Smart shirts and hi-tech hats: How technology will inspire Australia’s fashion industry

technology fashion industry

When asked to predict the future of fashion, most people automatically ponder the industry’s creative elements. What colour palette will splash across next month’s glossy magazines? What silhouettes will stride down the runway? Where will hemlines sit next season?

While fashion’s artistry is both influential and captivating, it is the rise of innovation and technology that will ultimately shape the future of the industry in Australia. Disappointingly, Australian investment in fashion technology still lags, particularly compared to southeast Asia’s thriving startup ecosystem. From a policy perspective, there is still little to no support for the fashion industry or for the fashion technology space. Internationally — and specifically in southeast Asia — more venture firms are investing in the fashion space but we’re not seeing that boldness replicated in Australia.

In order to move forward and become a serious player on the world stage, there must be more support at a national and state level to both develop technology across the fashion industry and to support emerging designers.

Enticing Australian investors to support the fashion technology industry — and, more broadly, the local fashion industry — is just one step towards a solution. There needs to be a much stronger voice of advocacy influencing all parties involved in shaping policy. A more cohesive and unified approach is needed to drill home the crucial message that unless Australia’s fashion industry is supported creatively and financially, it will suffer a similar demise to the nation’s automotive industry.

Already, technology is pivotal to the fashion sector, internationally and at home. From future fabrics to the continued rise of social media influencers, here are some of the ways innovation and technology currently impact the industry.

Sustainable fashion

Many recent advances in textile technology are designed to make fashion more sustainable, efficient and environmentally conscious. Sadly, outdated production practices, a heavy reliance on natural resources and the disposability of fast fashion combine to condemn the industry as a chief global polluter.

Fashion startup Kusaga Athletic was inspired to create ‘The Greenest T-Shirt on the Planet’ after discovering it took 3000L of water to make just one cotton t-shirt. It developed ECOLITE, a future fabric made from compostable plant-based fibres that requires a fraction of the water required by cotton.

Transparency and traceability

Blockchain technology is being harnessed to understand and track the provenance, usage and recyclability of textiles and materials. Consumers and manufacturers can see where textiles have come, where they’re going and how they’re being used. This holds manufacturers accountable and provides customers with clear traceability of a garment’s origins.

BlockTexx is one startup innovating in this area, using blockchain to develop SOFT (or separation of fibre technology) which separates textile components for reuse as new products, diverting them from landfill.

Customer experience

New technology is revolutionising how fashion brands support their customers: from building better websites to enabling customers to use AR/VR apps to virtually try on clothes.

Fashion startup Citizen Wolf developed an algorithm called Magic Fit that uses a few keys pieces of data — such as age, gender and height — to customise a garment’s size and fit to each customer and position itself as a ground-breaking global fashion platform.

Wearable tech

The fashion industry is seeing a lot of evolution in the wearable space and textiles are becoming smarter — they heat you, cool you and support you.

Multinational brands such as Adidas are progressing technology around temperature-control fabrics while countless more are dabbling in compression clothing. Australian startup Supacore Compression is a great local success story with its medical-grade, TGA-approved graduated compression clothing technology set to disrupt the sporting industry.

We’re also seeing technology in the wearable space where designers are embedding electronics into garments, whether its LED lighting or signal-based activation technology.

Social and digital marketing

Fashion is a pioneer in the social marketing space and you often see designers and brands dominating visually rich platforms such as Facebook and Instagram. Fashion also leads the charge when it comes to novel applications of existing digital platforms.

Let’s-Colabb is a fashion startup that connects influencers with brands and through its brand database and influencer management portal, uses people power to unearth and promote great new designers and labels.

Employment opportunities

Advances in fashion technology result in employment benefits across the supply chain. As a fashion brand grows, so does the need for more staff and increased skills sets: from patternmakers to sales staff. Employment data suggests the textiles, clothing and footwear sector employs between 60-75 million people worldwide and about 75% of those are female. Startups in other technology fields tend not to generate employment opportunities on a similar scale.

Australia can proudly lay claim to a passionate and innovative fashion industry — which is at the cusp of becoming an influential global force in the area of fashion technology. It’s time to commit to strengthening this exceptional industry and help steer its talented members towards a robust and resilient future.

I have identified three pillars as the most likely to disrupt or provoke industry-wide change over the next three-to-five years.

1. Textile technology

The actual textiles we use across garment creation are going to become smarter. They’ll have the ability to heat you, cool you, support you and monitor you. Sourcing and manufacturing these textiles will also become smarter and more environmentally sensitive.

2. Marketplace

There has already been a shift in the way consumers purchase clothing and accessories and this will continue to evolve. Even just three or four years ago, the percentage of online buyers represented a relatively small slice of the consumer market, now it is almost at parity with those who buy from bricks-and-mortar establishments.

I believe online purchasing will continue to grow and eclipse traditional retail patterns so business models with a strong focus on marketplace, logistics and delivery are going to be really important.

3. Influencers

We’ve witnessed the relatively new role that influencer marketing fills in the retail space and I don’t think we’ve seen that play out in full yet. The stage is set for the development of really interesting business models around both macro- and micro-influencer markets and how they can work intrinsically within the fashion industry.

NOW READ: How the founders of fashion app Shop You are using artificial intelligence to deliver a personalised shopping experience

NOW READ: Sydney clothing-sharing startup GlamCorner raises $4.2 million to change the way Australian women think about fashion


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