look like how you want them to look like — hopefully diverse?”
As for how AI will coexist with consumers increasingly in search of authenticity and transparency, Curtis said, “People were alarmed by photography in the 19th century. They felt that somehow it was wrong. The same thing happened with Photoshop. But nobody argues about Photoshop any more. I think the same thing will happen with Synthetic Reality. There will be a massive debate about it, which has only just gotten under way. But at the end of the debate, people will accept that organizations are using synthetic reality to lower their costs and to create synthesized realizations of what they want to show. I’m not saying that is a good thing. It is just how it will pan out because the cost factor will drive this more than anything else.”
From his viewpoint though designers and creative people will continue to thrive because “all computers can do for the moment and for the likely near future is to give you a reflection back of what you show them. What designers can see in their heads is what nobody is showing them. Computers can’t do that and it’s a substantial difference.”
Regarding the Last Straw — or consumers’ increasing interest in environmentalism — Curtis said apart from recycling trash in designated bins, consumers had not typically done a lot in that direction until this year. The switch was triggered partially by China’s ban on rubbish imports, which made ports all over the world and companies wake up and say, ‘Well, how are we going to deal with this?’ Another factor was extreme weather especially in the Northern Hemisphere where brush fires are no longer a seasonal problem in the U.S., Curtis said. Severe heat in Europe last summer has also made people reconsider their views on climate change, he said. “shocking images of plastics in the ocean” in David Attenborough’s documentary “‘Blue Planet II’ had a massive effect on worldwide opinion around the issues of micro plastics in the ocean,” Curtis said.
While the fashion industry is one of the industries taking the lead, Curtis wouldn’t say it is setting an example. “That would be going to far,” he said before acknowledging the efforts of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. “H&M and other companies outside the fashion industry — PepsiCo, Unilever and others [250 in total] have pledged that by 2025 all their products will be reusable, recyclable, compostable. Make Fashion Circular includes Burberry, Gap, Nike and a lot of companies. Everlane is promising not to use any virgin materials by 2021. That’s a fairly ambitious timeline.”