Mapping Fashion Tech: A Global Outlook

Now is the perfect time to take a birds-eye view across the globe to see which fashion innovations are being experienced in different corners of the world.

Even though the pandemic-induced shocks are still reverberating through the industry, technology has become the constant, continually opening new doors to industry innovations. It has helped fashion businesses stay in business as all industries continue to battle through the unpredictable pandemic. Forced to think outside the box, you can not deny that technology is painting a different kind of future for all industries across the globe.

Yes, Fashion Technology Is Critical When It Comes To Helping Brands 

The fashion industry is finally welcoming the inventors and entrepreneurs of game-changing technology, to help them find ways to survive. Springing up to help with the seismic shift that happened in 2020, and continues to happen in 2021, advancing technology has made it possible for businesses to boost sales, improve digital merchandising, enhance the retail experience, and connect with customers during the lockdown.

Last May 2020, Vogue editor Anna Wintour said the coronavirus pandemic has been “catastrophic” for the fashion industry, impacting both emerging designers and large retailers, but I think it forced the industry to reimagine a different future. One where fashion businesses not only take innovation seriously but also look to technology to help them find their way through change.

As the industry continues to take a pause, many ask themselves what does the fashion industry stand for anymore? Instead of looking for one simple answer, I think it makes better sense to have a better understanding of what fashion means across the globe. A birds-eye view of the different fashion innovations being adopted to address some of fashion’s problems in different corners of the world. Ready to take a look at what kind of fashion tech is being adopted in different parts of the world? Here goes.

AFRICA

Digital tools are all the rage in Africa, especially in Nigeria, where fashion brands rely on digital devices and technology-enabled processes to do business. With innovation being adopted in cities like Johannesburg, Accra and Lagos, new technologies are growing in popularity because they drive more business to the continent. Recently, new technology was also used on the runway.

Image credit: Siemens

Unless you have been hiding under a rock, you would have heard of the name Anifa Mvuemba. She is a Congolese designer who mesmerized an entire industry when her 3D models walked down a VR catwalk to an audience of millions on the Instagram Live channel. Causing a ripple of awe, Mvuemba, who previously worked with 3D modelling, decided to take a chance on technology and showcase her capsule collection in what some might call a gimmick. The gamble proved successful, and Mvuemba then put virtual runways in Ghana, South Africa and Nigeria. 

What made Mvuemba’s move groundbreaking was that she successfully showed the global fashion community the advantages of a digital runway. Yes, producing a 3D virtual runway show can be a painstaking process, but with most of the industry on lockdown, live streaming a collection seems to no longer be a choice but a necessity. On adopting technology Sarah Diouf, founder of Tongoro, a 100% made-in-Africa clothing brand, once said in an interview with Techcabal.com: “African fashion is rising right now. African designers need to develop their unique business model and have to be innovative. To do so, digital is key.” 

Besides the evolution of runways being pushed to the forefront by future-thinking African fashion brands, there are also retail-focused startups taking advantage of A.R. technology like Phygital. The Harare based startup behind Swaggify, has come up with the idea of an ecosystem that allows fashion and music stakeholders to turn the music video entertainment into viral fashion shopping experiences. 

Through the power of the web, mobile, computer vision and the A.R. cloud, the Swaggify platform has been built to boost revenue for fashion designers/retailers and music artists, while allowing consumers to take advantage of personal physical experience their favourite artists. 

Today, there is a lot of conversation about investing in technology like  AR/VR fitting rooms. I am happy to see innovation being embraced by African designers and businesses, I am even happier to see inventors coming forward and ensuring that Africa as a whole will not be left behind. Although the African fashion industry does focus more on retail tech than fashion tech, I have found that on the continent a lot of the innovation being adopted is about convenience, like payment tech, rather than tech that could be considered self-indulgent, like fitness trackers. When you look at the needs of the various countries, it makes sense that they turn to technology to help their audience shop better, get a better experience, and have better access to products than investing in technology that tells them their heart rate.

EUROPE

When it comes to innovation in Europe, one could say that this is the place where fashion-tech innovation is thriving. Let’s take Sweden, a country that has bred several globally successful fashion retailers like H&M. The country has been playing a pivotal role in pioneering the merger of gaming technology and fashion. 

Still, considered to be an unusual relationship, the Swedish gaming world has not only infiltrated the fashion scene, but it has also found a way of defining the fashion industry of tomorrow. 

Image credit: Neue

According to Statista, Sweden belongs to one of the largest digital games markets in Europe. A hotbed of game development, Sweden is home to some of the world’s largest developers and niche developers. For them, the tech and gaming culture enables fashion brands to reach a new audience, particularly the Gen-Z gamers.

