As part of the Epson Digital Couture Project before New York Fashion Week, the printing company hosted a panel discussion on how digital technology is affecting the fashion business.
Industry insiders and experts gathered at Pier Sixty in Manhattan to discuss the changes they’ve seen and the innovations they anticipate due to dye-sublimation printing.
Moderated by Wall Street Journal Magazine VP/Publisher Anthony Cenname, the dais included Assaf Ziv, creative director at Ellie Tahari; Barry McGeough, group vice president at PVH - Innovation Next; Mark Sunderland, director of the global fashion enterprise at Philadelphia University; Sunao Murata, chief operating officer of professional printing operations at SEC; Paolo Crespi, commercial director at For.Tex; Tom Nastos, president of women’s fashion at UBM Americas; and designer Erin Fetherston.
Below are excerpts from the panel.
Anthony Cenname: What areas of the fashion industry are most affected by technology?
Erin Fetherston: “Technology has affected every aspect of fashion, and it starts with how people are consuming. It’s rapidly accelerating the way we do business, the way we connect with our customer. Our customers’ demands and expectations set the bar, and we work back from there. Technology has influenced the inspiration phase and the research, for better and for worse. I spend a lot of time on devices gathering images these days. Sometimes, I miss the novelty of the live experience, actually going to the library to check out old issues of Vogue, if they even had them.”
Paolo Crespi: “We don’t spend so much time on design anymore. Everything that went into creating and sending the first sample used to take more than three weeks. Nowadays, you can do it in a couple days. It also costs less.”
Barry McGeough: “I run a division called Innovation Next. We’re looking for ideas that are coming at our industry that we’re not ready for. You know, what’s happening at the retail space, what technology can evolve the supply chain, how we can enhance the consumer experience online. There’s a company called Stitch Fix, which is using artificial intelligence to prescribe attributes. So instead of saying I’m a person in California that buys tennis shirts, Stitch Fix uses its technology to apply personal attributes to that experience. So the consumer will say, wow, that really speaks to me.”
AC: How has technology affected the creative process of “see now, buy now”?
Mark Sunderland: “We’re seeing how close the actual fiber can be to the end use in that supply chain. We’re seeing advancements in advanced biotechnology. When you look at new bio tech, you take into consideration the seamless. When you digitally print on that seamless garment, look how close you are to that end use application.”
BM: “This idea of fiber being created at the needle is very important. When you think of descaling, on-shoring, local to local, it’s really about automation. You have to make sure you have robotics and a lot of automated processes that move things more quickly. There is a lot of buzz about bringing jobs back to America. As an industry, we know our jobs were going to come back. So now we’re focusing on how we can make in market for market so we remain competitive.”
Tom Nastos: “We’re seeing all of these changes cause anxiety, but some brands have realized these changes create a new opportunity for them. In women’s business in New York, we have seven shows in which we can work with our brands, bring them to market and organize retailers. That speaks to the speed of the market. It’s accelerating because demand is there for product that’s available quickly and delivered quickly to retail, whether through e-commerce or brick and mortar.”
AC: What are your thoughts on consumer demand in quality vs. demand in speed?
EF: “I see the individual customer want more and more uniqueness. Everyone wants more variety, more uniqueness. It’s a challenge for brands my size. How are we going to give everyone what they want and still make sure we still have margins and cost of goods to survive as a business?”
BM: “We’re dealing with the Snapchat generation – a generation that flips through stuff and takes three seconds to form an opinion. It’s just a flight to everything, everywhere, at all times, at your fingertips. When we look at the industry at large, Macys closed 400 stores last year. But H&M is going to add 400 stores. So we didn’t lose any doors, consumers are just transacting in different ways with different expectations. Of course, everyone is going to expect the highest quality for the lowest price.”
AC: How does one remain relevant when it’s flight to everywhere?
BM: “Research and development. The auto industry is investing 25% in to driverless cars, of which there is no demand. But they’re looking to meet unanticipated needs and gain that competitive edge. We, as an industry, are just figuring that out now. We’re investing in “R&D” on the apparel side like we’ve never seen before.”
MS: “There’s so much data available to fashion companies now like never before. When my dad was in the business, he had to wait six months before he could find out what was actually selling. Today we can find out now. When you look at the Amazon reviews, it’s mostly about fit. There’s so much data we can acquire about fit. How do you create a size range that goes from 8 times to 20 times? There is data available for us to start our pathway down that realm. From a university standpoint, we’re trying to get our students to react to what people are writing about rather than simply throwing their line up on Pinterest. Develop a social media plan that gets involved with data analytics. There’s a term you didn’t hear too often: Data analytics in fashion. That’s a big job now. Understanding how those trends work inside big data is very important to fashion as well as the digital realm, too.”