Using Foresight for Fashiontech

The idea of fashion and technology combining seems rather strange at first, especially if you start reading some of the misleading articles and posts online that paint this new industry out to be all about crazy Lady GaGa bubble blowing dresses or shirts that light up to match your heartbeat. Is this really necessary? 

Understanding new industries and market segments has become increasingly more difficult to grasp. We have never seen the complexity, volatility and transformation that we are seeing today in industry and new technologies. And truly wrapping one’s head around this idea of ‘exponential growth’ is not easy—us humans were born with a linear mindset and we aren’t able to fully comprehend what exponential means. Like Peter Diamandis describes, our brain can extrapolate 30 steps from where we are linearly, but if we try to comprehend 30 exponential steps (30 doublings) we can’t do it! That is now not 30 metres away but over 1bn metres away! We just can’t comprehend at that scale. 

So how can we understand such paradigm shifts and leverage the constant change in our society? Well, one particular way is through foresight. Foresight isn’t just another buzzword and it isn’t a prediction tool. It is a process. It is a way that we can examine future paths, possible future scenarios and then use these insights to assess the world around us and where it is going and effectively navigate and react to disruptions. 

Several factors indicate the potential need for a “quantum leap” in the fashion industry. Disruption is needed to propel this industry past unsustainable practices, to bring in new innovation around design and to enable the growth of digital economies. Yes, innovation is on its way currently in fashion and fashiontech is growing rapidly. But still future predictions on how the shape and structure of the industry will evolve are misaligned with some of the more fundamental aspects of fashion, particularly the more political, social, economical and personal relationships that this industry creates with all individuals. 

Fashiontech Future Scenario Matrix

SCENARIO ONE: CONTROLLED GROWTH

The dominance of large brands and monopolies plaguing the fashion industry today forces consumers into specific seasonal and trend cycles. In the future, perhaps this will lead to more streamlined supply chains and faster distribution channels, with everything ultimately originating from specific factories and taking specific routes. But, a future where big fashion brands keep control of the market will ultimately hinder innovation and growth, it will lead to siloed technological transformation and gradual technological adoption. Large companies just can’t innovate— internal politics, hierarchical structures and operational workflow processes make it almost impossible to run with the agility and innovation of a startup. Whether this also leads to more obstruction in the adoption of sustainable practises remains uncertain, bigger brands are starting to listen more to a revolution push around sustainable design and manufacturing processes, however they won’t change their practices overnight. 

SCENARIO TWO: EXPONENTIAL

Even with a larger brand dominance in the market, rapid technological innovation could still occur, especially if tech companies move into the space. External forces and voices from consumers, communities and also the general evolution and movement of wider society in becoming more advanced and outspoken about their needs and beliefs could push larger companies into conforming to these voices in order to keep their market share. Change would accelerate at an exponential rate with companies rushing to keep up; new products, designs, gadgets would hit the markets at a rapid pace and be built on new business and economic models that are tailored and personalised to the individual situations of consumers and their habits and likes. This hyper personalisation will bring in an enormous new amount of wealth generation that would remain concentrated amongst the biggest tech giants, enabling them to scale even faster. Amazon is one company that has huge potential to take the market share and propel the industry forward. Their supply chains are already highly optimised and in the near future the deployment of their on-demand 3D printing trucks roaming cities will mean customers can create a hyper-personalised order and have it 3D printed in a truck as it travels to their house within only a few hours. When 3D printing material properties advance to the point of being able to create properly wearable fabrics, this service is bound to cause major disruption and even change our heuristics around clothes shopping. This hyper-personalisation will also be pushed by Amazon from a design front, where there AI technology will predict new patterns and styles for development based on a user’s previous fashion choices and preferences. 
 

SCENARIO THREE: TRADITIONAL

A movement towards decentralisation and taking back control from large corporations is a likely theme that will continue to grow stronger and more prevalent as the global population aspires for a higher quality of life. The threat of reliance that big companies impose continues to be resisted by strong social momentum. The change from larger brand dominance to more independent and decentralised designers and fashion houses splitting the market share will be slow and disjointed. Although new ideas for combining fashion with technology will be apparent, the distribution network effects will not be as strong and ultimately slow and obstruct innovation at a more global scale. New products will be much more linked to the local communities where they were created and they will function to solve a specific problem or purpose within that community.  
 

SCENARIO FOUR: CROSS COLLABORATION

Increased cross sharing of innovation and ideas amongst global communities through open source platforms will enable innovation and advancements at a much more astonishing rate—pushing traditional designers to enter the world of fashiontech and exciting technologists and engineers to discover more about the blank canvas of innovation available in the industry. This friction-free model will bring collaborative disruption that will positively impact societies and communities across the world as industry participants continue to build on and utilise open source technologies. A global decentralised ecosystem or DAO (Decentralised Autonomous Organisation) model will eventuate that will extend much further than just operating at a peer-2-peer design and collaboration level. It will also shape the way people interact on an identity, monetary and application level within the fashiontech ecosystem, enabling new decentralised business models and economies that aren’t reliant on a sole leader or force. Large data logistics, AI and distributed manufacturing companies will also join in on this collaboration, giving access to their vast amount of infrastructure at lower costs—enabling entrepreneurs to be able to quickly build and deploy new business models that are built upon combining lego blocks of innovations across different industries i.e. combing a rented cloud 3D printing module, P2P pattern sharing platform and a 3PL digitised fashion garment distribution network. These businesses will be vertically scaled, instantly operational and achieve greater economic growth. 

Modelling the possible future fashiontech interactions and scenarios through a foresight scenario matrix gives a more vivid picture of what our fashiontech industry could look like in a decade or so from now. It allows us to take more sounded steps into shaping this industry into a future that will accelerate creativity, technology and most importantly, allow us to remain true to the core of what fashion enables: complete self expression. 
 

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