Top 6 Tech Trends in the Fashion Industry

By Brian Spears, Freelance Writer — July 21, 2014

In the fashion industry, if you aren't moving forward, chances are you are falling behind. The world of fashion has the capacity to change faster than ever in the digital era, and those with an eye on what's happening right now and a feel for what's coming next are in a powerful position to gain a competitive advantage.

Make no mistake, we still put our pants on one leg at a time. However, everything else about those pants -- from how they were produced and marketed, to the way we shop and purchase them -- is changing as a result of modern times.

While it's impossible to say exactly where technology will take fashion in the coming months and years, we do know it pays for apparel manufacturers and retailers to remain in touch with what's cutting edge. If you are looking for ways your business might be impacted by technology, consider these six prominent tech trends in the fashion industry.

1. Smartphone commerce
The numbers are in, and by all accounts they confirm the obvious: consumers are increasingly using their smartphones (perhaps twice as much as last year) to shop and purchase. According to Branding Brand CEO Chris Mason, "Smartphones are redefining the way retailers are connecting with consumers, and it's clearly being reflected in the bottom line."

From mobile-optimized shopping experiences complete with virtual showrooms, real-time customer service and feedback, social media integration, and personalized data-driven advertising, fashion retailers are rushing to develop a mobile experience that meets the demands of today’sshoppers.

2. Wearable technology
Yes, Google Glass and the like have finally hit the market to marginal impact, but wearable tech (still in its infancy) is breaking through in tangible ways that are just beginning to resonate with popular culture. We're not just talking about watches that serve as miniature extensions of computers and smartphones, but of apparel people actually want to wear, such as the Misfit Shine, which marries function with fashion as an elegant activity tracker that doubles as jewelry and transmits data to your iPhone via Bluetooth connectivity.
And that's just the tip of the iceberg. Imagine clothing fitted with solar panels that charge your mobile devices, smart fabrics that optimize wearer comfort by adjusting color or texture based on environment, or apparel that purifies the air, omits fragrances, or transforms appearance in reaction to mood or sound simply for fashion's sake. It's all coming and more.

3. 3D printing
The future world of George and Jane Jetson is finally at hand, as 3D printing turns things previously thought to be impossible into reality. We've already seen 3D-printed couture looks coming down the runway from the likes of Iris Van Herpen and many others, and this disruptive technology is opening new doors to designers seeking innovation in both materials and processes for designing and producing clothing.

What's next? Perhaps see it, buy it, print it shopping, in which a consumer spots a must-have article of clothing, completes the checkout transaction in a matter of seconds, and sits back to watch as their personal 3D printer whips up a custom fitted version right in the comfort of his own home.

4. Fashion shows as tech events
The runway has always been about creating a spectacle and pushing the cutting edge, but today more than ever before, designers and production companies are utilizing technology to elevate events to new heights. From models coming down the runways appearing submerged in pools of water thanks to holographic projections, to viewing the action remotely in 360-degree panorama, fashion shows are as much a technological extravaganza as they are a forum to unveil the latest creations out of New York, London, Paris, and Milan.

That's not even mentioning what's going on behind the scenes and in the crowd. Bloggers and retailers broadcast live from events, and guests plug into social media to voice their impressions and influence purchasing decisions of buyers and shoppers in real-time around the world.

5. Designing for online
In an environment where you can't touch and feel, how do you best create fashion that captures the fancy of consumers? One part of the equation is in the way you present and market your brand, and the other has more to do with the visual aspects of the product itself.

As a direct result of an ever-increasing amount of virtual browsing, visually impactful prints and richly textured fabrics are coming to the forefront of emerging fashion - and for good reason. 3D printing and software tools provide tech-savvy designers the room to run wild with creativity when it comes to colors, patterns, and daring new perspectives. Plus, retailers are also able to use technology to collect data metrics and interact and observe shoppers on social channels as a means of reading public sentiment and identifying emerging trends. This allows them to make strategic adjustments for greater consumer success.

6. Tech in the physical space
From proximity marketing, to contactless checkout and everything in between, in-store shopping is being revolutionized through innovations that are both creative and functional. By adding technological elements and capabilities to the physical location, retailers can cultivate a more satisfying experience that meets the heightened expectations of modern shoppers.

Features such as virtual fitting rooms where you can "try on" fashions without ever undressing, visual signage social media tickers that tally "likes" of individual articles of clothing, and scannable QR codes that trigger detailed product information and carefully crafted marketing displays on handheld devices are just a few ways retailers are using tech to engage shoppers in brick and mortar locations.

Final thoughts
Fashion may be fleeting, but technology in the fashion industry is here to stay. Brands and retailers embracing innovation and the state of the art will better be equipped to compete in an age in which technology has a profound impact on the way we manufacture, retail, and consume fashion and apparel.

Which additional fashion industry tech trends are you excited about?


Brian Spears is a freelance writer who covers trends in technology and lifestyle issues.

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