Emerging Trends in the Fashion Industry
The fashion industry is constantly undergoing changes over the course of time. While fashion is known to be cyclical, new ideas and trends emerge, keeping it future-oriented. Innovation has been an integral part of the apparel industry since the very beginning, and the ongoing cultural and socio-economic shifts contribute to changes that might have long-lasting effects (Alibaba.com, 2021). According to Morgan (2020), new technology and altering customer demand continue to transform the industry. Significant innovation is expected to be implemented in the coming years.
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A number of emerging trends can be identified as crucial in the fashion industry. In particular, the data-driven future is outlined as one of the prevailing tendencies. As Morgan (2020, para. 3) claims, modern fashion leverages data and algorithms to “understand customer preferences, monitor their shopping behaviour and create products that meet their needs.” Sustainability is another trend that is reflected in numerous industries, including clothes design. According to research findings, “88% of consumers” are willing to support brands in their environmentally friendly activity (Morgan, 2020, para. 8). Digitalisation and technology such as augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) are further expected to shape the fashion industry. Finally, fashion becomes simplified in terms of both styles and delivery, which can be seen, for instance, in a shift to two collections per year (Morgan, 2020). The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and associated changes such as social distancing and working from home have shaped the clients’ needs and contributed to the simplifying tendency. This paper aims to analyse the socio-economic developments and history of fashion and discuss the following three emerging trends: wearable technology, design for inclusivity, and digitalising the value chain.
Trend 1: Wearable Technology
Wearable technology is one of the significant emerging trends that revolutionise the fashion industry. According to Ildeniz (2015), fashion and technology have been interrelated since the 13th-century eyeglasses were developed. In the modern context, the emergence of wearable technology can be traced back to the development of smart accessories, including “bangles, smart watches, tassel keychains, smart rings, bracelets, bands, wristlets, earrings, necklaces, gadget gloves, anklets” and others (Agarwal, 2019, para. 3). Such a trend combined two essential functions, not only complementing the smart and stylish look but also performing a number of tasks for the device’s owner, such as tracking, measuring, or controlling certain indicators. The term wearable technology or wearables emerged to identify the electronic devices implemented in clothing or available to wear as accessories (English, 2020; Sherman, 2017a). They were marked by increased functionality and comfort for the consumer.
The smart market was characterized by the particular popularity of fitness devices. As claimed by Rajaraman (2020), it encouraged leading companies, such as Fitbit and Mi, to produce new wrist bands and smart watches. They could perform functions such as synchronising with the user’s smartphone and tracking various indicators, including “heart rates, stress levels, sleep patterns, menstrual cycles” (Agarwal, 2019, para. 3). Furthermore, handbags or suitcases with built-on internal lights and options such as “hands free calling, music listening, photo clicking, location pinning, and voice recording” were developed (Agarwal, 2019, para. 4). As can be seen, the wearable technology trend has progressed quickly and has led to the emergence of smart fabrics. For instance, synthetic microfiber has become common as a durable and lightweight material, along with apparels with Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technology locating lost devices or sensors adjusting the temperature and measuring biometrics (Agarwal, 2019). The emergence of the wearable technology trend has combined fashion and function.
Overall, wearable technology can be considered a relatively new and rapidly evolving trend in the fashion industry. According to Rajaraman (2020), three generations of wearables can be identified in the development of the apparel market. The first generation includes products attaching sensors to a piece of clothing, and brands such as “Adidas, Nike, and Under Armour” follow this stage (Rajaraman, 2020, para. 4). The second generation comprises wearables embedding a sensor in the apparel, and “Samsung, Alphabet, Ralph Lauren, and Flex” demonstrate the examples of such a tendency (Rajaraman, 2020, para. 5). Finally, the third-generation products include garments being the sensor, and an increasing number of brands belong to this category due to their creation of “biometric, pressure, and strain sensors” for wearables (Rajaraman, 2020, para. 6). As can be seen, the industry is marked by a dramatic evolution that causes an increasing integration of technology and fashion.
In this regard, a number of examples can be found to support the idea of the wearable technology trend in the apparel industry. For instance, the Commuter Trucker jacket by Levi’s incorporates Google’s ‘Jacquard’ technology and further supports the practical purpose of wearable technology (Sherman, 2017b; R. A. Smith, 2020). Its functions aim at reducing the user’s need to check their smartphone for notifications or navigation. Another example is Xupermask, a smart mask by Will.i.am and Honeywell, which combines numerous features, including a HEPA filtration system, “noise-cancelling headphones, LED lights for nighttime, a rechargeable battery and Bluetooth capability” (Friedman, 2021, para. 6). Given the ongoing pandemic and a new normal, this technology-equipped mask can become revolutionary at the economic and technological levels.
