Digital transformation has reached the fashion industry. This is due not only to “smart textiles” such as electronically pimped garments, which are increasingly becoming the norm for both business and private clients, but also to the disruptive processes reshaping the industry. The focus is on sustainability, security, and innovation, from eCommerce and retail technology to communication and marketing. All of this came into focus in mid-January, when global brands, industry insiders, communication professionals, start-ups, and politicians met at Fashiontech in Berlin. On stage and in workshops, discussions centered on the big changes happening in the industry, which ultimately all have to do with digitization in its various forms. The event’s theme "How to transform your organization" made it clear that the necessary change does not only mean the implementation of digital technologies within the company.
"If the 20th century was the age of the corporation, the 21st century is the age of the consumer." Ana Andjelic, Chief Brand Officer, Rebecca Minkoff
Not surprisingly, the key messages of the first speaker, Sebastian Klauke, Chief Digital Officer of the Otto Group, focused on the fact that technology is not solely an end itself but also improves the customer experience. Customer experience and customer service will become much more personalized. "In the future, we will offer our customers even more tailor-made services. Machine learning is a driver for this. This already plays an important role for us, but the possibilities are far from exhausted," said Klauke.
The textile retail industry, whether physical or digital, has long been in competition with other leisure activities such as eating out or Netflix. With time so scarce these days, people want to make sure theirs is well spent. This means that retail is moving away from the pure point of sales and towards providing consumers with an experience. So despite the ubiquitous trend toward digitization, physical meeting places where members of a community can meet and talk in person are becoming increasingly important.
"Know your consumer. Speak to your consumers. Address the needs and desires of your consumers." Gary Wassner, Co-Founder & Chairman of of InterLuxe Holdings, LLC
The conference made it clear that fashion is no longer simply about developing new collections, but about the digital potential of the entire value chain. Modern, digital marketing and innovative sales channels are critical: apps, networking events, experiential- and connected-retail. This requires agile methods where solutions are continuously improved through an iterative process. The focus is on meeting the wishes and needs of customers and users, and incorporating their feedback. This is what Gary Wassner spoke to. He has been responsible for financing some of the most successful US fashion brands, such as Michael Kors and Marc Jacobs, and he knows the market better than almost anyone else. It's no longer the company or the brand but the customer who defines what they want to consume – when, where, and how.
"A workforce must constantly learn, unlearn and re-learn. That won't happen unless it comes from top to bottom." Sofia Wingren, CEO, Hyper Island
At first glance, digital transformation seems to be exclusively about new technologies. But these innovations are almost worthless if the corresponding culture is not already firmly anchored in the company. In the digital age, it’s above all a question of speed because today it’s possible to become the market leader faster than ever before. This also means that companies can fall behind the competition much faster. Only those who are fast and continuously innovative will be successful with their customers and users, who are more demanding than ever. Innovations arise when the company is not afraid of failure. Silicon Valley illustrates this way of thinking, as those who learn from their mistakes will improve next time – true to the motto "failure is a step on the road to success.”
In addition to the new demands placed on management, this will also lead to changes in the requirements on employee profiles. Instead of a perfect CV, the essential attribute now is the courage to try out new things, make mistakes, and also to learn from them in order to improve quickly. Flat hierarchies are necessary to shorten feedback loops and to be able to act faster and be more agile: collaborative and progressive learning is key as well as connected working in cross-functional teams instead of lengthy meetings.
Of course, the ripple effects of digital transformation are being felt across all industries, not just fashion. But what started as mere technology implementation (with lasting adaptation, speed and agility implications) has fundamentally changed not only consumer-oriented thinking and customer behavior but also company culture and employee skill requirements. The digitization path on the road to success promises limitless opportunities but is peppered with many learnings. Let’s hope we can unlearn and re-learn fast enough to keep up while not suffocating the consumers.