– Education will be the main topic for the European Union as well as for the industry, with digitisation taking centre stage.
– Tech companies are turning to clothing, but not necessarily to fashion. The time is now for the fashion industry to keep up on those new technologies and be able to respond to future demands.
– “The zebras” are the new unicorns. Small and medium-sized companies are the backbone, lungs and heart of the European economy and they will rise in 2020.
2020 is just around the corner and we still don’t have flying cars, but technology has provided us with some interesting things that changed our lives in ways never expected by previous forecasts. Going beyond devices, technology changed our culture, how we interact with each other, how we learn, how we dress, and so on.
With the end of the second decade of the 21st century – one of the worst for tech, according to The New York Times – and the rising of 2020, there is hope for better, brighter and smarter days. We’ve gathered in this article some information and trends about the fashion and technology industry that you will need to focus on in the new year to anticipate the exciting new twenties!
“We will all need to become lifelong learners”, summarised the latest Jobs of the Future report at the World Economic Forum. To stimulate, support and scale-up purposeful use of digital and innovative education practices in Europe, the European Union has agreed on a 2020 Digital Education Action Plan (a special thank you to Damjan Stamcar for the reference).
It is a fact that education is a priority in 2020. The fashion industry has been complaining about the shortage of a qualified workforce in craftsmanship for luxury goods, and last year, we saw big companies decide to solve this issue by themselves, with in-house academies.
Ralph & Russo has launched a couture apprenticeship programme. LVMH’s Institut des Métiers d’Excellence incorporates practical learning and a formal qualification. Kering has two schools of artisanship, and Gucci opened a private school in Florence.
Next year, we will see a similar movement through digitisation. We need to think about how to train people for new design skills, such as 3D design, focusing on the circular economy, bringing together technology, business, and beauty.
Tommy Hilfiger Global and PVH Europe, for instance, are committed to achieving 100% 3D apparel design by their Spring 2022 collections. To accomplish that, they are creating an academy dedicated to training professionals for the new fashion industry, called STITCH Academy, focused on 3D design workflow. The plan for STITCH includes licensing 3D design technologies for other companies in 2021, as informed by Anne-Christine Polet, SVP Digital of PVH Europe. That means that every brand will be able to work with the same 3D design technology, and someone must train these people to do that, right?
Another important part of PVH’s plan through digitalization is the HATCH Studio, for the creation of the digital showroom software and digital transformation services. In 2020, HATCH Studio is licensing these technologies that have revolutionised how brands like Tommy Hilfiger or Calvin Klein do wholesale selling.
As long as our own workforce is not yet fully trained in digitisation, the fashion industry is going after people from the outside, like Gucci searching for Scrum Masters. It is a great opportunity to expand knowledge between areas, bringing together fashion and tech people, historically always so apart.
The interest in the fashion industry and the opportunity to grow as creative technologists in this area is rising. But can we teach this new set of required skills in our traditional educational system? Rui Coutinho, from Porto Business School, has a great vision on this subject, developing the concept of on-demand degrees. Traditional MBAs will expire in a few years, as they have become too long and less interesting for new professionals. In the scenario, having on-demand degrees could increase again the appeal for post-grad school and better prepare students in non-traditional fields, mixing areas of interest, for instance. You can read more about it in this article from the World Economic Forum.
Another great example is short term post-grad courses offered by traditional schools. Polimoda in Florence, one of the top fashion schools in the world, is offering a master’s degree in Digital Fashion, with mentoring by our CEO and founder, Lisa Lang. The program covers a cross-field experience to form the future Chief Innovation Officers for the main fashion houses, in only nine months.
If the fashion industry doesn’t keep up, the tech industry will occupy the empty space in the future of clothing. With the rise of commercial space flights, for example, we will need something to wear on the space-ships, right? And who is developing it?
Virgin Galactic, the private spaceflight company from Richard Branson, is creating in collaboration with sportswear brand Under Armour, a spacewear system for the first space tourism travel in 2020.
But why sportswear and not fashion brands? Because sportswear brands are user-focused and lead by performance. New textiles and functional design have been a reality for sportswear brands for decades, issues that only now are relevant to the fashion industry.
Nike is a long-life performance seeker, developing shoes for athletes with high-technology engagement for decades. In 2019, Nike launched a smart sneaker that adapts to the athlete’s feet, based on the fact that the foot can expand almost a half-size during a play.
