How will Industry 4.0 technologies impact fashion?

There is a striking similarity between fashion and technology. What is in vogue in one season might be outdated in the next one: this applies both on the catwalks and in the tech world.

The seasonality of fashion is set to increase with the Millennials tsunami. This generation is huge – 400 million people in China, 123 million in Europe, 74 million in the United States – and collectively powerful – their disposable income should reach US$1.4 trillion by 2020.

Tech-driven and with a mobile-first mentality, Millennials favor experience over ownership. They like feeling unique and being treated as such, without having to wait for a second. They show appetite for immediacy – such as the see now, buy now phenomenon in fashion – and product customization. All these expectations compel fashion companies to rethink their processes and move toward Industry 4.0 principles. 

At which stage can technology help fashion companies satisfy these demands? Clearly, at all stages.

Customer interaction starts online, and particularly on social media. Integrated chatbots, for example, can answer end-customer requests and solve product-related issues 24/7. Data analytics are useful to individualize communication and – crucially – factor in customer feedback in design. By analyzing social media trends and point-of-sale customer behavior data, communication can be personalized for each customer, and valuable data generated for the next collection.

But 4.0 disruptions also take place offline. Forward-looking fashion brands and retailers are digitalizing their entire supply chains, from the design studio and the product development offices to the factory floor.

At the production stage, satisfying impatient customers requires speed and flexibility. Industry 4.0-compliant technologies, equipment with embedded sensors, Internet of Things applications and cloud-enabled production lines will help manufacturers virtualize and automate processes in order to increase time to market and launch mass customization. In China, the necessary manufacturing upgrade is encouraged by a government masterplan, Made in China 2025.

Downstream, retailers are embracing technology as well. In store, augmented reality mirrors allow customers to try clothes on in a more interactive and fun way, while staff equipped with tablets can answer product-related questions within seconds thanks to cloud computing.