Technology brings functionality and practicality to products, thus offering more value to the customer. A new device that uses a person’s body heat as a battery and turns it into electricity to power other devices is another example of wearable technology (Frost, 2021). Bose’s Frames, Amazon’s Echo Frames, Huawei’s Gentle Monster Eyewear, and Fauna’s Spiro and Havana Memor can be named to illustrate further the emerging trend that values functionality and embeds technology in accessories (Sawh, 2021). Furthermore, SoftBank’s Zozo fashion retailer offers “skin tone measuring glasses for ordering cosmetics online”, which expands technology beyond apparel (Nussey, 2021, para. 1). Hence, the smart market continues to influence the fashion industry.
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The trend for wearables is expected to continue to grow in the next ten years. Innovation impacts society and becomes an integral part of people’s daily lives. As a result, not only smart clothing but also “smartwatches, belts, earbuds, accessories, implants, patches, tattoos” can mark the future development of this trend (English, 2020, para. 12). As reported by Lauren (2018, para. 19), “technology is finally equipped to deliver” practicality, while aesthetics will remain an essential aspect of fashion for most consumers. It is likely that people will still want a degree of discretion for tech wearables. Hence, the way for wearable technology to evolve is by combining functionality and aesthetic.
Trend 2: Design for Inclusivity
Another critical tendency shaping the fashion and apparel industry is design for inclusivity. It is worth noting that both specific and broad definitions of this concept exist. On the one hand, inclusivity takes into account the needs of certain groups of people who cannot use the infrastructure or products designed for the average user. On the other hand, a broader definition suggests that inclusivity aims at creating an environment that is accessible and supportive to everyone, regardless of their gender, race, class, sexuality, disability, and other characteristics. The idea of an inclusive society is relatively new, and the first attempts for social integration in various areas of human life were taken at the end of the 20th century (Day, 2018). However, ever since, the tendency continued to grow and gradually expand to numerous industries. When it comes to fashion business trends, inclusivity gains importance at a fast pace due to the current socio-economic conditions and cultural development, which are reflected in clothes design.
Even though society’s approach to inclusivity still leaves much to be desired, the process has been accelerating over the recent decade. In particular, the 2010s were marked by a number of breakthroughs that considered minority groups and made an effort to improve their representation in fashion (Okwodo, 2019). As claimed by Wiens (2019), notions such as diversity and adaptive design are interrelated with the idea of a comprehensive and conscious approach to fashion design. Standardised beauty and veering towards “models of a typical build, age, and ethnicity” are now recognised as unethical tendencies (Day, 2018, para. 1). They are known to prevent the apparel industry from an inclusive perspective.
Many personalities contributed to expanding the idea of a diversion viewpoint at fashion. The narrow definition of beauty expanded due to the contribution of Ashley Graham, Paloma Elsesser, and other models representing realities rather than ideals, along with Olivier Rousteing, Virgil Abloh, and other black designers (Okwodo, 2019). Furthermore, the stories of trans people, such as Andreja Pejić, Teddy Quinlivan, and Nathan Westling, shaped the concept of style, adapting it to the altering reality (Okwodo, 2019; Schijen, 2019). At the same time, scandals over exclusion designs and campaigns at Gucci, Burberry, Dolce & Gabbana, and H&M have shown how critical the subject is to one’s reputation (Kent, 2019; Solca, 2019). The contemporary world is changing; hence, lifting limits and eliminating stereotypes is an important step towards an all-encompassing approach.
As the inclusion tendency continued to develop, many brands contributed to celebrating diversity in the late 2010s. According to Day (2018, para. 2), a “Sudanese-Australian model made history … after she became the second-ever model of colour to make a final stroll down the runway at the French Maison’s Fall 2018 show.” Moreover, Gucci, Chanel, Prada, Tommy Hilfiger, and other prominent brands contribute to social responsibility due to their inclusive initiatives, such as hiring diversity specialist and offering products that cater for different groups of people. Nike’s Air Zoom UNVRS launched in 2019 is an example of adaptive clothing that allows the user to enter the shoes hands-free; similarly, Cat and Jack’s design aims to fulfil the needs of children with disabilities or frustrations with usual clothes (It is time for inclusivity, 2020). Thus, inclusivity empowers individuals while recognising and addressing their needs.