Believing that the merger for fashion with gaming is ripe for engagement, Sweden is not only leading the way, but it is also showing fashion businesses how to speed up and simplify the design process. A lot of Swedish fashion brands are experimenting with generating a real-time visual experience which makes the product more relatable to customers.

Sweden has also been concentrating on bringing ethical changes to the fashion industry’s supply chain. Swedish startups like Material Exchange, are not the only ones trying to find ways to improve fashion’s poor record for sustainability, other European companies pushing this agenda forward include UK-based Supply Compass and Dutch company Circularise. “Our business exploded overnight,” says Darren Glenister, chief executive of Material Exchange.

Other Swedish startups that are excelling in this space include Swedish startup Trustrace. The startup has made it possible to trace garments from the cotton field to the hanger in the store. Trustrace does this by analyzing the ethics of the trade and the environmental impact of each garment. Attracting Swedish brands like Filippa K and Polarn O. Pyret, Trustrace has made it easier for fashion businesses to be more responsible for accountability, traceability, and supply chain management.

In Finland, the Finnish are also making their mark in this space. Managing to turn textile, cardboard or agricultural waste to a circular, new, natural, premium textile fibre is startup Infinited Fiber. They have been applauded for their environmentally friendly approach, that has wowed the industry. Infinited Fiber’s technology has demonstrated that it can turn trash that would otherwise be landfilled or burned into something truly valuable. Moving on to Spain, there is a startup called Jeanologia. It is a Spanish startup that has been using their technology to decrease energy usage by a third, chemical usage by two thirds, and water consumption by 71%.

When it comes to innovation in the market place, there are already quite a few businesses out there changing how we sell and buy fashion products. We have French startup Vestiaire Collective, Lithuanian company Vinted and U.K. startup Thrift+. Other celebrated startup market places include French Lizee, which help fashion brands and retailers go from selling to renting. Let’s not forget Popswap, a tinder-like app is for your wardrobe and AI-powered retail system German startup ZyseMe. It is a company that has been empowering fashion brands to cut costs and waste through better-fitting clothes since 2017. Last year ZyseMe partnered up with retail giant H&M to personalize their customer’s shopping experience.

Image Credit: Zyseme

Lastly, in Europe, education in fashion tech has become a conversation starter that has made more Universities look into updating their curriculums. Leading the way are Dutch schools like Design Academy Eindhoven and the ArtEZ Academy of Art & Design. They have, for a while now, been churning out left, right and centre, amazing fashion technology designers. Quietly making a name for themselves by taking the doubt out of this relatively niche subject, Dutch fashion courses not only allow students to think outside the box but encourages them to explore all the beautiful possibilities that technology can offer creative minds. With a natural desire to promote individuality the Netherlands has become famous for nurturing homegrown talents like Iris van Herpen, Pauline van Dongen, Marina Toeters, Borre AkkersdijkMaartje Dijkstra, Aniela Hoitink, Gert-Jan Spriensma and Martijn van der Veen, to name a few.

THE AMERICAS

The pandemic has forced fashion businesses worldwide to find ways to adapt to the new environment. Accelerated innovations, that were once on the back burner, have become the light at the end of the tunnel. In America, ethical fashion startups using new technologies have been finding their voice in the industry. One of the brands offering an alternative to fast fashion is Tennesse based sustainable fashion brand called Able. The startup sets itself apart from the rest by promising not only transparency about its items’ production process but also fair wages paid to workers worldwide. 

Image credit: ABLE

Another spotlighted ethical US brand is Tradesy. The company is run fashionistas and technologists; artists and scientists; dreamers and doers. Founded in 2009, the online marketplace has become a reliable place to get secondhand quality goods. Relying on advanced technology to detect fakes, Tradesy has an authenticity rate of 99.7%. 

Another way fashion tech companies in the U.S. have been making the headlines has been through collaborations. The most celebrated collab so far was Stella McCartney x Bolt Threads. Believing that the sustainable future is something no brand can build alone, the San Francisco based startup partnered up with Stella McCartney to create the next generation of advanced materials. Founded in 2010, Bolt’s first collaborative product with the fashion house was a one-of-a-kind custom dress made entirely of Bolt Microsilk™.

Another notable Fashion Tech brand based in the states is LOOMIA. Working with clients such as Google, The North Face, Zac Posen, and Calvin Klein, Loomia has built a strong reputation on their innovative engineering technology that delivers comfort, safety, and confidence to the human experience by adding intelligence to everyday objects. 

