2015 was the year that defined Fashion Tech(nology) and Retail Tech(nology) as exciting hubs of innovation. With the power to fundamentally change and disrupt both our shopping habits and what we buy, they are quickly growing out of their infancy stage and are coming into their own.
More sisters than twins, fashion tech and retail tech are are still causing a lot of confusion by being constantly thrown together as one. This is quite a shame because they are both quite distinct in their own right when it comes innovation and development. Although we can all admit to being guilty of labeling anything that explores fashion and technology as fashion tech, the time has now come to no longer do that. Why? Because they have out grown the need to be lumped together. It is time that they are recognised in their own right as retail technology- focusing on consumer experience, and fashion technology- concentrating on providing consumers with functional fashion.
Taking a closer look at the meaning behind the words, lets first touch on what is Fashion Tech? Simply put it is when the worlds of fashion and technology align to create fashion tech. I understand it to be when connected clothing offers consumers a digital experience. Other definitions include Third Wave Fashion who use their three-legged stool analogy to define fashion tech as when companies have at least two of the following three qualities: social elements (they all have this), disruptive technologies, and innovative business models. Whilst adding, “Fashion tech startups have the ability to blow away the traditional relationships between consumers and brands” , they also believe that the best fashion tech companies have all three of these qualities.
Another common definition was shared by Hottopics.ht who have defined fashion tech as the “characterization of physical form and digital experience that converge towards your aspirational self.” They believe that smart apparel will soon be the new norm and that wearable tech products will no longer need the word ‘tech’ before it, they will just be apparel or jewellery.
Which brings us to what is retail tech? Before the possibilities of technology were explored, retail tech was an area that was under invested until now. In 2015 many companies started to adapt to demanding price sensitive shoppers, armed with a mobile phone and a ceaseless array of choices. Simply defined, retail tech is when companies use cutting-edge technology to create an environment where brick-and-mortar and e-commerce can become one. On this Notion Capital shared that retail innovation and investment opportunities fall into two broad categories – enablement and disruption. Enabling technologies help existing retailers to adapt to change, while the disrupters are challenging the existing preconceptions of what it means to be a retailer. On the responsibilities of retail tech, CIO.com explained , “Retailers work around the clock to navigate a digital world that continues to evolve at a dizzying pace, while tech-savvy consumers have increased their demands for seamless experiences and personalized touches, wherever and however they shop.”
With rapid developments, technology is giving retailers the opportunity to appeal to mobile users, increase convenience for shoppers, and promote a retailer’s online presence. The common retail tech trends are biometrics, mobile ecommerce, digital in-store, social media shopping platforms and beacons (location-based technologies). The future of retail tech looks bright for the retailers who choose to live the tech life, because they will gain to profit from the digital disruption that is taking place right now. This means that we can look forward to virtual mannequins, augmented reality, NFC compatibility, scan as you shop, order hubs, virtual rails, digital signage, iBeacons and of course the virtual runway being common place.
This brings us back to the confusion of labeling all technology related to fashion as fashion tech. This common mistake should not be so difficult to rectify. One needs to understand that fashion technology is a term used to mainly describe designers that use technology to design and create their consumer product, whether that be a jacket that reacts to the environment, a collection of sustainable clothes or accessories that charge your phone on the go. What it does not include is online stores or labels that are using technology in their stores. These are companies that come under the label of retail technology. Why? Well not to state the obvious, they are retailers using technology to build better relationships with their consumers as opposed to designing and creating technologically functional apparel and accessories. Simply put, companies like Burberry, Gilt and FarFetch are retail tech, and labels like Cute Circuit, The Unseen, Iris van Herpen, Natalia Allen, Pauline van Dongen and Caeden are fashion tech.
The fashion tech industry is busy creating convenient fashions that we can wear, whilst the retail tech companies are creating a digital environment where we can shop. On that note, with new models rapidly emerging, I understand that although these are two categories tcan go hand in hand, they do also represent two different paths that the fashion industry has taken when it comes to technology playing a part in its future.