Also, tech companies are aware of the opportunities for wearable devices, and they are leading the run for innovation in this field. Microsoft and Google have already registered patents in technologies related to smart textiles. Apple is heading haptic response designs, which will be crucial to create flexible touchable surfaces – aka smart clothing.
What does that mean for us? While the fashion industry is still struggling with sustainable measures, finding their way into the circular economy, and getting prepared for digitisation (mostly e-commerce, as we’ve seen), the tech giants are taking position. What will happen? Fashion will have to pay expensive license fees to use those technologies, as it’s lagging behind in the innovation wave. As much as the current wearables on the market don’t look appealing, fashion-wise (sorry, Google Glass), still, they’re opening the road.
Who else is ahead? A new generation of digital fashion designers. Amber Jae Slooten and her company, The Fabricant, are starting a whole new market for fashion: the digital world. With 100% digital collections, to be worn only on virtual platforms, this new way of creating and promoting fashion will change how we see our industry — and ourselves. We interviewed Amber for our Fashion Tech Statement Report and she explained her vision for the future of clothing. You can read it here.
With new ways to create fashion, we also need new ways to conduct business. The old business models based on minimum production margin and maximum pieces sold are not sustainable for several reasons. Even in the tech industry, where startups are continuously innovating in this area, we see the profiteering of capital and the pressure for profit that seems very outdated.
Everybody wants to be a unicorn, but have you ever seen a living one?
This article from Entrepreneur magazine suggests, “Forget Unicorns. We Need More ‘Zebra‘ Startups”, as an alternative to growing companies without the desperation to raise enormous amounts of equity. But who are the zebras?
“Zebra companies are characterized by doing real business, not aiming to disrupt current markets, achieving profitability and demonstrating it for a while, and helping to solve a societal problem”, says Entrepreneur magazine.
It is a mix of a for-profit company and a non-profit cause. One great example is Toya, a gaming platform designed to motivate and inspire young girls to reach their full potential.
And who is heading the initiative? Female entrepreneurs and entrepreneurs of colour, showing how to create real empathy in business and not just as a buzzword to convince stakeholders. It is known that female entrepreneurs tend to take less risk and, consequently, grow profitable and sustainable businesses, which results in a slower growth pace and, potentially, on a smaller scale. Much more appropriate for our future challenges.
We participated in the SME Assembly 2019 promoted by the European Union, in Helsinki, and we watched Mariana Mazzucato, from University College London, in her Schumpeter Innovation in Enterprise lecture. She made some strong statements, and among them was this absolutely true affirmation: “impatient capital is the death of innovation”.
In 2020, we will see the rise of these small and medium enterprises as the true path to innovation. Using a more social and environmentally sustainable approach, but also more flexible, small companies can easily adapt to new technologies, keeping a close eye on the whole production chain, and also on the community.
In the European scenario, small and medium enterprises are 99% of all enterprises and employ an increasing number of persons. About 94% of that are independent companies, they are neither controlled by another enterprise nor control themselves another enterprise. (Source: eurostat) It’s a whole business world made of SMEs, they are the backbone, heart and lungs of the European economy.
To better understand the SME mindset through steady but smaller growth, we recommend Small Giants: Companies That Choose to Be Great Instead of Big, book written by Bo Burlingham. The author uses examples of leaders that started by questioning the usual definitions of business success, establishing new goals like being great at what they do, creating a great place to work, providing great customer service, making great contributions to their communities, and finding great ways to lead their lives. The book was launched 10 years ago but seems more accurate then never.
The only way through this new form of capitalism is bringing the zebras together. Small and independent companies can achieve greatness if working combined, as we have seen, they are the majority. And what is keeping them apart?
The Zebras Unite community is trying to bring small and purposeful companies together. The platform was created by Aniyia L. Williams, a female entrepreneur, Executive Director of Black & Brown Founders, and CEO of Tinsel Tech Jewellery. The Zebras Unite project calls for a more ethical and inclusive movement to counter existing startup and venture capital culture. You can be a part of it and integrate into one of the groups all over the globe.
As the unicorns are struggling to prove they are alive, the zebras actually do exist and they are all unique, each one with its different pattern of stripes. Zebras are resilient, they can run fast, and do it for a long time because that is where their strength lies. But – they always run together, in a dazzle. Isn’t it exciting?
Welcome, 2020. We are all waiting for you to dazzle us through education, cooperation, and consciousness. Who is ready?