It is critical to help people feel represented, and the fashion industry can become a powerful tool in embracing change and differences. As reported by Maglieri (2019), multi-faceted efforts can be incorporated, among which inclusion training and improved racial and ethnic representation in fashion. In the next ten years, catering for underrepresented groups’ needs is expected to mark the inclusivity trend development through the increase in sizing options and a broader representation of the LGBTQ+ and people with disabilities. For instance, featuring models with canes, colostomy bags, or other assistive devices is expected, following ASOS’s representation of a model with a cochlear implant (Matano, 2021). At the same time, an opposing viewpoint on the concept of diversity in fashion should be discussed. Some experts emphasise that despite the effort made and positive changes, the current approach to inclusivity appears to be “a reaction against a crisis, rather than a genuine desire for change” (BOF Team, 2019, para. 8). Hence, it is essential that brands acknowledge the need for a comprehensive perspective as an integral part of the changing world and customer demand.
Trend 3: Digitising the Value Chain: Avatar, Animated 3D Models of Designs
The digitalisation of the value chain is another remarkable trend that contributes to the transformation of the fashion industry. Generally, this term refers to the conversion of information into a digital form. For the clothes design and fashion market, such a transition was inevitable since it offers numerous benefits and improvements. The role of the consumer is at the forefront of the shift to digitalisation. With the emergence of the Internet of Things (IoT), fashion became a mainly digital sector. In the apparel industry, “data, digital collaboration, online social interaction, digital marketing, and e-commerce come together to create and sell a physical product to a digital native demographic” (How fashion became, no date, para. 8). Furthermore, as today’s target shoppers are Generation Z or Millennials, the market appeals to them in a relative way. Industry 4.0 that has begun in 2011 promotes the digitalisation and automation of manufacturing and, in turn, affects clothes design (How fashion became, no date). In this regard, numerous fashion brands, manufacturers, and retailers implement algorithms and systems that comply with the new digital era.
The development of the digitalised transformation process can be observed in various ways. The use of VR, AR, and AI technologies allows for creating avatars to enhance the shoppers’ experience. As Parisi (2018, para. 2) reports, Yoox launched a mobile application that provides customers with “a curated selection of products based around different themes each day, which can be swiped through.” Personalised recommendations and suggestions are enhanced since the products can be viewed with the help of a customised digital avatar.
Many fashion brands aim at providing a new experience to their customers. It becomes possible with technologies based on AR platforms, similar to those of Snapchat’s Scan (Constine, 2019). For instance, Dressx offers an opportunity to wear digital clothing by selecting a product, attaching a picture of the customer’s choice, and receiving an image a few days later. The company emphasises the “jarring, past-future excitement, similar to getting a roll of film developed” that a user experiences during the process (Start wearing digital clothes, no date, para. 2). An Inditex subsidiary, Massimo Dutti, also implements AR in its app that provides customers with a “show experience: a virtual fitting room for the label’s shoes” (Massimo Dutti, no date, para. 2). Similarly, Gucci, along with the AR fashion platform Wanna, expands the digital transformation by selling virtual sneakers at a price of $12 and launching an AR shoe try-on Lenses (Nanda, 2021; Hutchinson, 2020). L’Oréal Paris offered a line of virtual makeup “available on Instagram, Snapchat, Snap Camera and Google Duo” (Williams, 2020). As can be seen, the trend appeals to the changing customer demands that reach far beyond physical clothing and products.
Furthermore, animated 3D models of designs are used progressively by various companies. Cyreal allows for creating 3D models with fashion business software, including Clo3D and e-commerce platforms (Design smarter, no date). The company provides brands with such technology as “3D eCommerce, digital fitting systems, Augmented Reality, virtual garments for social media, gamification, digital in retail, personalisation technologies” (We make 3D accessible, no date, para. 3). As can be seen, the current advancement in the industry suggests that further development will be accelerated as technology improves and new opportunities emerge.
The possible evolution of the digitalisation trend in the fashion industry should be considered with regard to the current socio-economic situation. The coronavirus crisis has caused a global financial shock and altered society’s needs, and the apparel industry is affected by a new norm and social distancing needs. As a result of the societal and economic change, digital technology is expected to become a critical factor in the industry in the next ten years. According to Eaves (2020), the spread of digital shows and showrooms, digital-only garments, and the use of 3D animation to present the entire collection without models are viewed as ways for fashion to evolve. The first product preview of Asics in VR and Alibaba’s 3D avatar game demonstrate how digitalisation can continue to shape fashion and consumer behaviour (Hallanan, 2020; L. Smith, 2020). Anticipating and meeting customers’ needs has become essential in the context of the current situation.
To conclude, the apparel industry is characterised by emerging trends that are likely to affect it in the long run. In particular, wearable technology, design for inclusivity, and digitalising the value chain constitute the transformation that occurs due to socio-economic and cultural impacts. Based on the analysis of the identified trends, it can be concluded that the future of fashion will be customer-focused and innovative.
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