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The Challenges of Automation in the Legacy Fashion Industry

As the need for efficiency and competition continue to rise across various industries, the role of artificial intelligence will only grow in the coming years.

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One of the biggest threats to a company's success is the lack of . As the world evolves rapidly, it is impossible to ignore the speed at which accelerates the change and disruption in businesses. As a result, organizations that are too late to adapt to the changing consumer demands and fail to innovate quickly can face devastating consequences. 

We all know of businesses that we grew up with but are nowhere to be seen today. They moved too slowly and misunderstood the buyer's need to innovate and digitize. For example, one of the biggest retailers, Forever 21, filed for bankruptcy back in 2020. The reason? A growing number of Gen Z and millennial buyers like to shop online and buy sustainable clothing, and Forever 21 didn't invest enough in either department until it was too late for them. 

Today, the customers are in the driver’s seat and are exposed to countless brands and sellers who offer thousands of options at a click. These days it’s crucial to differentiate from the rest. Certain brands and businesses understand this better than others. Amazon is probably the best example of this, which proves that there's plenty of room in the market for a willing to listen to customers and provide superior experience at every stage of the customer journey. 

There are many potential opportunities for companies to leverage technology and exceed their customers' expectations in a multitude of ways. Yet many brands fail to innovate.

The challenges of adapting to modern technology 

Let's look at 3D. The technology has been growing steadily, and it has been rapidly adopted by companies across different industries. For instance, applications of 3D in construction and architecture are increasing, and the technology has become comparatively widespread, specifically in the design stage of the project. Likewise, automotive companies are essentially using 3D tech for pre-production tasks. As customers demand more environmentally friendly and digitally connected vehicles, technological advancements have also enabled automakers to plan, design, test and verify new concepts faster than ever before.

3D technology is thriving in the industrial world and has the full potential to revolutionize the fashion market. The rise of fast fashion trends has already disrupted the industry's seasonality, and 3D tech has the power to accelerate production, speeding up time to market. It could also potentially allow customers to get involved in the sizing and designing of the clothes. 3D can also be effective in terms of efficiency and lower costs in certain instances as well. Think about the cost that a design team incurs creating samples or having them made in China and shipped back to the U.S. Next, look at the number of processes that are still dependent on old school excel sheets. There has to be a smarter way to do things. 

Or take AI. The entertainment industry, for instance, witnessed a drastic transformation in terms of AI tech. Companies in the entertainment and media industry are also leveraging technology to help improve their services and deliver a seamless customer experience.

As the need for efficiency and competition continue to rise across various industries, the role of artificial intelligence will only grow in the coming years. By experimenting and exploring with technology, brands can maximize their business performance by improving the user experience and ultimately deliver value to customers with greater efficiency.

While the fashion industry can benefit significantly from adopting 3D design and technologies that can help creatives design clothing in real-time and give buyers the ability to order the perfect fit, many fashion brands are still struggling with adopting technology and automation at scale.

So the question remains: If technology is so beneficial to fashion industries, what challenges are companies facing in implementing them?

Related: Vegan Leather Is the Next Big Thing — and Sylven New York Is at the Forefront

Complex processes and lack of standardization

Incorporating digital technologies in everyday processes may seem like a simple task to gain a competitive advantage, but in fact, more often than not it will require involvement of many people across numerous departments and various legacy solutions. 

For instance, if we take an apparel company, what actually goes into the manufacturing of a t-shirt? The process is complex and intricate, with multiple components from product design and fabric selection, to patternmaking, grading and so on. And they are all interconnected. 

At the end of the day, if you’re looking to deliver automation into any of these stages, it would spread to the many connections that it has to other departments. Additionally, there’s no standardization throughout the industry — companies are using different ERPs and PLMs to manage their inventory as it best suits them. This is where things are getting complex and many companies drop their best intentions to regularly test something new. The ones that don’t, though, succeed in the long run. 

Businesses fail to see beyond ROI 

When it comes to innovation strategies, mindset is the key component that can make or break a business. Innovations call for experimenting with new ideas and not all of the tests will be successful on the first try.

Professionals are often skeptical about experimenting with new and innovative ideas because they might impact the ROI. A failure would mean a decreased ROI and, consequently, reduced profits. However, it is hard to associate the ROI with emergent technology, and a digital transformation journey requires a completely different set of metrics, such as engagement or productivity dynamics. 

These days, an innovative mindset is something you can find more in tech-based companies than in legacy brands. However, when rivals can build a brand overnight using the power of social media, it is even more crucial than ever for legacy brands to pace up and innovate — or else they might get pushed out of the market. 

Integration issues 

Each company-wide change has to be implemented on several levels. It all starts with high-end decision making and budget planning, and it eventually filters down to training thousands of employees to work and adapt to the new ways and transition from the old processes. Dealing with new systems is expensive as it requires uprooting some of the existing procedures to make room for new ones.  

For example, Tailored Brands, a major U.S. retailer of men's clothing, needed to address the current climate of how to measure their customers as their stores began to re-open. The company leveraged 3DLOOK's contactless body measuring solution to help their customers find the ideal size of clothing without the need to try it on. The solution enabled sales associates, equipped with iPads, to obtain customer’s accurate measurements in a contactless way.

The important note here is that they had to train sales reps from over 250 stores to encourage them to use the solution, but all of the efforts paid off since they were able to keep serving their customers offline in a safe and contactless way to the delight of many.

Now Is a Great Time for Fashion Brands to Reinvent Themselves

Generation Z was already demanding new tech-enabled shopping experiences, but since the pandemic began, consumers have also become more environmentally conscious. For instance, we're now seeing some apparel companies use traceability to deploy blockchain technologies that will allow consumers to look at the garment's lifespan and what happens when they send it back. 

Additionally, the rise of new social media platforms like TikTok allows more ways for retailers to connect with their audiences. 60% of TikTok users are Gen Z — many from this generation are extremely environmentally conscious and support brands that encourage sustainable production methods. To meet consumer demands and increase brand loyalty, brands must leverage these social media tactics to create videos that show behind the scenes of sustainable methods that retailers are deploying in their businesses.

Now is the best and most urgent time for fashion brands to embrace digital innovation and reinvent themselves. With new technologies and solutions popping up daily, you can no longer maintain the status quo — you can either hit the ground running or get left behind.

Related: 8 Things That Can Help You Become a Successful Fashion Entrepreneur 

Successful businesses are constantly looking for new ideas and opportunities for growth and communication with customers. Remember, your customers are the driving force of your business, so customer experience and satisfaction should lay at the core of every innovation strategy. Innovation offers you a new way to see your business's hidden potential, and if the strategy works, it can make your business better, faster and more desirable. 

Don't stop at the first creative, innovative idea that you get. Keep brainstorming with your team, research what your competitors are doing ,and most importantly, critically analyze your business from a customer's perspective. 

Shifting focus to create meaning for your brand and to foster a community among your customers aligns with the current consumer’s desire for companies that stand for more than just making a sale. Once your business means something to your customers, you will notice your business making a change in the world. And as you probably have already seen, changing the world also comes with making money. 

Embrace risks, take bold steps, nurture your community and make a difference. 

Written By

Entrepreneur Leadership Network Contributor

Vadim Rogovskiy is a serial tech entrepreneur and investor with deep roots in mobile tech and enterprise software. Rogovskiy is the founder of 3DLOOK, a company that solves return issues in retail.