Decoding Fashion: The Ever-Shifting Puzzle of Fashion in the Digital Age

The two days at the Decoded Fashion Milan summit are always some of the most information-packed, epiphany-inducing days of my year. This November I had the opportunity to attend the conference through the UNC School of Media and Journalism’s Workroom: FashionMash program. The smell of fresh Italian coffee filtered through the air as the first few conference-goers filed into the large networking space. There was a palpable buzz – the people here were ready to learn and network.

The Decoded Fashion summit is an authority on fashion’s ‘next big thing,’ bringing together some of the brightest minds in the industry to share insights on the technological advances and challenges that will shape the future of fashion. This year, we heard from the likes of Riccardo Pozzoli (co-founder of The Blonde Salad), Instagram-famous fashion designer Fausto Puglisi and many more.

Decoded Fashion seamlessly blends the topics of digital, data, emerging tech, sustainability, culture and craftsmanship. They are all intertwined, and increasingly will be as the fashion industry shape-shifts with changes in our attention spans and digital savvy. Consumers today hunger for content, for newness, for uniqueness. We want what we want – now.

To put it succinctly, consumers today are on an “ageless quest for fun,” as one of the speakers, Annamaria Tartaglia of 24 Ore Business School, said at the start of the conference. “Fun” is an experience, a surprise, a moment. Amazon gives us convenience – but it won’t give us a memory to hold onto, an Instagram photo to share, or the opportunity to lose ourselves in a brand’s world.

Here are my key conference takeaways and companies to watch out for. Hopefully they’ll inspire you to dream of how we’ll be creating “fun” in fashion in the years to come – and give you a glimpse of the many challenges on the ever-changing road ahead.

MY KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • The definition of luxury is changing. Today, luxury is ever more geared towards millennials who see superiority in fitness and wellness as the ultimate marker of luxury.

  • Consumers today are living “chameleonic lifestyles.” Our personal styles constantly shift (not only from month to month but also from occasion to occasion). Our work, family and friend lives are both separate and fluid. So consumers are increasingly preferential to brands that offer “choice and versatility.”

  • The “block chain” can be used in fashion. This data encryption mechanism can ensure transparency in the fashion supply chain, all the way from the manufacturer to the consumer. This is a complicated one, so check out BigchainDB to do a deep dive.

  • By 2020, 50% of online searches are predicted to be completed by voice, according to Franck Negro, the managing director of southern Europe for Yext.

  • In the Middle East, some millennials are, surprisingly, forsaking big brands. Instead, they’re shopping with local brands that have a new take on traditional clothing, according to Ajlan Nihat Gun, the vice president of digital commerce for Al Tayer Retail.

  • Multiple industry leaders spoke about doing “specific and curated projects,” in Riccardo Pozzoli’s words, when it comes to creating content and experiences for brands. Specific projects cater to brands’ needs and can also attract new consumers who may not be able to afford a brand’s luxury handbag but can afford its lower-tier merchandise.

  • Be careful – some fashion brands are warping the concept of sustainability. According to Claudio Marenzi, the president of Pitti Immagine, sustainability has become more of a buzzword and marketing tactic than an actual, impactful aspect of brands and production. Some brands have taken advantage of the recent sustainability hype, using storytelling to convey a sustainable image that actually obscures a lack of sustainable practices.

  • We have to get used to the fact that sustainable items cost more. They just do. The fabrics are pricier, and workers are paid fair wages. “On the one hand we want sustainability, but on the other hand, we won’t accept the costs,” Marenzi said.

  • Attention spans keep shortening. “If we gain a view of three seconds on our video on Instagram, we are celebrating in the company,” said Tommaso Saroni, the digital director of PR and social for Adidas Group Italy. Saroni even mentioned that Adidas can only create digital strategies a few months in advance because digital/online behavior is changing so quickly.

  • Only 5% of e-commerce transactions take place on monobrand sites. The rest occur on multi-brand sites such as Farfetch and Orchard Mile, the latter of which is pushing the boundaries of personalized, online shopping for luxury consumers.

  • If it takes more than three seconds to load a site, consumers will click away.

  • Data always wins. For example: Even though consumers won’t see what’s going on in the back end of an e-commerce platform, their experiences can be greatly enhanced when data is used to personalize the selection of products they see when they shop.

  • Brands have to be fluid and flexible. They cannot exist in silos – instead, they must be prepared to invent ways to engage consumers and exceed expectations, all while staying true to brand identity. No big deal.

  • Brick-and-mortar is still important. Thirty percent of online products are picked up in-store. But if a store is going to stick around, it must offer an experience or engaging component. If we’re already going to expend the effort to get off the couch and walk to a store, there had better be something exciting going on at the store, right?

SOME HIP BRANDS TO CHECK OUT

All of these brands had speakers featured on panels during the conference. Each is unique in its way of rethinking the traditional fashion model.

  • Orange Fiber – this brand takes orange peels and turns them into fibers that are woven into silky-smooth scarves. They’ve partnered with Salvatore Ferragamo to make a collection.

  • AWAYTOMARS – this brand releases new collections that are designed by a fashion community of hundreds of designers all over the world. The public gets to decide which designs they like best and what they’d like to see produced. Each piece has a story, and the brand knows exactly how much to produce.

  • ISKO – if you want sustainable denim, this is your go-to. I’m in love.

ALEXANDRA HEHLEN
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