The ‘digital revolution’ has meant that the average consumer is more informed than ever before. As consumers of media we often see it as just that: a digital information revolution. But from industries as different as new media and new retail, the impact of the digital revolution is rather broader than how we might see it at face value.
So with 2012 approaching and as we move further into this golden age of design, we take a look at how the digital revolution is affecting change within the fashion industry. You might be surprised to find that, unlike the debate of new versus old media, it’s not all doom and gloom. Quite the opposite in fact – it would appear that the digital revolution borrows its catch cry from all others that came before it: power to the people.
Bespoke reaches the mass market.
The passionate consumer now not only has the opportunity to research product prices and specifications and make detailed comparisons, but also to partake in the design process. Increasingly, consumers want to take charge of aesthetic decisions in their lives. What does this mean for retailers? For fashion, and related design companies, this means offering choices.
Some design companies have responded by enabling consumers to customize their purchase before they buy – or, to put it slightly more pretentiously, to participate in the design process, albeit in a limited way.
Converse, one of the US’s most beloved sneaker companies, has made it possible for visitors to their website to choose different colors for different parts of the sneakers they want to order – including the rubber sidewall, toe, laces, and other details. The parts of the sneakers cut from cloth can also be printed with different textiles designs – from gingham to a funky cup cake pattern.
Likewise with the hip street wear company Urban Outfitters: consumers can now customize tee-shirts via its online “custom shoppe.”
Prints go digital.
Other design companies have turned to digital technology to print fabric for their own collections. Digital fabric printers can print an unlimited number of colors, whereas traditional screen printed fabric is usually limited to a maximum of 12. And digitally printing domestically can mean skipping importing fabric from abroad, and avoiding the waiting time that can potentially go along with it.
Another advantage of digital fabric printing is that designers can print small amounts of fabric for special collections and one off pieces, allowing them to tailor to niche markets, or to respond with ease, and at little expense, to consumer demands. This means that a fashion designer can create a dress for a client with a unique placement print, such as an enlarged photo-manipulated image, or an interior design company can provide unique furniture and wall hangings, etc., at relatively little cost.
Perhaps, not surprisingly, then, Loek de Vries, CEO of Dutch technical textile specialist Royal Tencate, believes “digital printing and finishing of textile substrates will soon be the norm.”
Fashion beyond the wardrobe.
Consumers, it seems, want to feel that they are the ones deciding what colors, textures, and overall look is right for their wardrobe and their home – and who can blame them. Fashion companies such as Donna Karan and Calvin Klein moved into the area of home furnishing a little over a decade ago, filling an obvious gap in the market – designer furnishings.
Sportswear, accessories, and cosmetics are just three of the other areas that fashion companies have broken into in recent years. Take a look at everything from tissue boxes to toothbrush holders and you’ll notice that, increasingly, these are decorated with fashion-forward patterns.
From camera bags to iPhone cases the digital is changing the way we can consume. Having greater choice and a greater ability to influence the design changes the market spectrum, and how new products come onto the market. It’s no longer a top down model. Nor is it a clear one: digital media impacts upon old media and at the same time gives rise to new cult and niche labels. These in turn deviate attention and dollars away from the old faithfuls. It’s likely that these and other areas will continue to morph into one another in the coming decades.