In South America, payment platforms, and the circular economy, are all the rage. Which explains why there has been quite a bit of excitement over Bogota-based company TPaga. The startup has been busy bringing mobile payments to the country’s underbanked population. Popular with taxi drivers and food-delivery workers, the app bypasses banks to make any disbursement or transfer possible. Another payment platform that has been empowering customers is dLocal. Offering a seamless way for global companies to pay and get paid by its users and workers in emerging markets, dLocal is an Uruguay based company processes payments and works as the merchant of record in each market.

Image credit: tpaga

When it comes to data-driven fashion, Amaro is leading the way. The Brazilian company is a digitally native clothing brand that uses data and logistics to streamline operations. In Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, Amaro allowed their customers to have physical “experiences,” where they could see the goods in person and order them for delivery online. 

On the sustainability front, there is a Chile-based startup called Algramo making waves. The social company objective is to revolutionize the way we consume every day by adding a digital wallet to the packaging to encourage reuse. The RFID code on the bottle gives discounts on future purchases, creating an incentive for customers to bring the same package back repeatedly.

ASIA

Have you heard of Samshek, Republiqe, Tropick or Shop Bettr? They are innovative new businesses that are positioning themselves to lead the way in Asia. Shop Bettr has been called “Asia’s first fashion tech search-and-shoppable platform for sustainable fashion”. The company told Inside Retail that their aim was to “solve the conscious consumer’s three-pronged challenge of not understanding certifications, not wanting to be deceived by greenwashing, and not finding sustainable products that resonate with their style and budget while helping sustainable businesses reach the ever-growing conscious community”. 

Redefining and disrupting the fashion industry through tech-driven digital clothing and creativity is digital luxury consumer fashion label Republiqe and Tropick, which is addressing a massive gap in the menswear market in Asia. Tropick’s founder Monica Millington explained: “By creating pieces that are so comfortable and easy to care for, we are setting a whole new standard for the men’s modern wardrobe”.

As Asia’s fashion ecosystem responds to the evolving customer need, the McKinsey’s Fashion Scope reported that India’s apparel market will be clocked at $59.3 billion by 2022, as companies like Samshek, founded by Samiksha Bajaj, introduce its customers to 3D technology. Samshek is even making plans to bring virtual-try-on to the forefront.

AUSTRALASIA

It is not a surprise that Australia has become the birthplace of many startups and tech companies. Described by Disfold.com as a technologically advanced economy and in a unique position in Asia-Pacific, Australian startups have been making their mark in FinTech, artificial intelligence and e-commerce. Engaging in tech-driven disruption, Australian startups have been bringing innovation to a broad range of industries. With quite a few of them bragging “Unicorn” status, it is fashion tech companies like Good On You (GOY) that have been making a name for themselves, internationally.

Image Credit: GOY

GOY is a sustainability app provides data on fashion brands and rates them on three parameters: impact on people in the supply chain, environmental impact and animal welfare. GOY has put mainstream fashion players and upcoming sustainable fashion brands on the same platform. Usually, the two cohorts operate in silos. 

As a result, the user journey on the app becomes easy to navigate. Users can check how their favourite fashion labels rate. Should that brand have a low rating, the app recommends a list of similar brands and fare better on sustainability criteria. GOY’s algorithms also allow for discovering new ethically-driven fashion brands, based on one’s location and style preferences.

In 2015, when the app launched in Australia sans fanfare, it was downloaded over 10,000 times in the first eight days. The need for a tool to make shopping decisions better stood validated. Since then, the founders- consumer advocate Gordon Renouf and corporate social responsibility professional Sandra Capponi– have taken the startup on a slow course. However, they aim to expand on fast-track and grow the existing base of 150,000 users.

When it comes to materials produced sustainably, Australian fashion brand KitX has been shining a positive light on alternative materials. Making swimwear from recycled fishnets, KitX is one the Australian companies committing to eco-solutions. Another one is Citizen Wolf. They use technology to automate tailoring by using lasers to cut fabric, which reduces waste. When producing ethically made to measure t-shirts, Citizen Wolf uses environmentally friendlier materials like hemp.

Image Credit: Nudie Jeans

Lastly, we can’t talk about innovative Australian fashion brands without mentioning Nudie Jeans. Hoping to reduce their footprint, the denim brand has a take-back recycling and free repairs scheme that encourages consumers to hold on to their jeans for as long as possible. Working towards changing the devastating effect that the denim industry has on the environment and the health of workers, Nudie Jeans hopes to encourage others to “create circularity in a longer perspective”.  

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Founding Editor in Chief at | editor@fashnerd.com | Website

Founding editor-in-chief & WearableTechStylist of FashNerd.com, Muchaneta has worked in the fashion industry for over 14 years. She is currently one of the leading influencers speaking and writing about the merger of fashion with technology and wearable technology and a regular contributor to digital news sites like Wareable.