Innovation Editor, Vogue Business
Technology and innovation is vital for businesses now more than ever — what advice would you give to fashion and luxury CTOs in the current situation?
I know brands are already considering many options and have been pushed to experiment in this short time. Now is a great time to take the leap on a new technology or startup partnership. Consumers are likely to be more forgiving and receptive, so the first deployment doesn’t have to be perfect. I’d also encourage brands to start new projects by focusing on the end results they hope for, rather than on any specific technologies.
What best practises in technology and innovation have you seen from brands/companies trying to cope with the COVID-19 crisis?
I’m seeing a boost in interest in tech that helps recreate or re-imagine physical experiences and that help limit the need for in-person interactions. I think it’s a bit too soon to know the results of new projects, but in this short time, I have been impressed with the creativity I’ve seen from brands fostering connectivity over live video and Instagram, and I think that the all-digital Shanghai Fashion Week is probably a small glimpse of what a virtual fashion week could be. Right now, smart brands are focused less on selling and more on maintaining customer relationships.
What online trends do you think will emerge from luxury brands over the next few months?
I love what McQueen is doing with #McQueenCreators to encourage creativity and community on Instagram, and I think participatory and personal projects like this will continue (live video can only be so produced, after all). I also think that large seasonal collections will give way to smaller drops that are produced on demand, and we’ll see brands creating value from items that might have been pre-worn or produced previously — or customised specifically for individual customers. And I think videos will continue to move beyond traditional runway shows or candid live interviews.
What technologies (beyond Zoom!) do you think will become indispensable to the fashion and luxury industry during this period of isolation and social distancing?
I don’t know about indispensable, but there are a number of techs that are likely to be a focus. Digital design, for example, allows brands to design and “photograph” garments completely digitally; already, virtual lookbooks have become more relevant and popular. Augmented reality and 3D models (meaning 3D product imagery) in ecommerce go hand-in-hand with this, as they allow online customers to experience products in a more life-like way. Brands will continue texting, chatting and videoing with customers, and stores might serve as micro-fulfilment centers. And I’d be thrilled if we could continue to explore the business benefits of digital clothes.
In the longer term, I think many are likely to invest in on-demand manufacturing, robotics and automation. There will likely be a surplus of unsold garments, so if the industry can proactively participate in rental and resale, that’s good for everyone. These technologies compliment each other: small-batch and personalised products will retain value beyond seasons and allow for more diversity, and unique items will command a higher price (including in circular markets), so the brand can benefit multiple times from keeping them in their ecosystem. I’d also love to see more adoption of technology in the recycling or reuse of unsold goods. (I’m sure brands that have already implemented these are feeling grateful, because aside from maybe AR, digital clothing and videos, it’s hard to onboard these quickly.)
How would you advise a fashion or luxury business to deal with the current situation and plan for the future?
I think everyone is just trying to stay afloat on a day-to-day basis, and no one has the answers. But I would offer that customers are understanding and these desperate times have created an environment more receptive to experimentation and vulnerability.