Fashion forward

Laura Oakden 04.04.24
Read time — 3 minutes
V3 Perspective Future fashion square

Fashion has always been about innovation. From the garments themselves to the way they’re made to the way they’re marketed, a spirit of constant evolution makes the industry what it is. But today’s landscape of rapid innovation and ever-evolving consumer behaviour has meant the industry is changing faster than ever before.

We sat down with visionary expert, Carol Hilsum, senior growth leader in the fashion sector for the likes of Topshop, Net-a-Porter, and Farfetch, to talk about this dynamic future of fashion – and what brands can do to keep up.

As someone who sees new ideas for fashion experiences coming through all the time, what’s the state of play?

Retail is at a critical point of evolution. We’re witnessing the emergence of a more complex landscape in terms of business models, consumer experience expectations, and technological advancements. It’s a level of transformation that hasn’t been seen since the dawn of digital experiences in the early 2000s. Empowered consumers now steer the industry, compelling businesses to adopt a more R&D, adaptive test and learn” approach rather than a one-size-fits-all model.

When creating a new fashion brand, what must founders consider in terms of the existing landscape and emerging technologies?

Technology is catching up with our dreams and expectations. 20 years ago, when people were trying to invent a new digital experience, they naturally wanted to recreate the experience that you find in the physical world. That typically looked like a spatial browsing experience with warm personal customer service. But often the technology wasn’t there yet, so best practice became about clean, usable well-designed websites. We are at a point now where those dreams of creating a much more immersive and interesting experience that goes beyond physical and digital can finally become a reality, where brands can connect with customers in multiple environments and create more meaningful engagement.

What role will social shopping play going forward?

Any business created from scratch today must be social to succeed. Shoppers, especially Gen Z, are not influenced so much by advertising or brand campaigns but by influencers, content creators, and their digital communities. Crafting authentic narratives is essential. Brands need to focus on telling stories that evoke feelings, highlight shared values, and foster genuine connections. Instead of product-focused advertising, the emphasis should be on creating narratives that resonate with consumers’ personal experiences and aspirations.

There’s also real creative potential within customers’ communities. The platforms and tools we have now enable individuals to generate, curate and monetise their creative skills, content, and products. Customers use creation as a form of expression and engagement, creating deeper and more meaningful relationships with the individuals and brands they connect with online.

How is that likely to change the shopping experience?

There’s a growing desire for online experiences that are less overwhelming and time-consuming — ending the doom-scroll! At the same time, more immersive physical experiences will develop that deliberately take customers on a deeper journey. For example, we can now simulate a user’s physical presence in a computer-generated environment, often through the use of VR, AR and MR.

How will AI play a role?

AI has the power to change everything. It will allow us to create new levels of personalisation.

It lets us process vast amounts of data to optimise content and product recommendations, while enhancing logistics and operations, for example, supply chain management. We are seeing the invention of multiple solutions now and the expectation is that transformation will be rapid. We’ll see chatbots get to the next level. And virtual companions, campaigns and assets will be created with generative AI and we’ll enter a period of hyper-personalisation. Size and fit, and new levels of customer service will also be common applications.

Sustainability is a subject close to your heart. How can fashion companies (old and new) remain future-proof?

As well as being important to the younger more value-led generation, legislation is increasingly making sustainability a requirement, not just nice-to-have. This will impact supply chain practices, responsible production, and product lifecycles. Digital product passports are set to become a legal necessity in the EU, providing consumers with information about material origins and recycling data. I’m hopeful this will result in more sustainable and ethical practices across the fashion landscape and ultimately transform how all brands behave.

Want to know more?

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