Roosevelt Institute | Cornell University

The Growing Importance of Technology in the Fashion Industry

By Kelly XuPublished September 22, 2016

The global fashion industry has evolved and transformed at a rapid pace in recent years, mostly due to the influence of new technology. While most people are probably aware of the mutually beneficial relationship between the fashion industry and social media platforms, the transformation that's taken place is not just skin-deep.
Over these past two weeks, major brands such as Burberry, Tom Ford, and Ralph Lauren have turned the fashion industry on its head by launching "see now, buy now" campaigns that allow consumers to immediately purchases pieces straight off the catwalk (when they would otherwise have to wait months). These brands rely increasingly heavily on new technology to efficiently manage their supply chains and ensure real-time product availability, while effectively capitalizing on digital media to generate brand interest. Burberry, which only debuted its new collection on September 19, has already sold out of key pieces online and at boutiques. As more brands follow Burberry's "see now, buy now" strategy in upcoming seasons, the need for capable technology will only grow more relevant.
While the "see now, buy now" campaigns have only just kickstarted, the fashion industry as a whole has been embracing technology for quite some time now. After all, the theme for this year's annual Met Gala, was in fact "Manus x Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology". From runway shows to physical stores, brands are featuring technology more prominently in every aspect of their business operations. In exchange, tech companies are just as eager to return the favor and partner with designers. For New York Fashion Week in September 2016, Google gave designers the opportunity to create custom search carousels to curate the first thing consumers see when they google the brand's name. For companies participating in "see now, buy now," the general public could directly purchase looks from the Google search page.
With so much social media attention focused on runway shows in particular, brands are utilizing technology and special effects to garner publicity and ensure they can stand out from the crowd. In 2014, Ralph Lauren Polo streamed a 4D fashion show on a 60-feet water wall in Central Park and in 2006, Alexander McQueen had a hologram version of Kate Moss walk the finale of his catwalk presentation. This past New York Fashion Week, designer Rebecca Minkoff livestreamed her brand's runway show in 360° Virtual Reality, allowing those with virtual reality headsets to experience the presentation as if they were sitting front-row.
Rebecca Minkoff has also notably employed a lot of technology to make it easier for consumers to virtually try on the brand's clothing. In addition to partnering with Zeekit, an app that lets users preview what clothing pieces would look like on their own bodies, some Rebecca Minkoff stores in New York and San Francisco have fitting rooms with touch screen mirrors that customers can use for requesting other items to try on. After the first Rebecca Minkoff "#SeeBuyWear" fashion show in mid-February 2016, retail sales were up 213% during the two-week post-show period compared to that of the prior year. The New York and San Francisco stores also experienced a 150% increase in retail dollars for full-price ready-to-wear sales in this time period.
The global fashion industry is worth approximately $3 trillion dollars. As fashion and technology become virtually inseparable as we move forward, this figure will only increase over time. With the help of technology, the fashion industry can reach its full potential in every part of its supply chain. Technology benefits not only brands likes Rebecca Minkoff that experience increased revenues, but also consumers who are granted more convenience and accessibility when making purchase decisions. For the fashion industry, the tech trend is definitely here to stay.