“Around the world, even the cheapest labor market can’t compete with us”
-Tang Xinhong, chairman of robot maker Tianyuan
At a factory in Little Rock, Arkansas, robots at a new factory will churn out a new t-shirt every 22 seconds – bringing decades of automation in fashion to a temporary climax. IEEE Spectrum has made a fascinating dive into the development of fashion automation:
“Conventional robots excel at manipulating rigid objects but are rather inept at handling soft, flexible materials like fabric. Early attempts to automate sewing included treating pieces of cloth with starch to temporarily make them stiff, allowing a robot to manipulate them as if they were steel sheets. This and other approaches, however, never became commercially viable, mainly because the clothing industry has resisted automation by relying on cheap labor in developing countries.”
The publication visits SoftWear Automation in Atlanta, which claims to have built a practical sewing robot that combines machine vision and advanced manipulators. These Sewbots will equip 21 production lines, designed to make 23 million T-shirts per year for Adidas.
The death of leisure
Earlier this year, fashion leisure outfit Lord & Taylor’s flagship store on Fifth Avenue was sold, and The New York Times was there to ask what that move heralded. Symbolically enough, the legendary space was sold to WeWork, the office rental outfit. On the face of it, writes Ginia Bellafante,
“the transformation of a department store — the first in the country to install an elevator — into the headquarters of a start-up is simply a story of the new economy cannibalizing the old.” But also, with the rise of the internet, “shopping came to look like work, and work, in many instances, came to look like leisure, which is why WeWork’s purchase of the Lord & Taylor building has a resonance beyond the obvious.”
Tends! Trends! Trends!
So what else is in store for the fashion industry this year? Let’s turn to the big guns for answers, even if the questions don’t always seem to be clear. Here it is, The State of Fashion 2018 report from BoF and McKinsey, which we are here to summarize into 10 trends that will set the global fashion industry agenda this year:
- The world in general will be “predictably unpredicatable” and fashion has to adapt.
- Despite the rise of nationalism, isolationist rhetoric and reshoring, globalisation will not stall, and fashion has to adapt.
- Asian players will assert their power and leadership even more through pioneering innovations and global-scale investment and expansion.
- Personalisation and curation will become more important to the customer.
- Consumers will increasingly look to online platforms as the first point of search.
- As consumers’ obsession with mobile grows, the end-to-end transaction will also move to mobile.
- AI enhancements will go beyond the traditional areas of machine tasks into creative and customer interaction processes, “blurring the line between technology and creativity”.
- Sustainability will evolve from being a menu of marketing-focused CSR initiatives to an integral part of the planning system. Because it pays.
- As Europe and Asia get hooked on the myth of an off-price ‘panacea,’ the fashion industry could be put at risk of margin erosion.
- A growing number of fashion companies will aim to emulate the qualities of startups such as agility, collaboration and openness.
What the flack!?
If you ever wondered why war reporters wear flak and fake wedding rings, a staple of both female and male journalists in conflict areas, read what Marissa Daiy Alioto has to say about it in Racked:
“War is not glamorous. War is not a style; ultimately, what you wear will preserve your life. And yet, the public is hungry to know the habits of women like Colvin and Gellhorn, even at the expense of rewarding their work.”