We’ve heard it all before. Every new trend, every new movement is revolutionizing business. The latest hype machine is the application economy, and its mantra has become “all businesses are becoming technology businesses.” But are they really? To answer that question let’s take a look at one of the oldest businesses on the planet. (No, not that one!)
The fashion industry has been around since Fred Flintstone popularized the animal print. Since we are all exposed to it every day, it should present easy to understand examples of how the app economy is changing businesses—if it really is. Fashion entrepreneurs are leveraging the app economy to improve their businesses and the services they can offer their customers in numerous and varied ways. Here are five of them:
Leveling the Playing Field: According to the University of Delaware, the clothing industry generates more than $250 billion in annual spending in the U.S. alone; others have the apparel number significantly higher (e.g. $331 billion). Like any industry of this size and tenure there are a number of very large dominant players, and entry is difficult. Modalyst has leveraged technology to level the playing field both for smaller retailers and for new designers.
For example, their apps leverage their online community to combine orders that meet brand order minimums. This enables their members to obtain brands they would not be able to afford on their own. They also leverage their combined purchasing power to obtain volume discounts and to create other inventory and workflow advantages that would otherwise be unavailable to them.
Consumer Affordability: Rent the Runway describes themselves as a “fashion company with a technology soul.” The company leveraged app engineering, analytics and other technology to reimagine the closet, and brought a Netflix-style model to fashion. Instead of paying a lot of money for haute couture that may be worn once—or not being able to afford it at all—their customers can find the items they want online (or via the mobile app that drives roughly half of their business) and return it once they no longer need it. By so doing they have also brought some green benefit to the fashion industry through reuse. If you are still not convinced check out their “About” page where they list dozens of positions in engineering, analytics and UX. (Unfortunately their “Head of Radical Innovation” position appears to be occupied.)
Custom Fit: Indira describe themselves as “a retail technology company born from a unique consumer brand (Indira Collection) which provides personalized fashion and décor for brides and their wedding parties.” They use an engaging app to provide their customers with a virtual “Say Yes to the Dress” that enables them to create and customize gowns, dresses and accessories. But they do not stop there. Indira’s technology leverages the customer’s webcam to scan their body and create a virtual 3D model that enables them to create amazing, custom-fit gowns. As a result, Indira’s customers get an engaging experience from the comfort of their home, or the convenience of their office, that delivers a product with an amazing fit.
Manufacturing and Supply Chain Efficiency: Part of the secret to Indira’s success is how they have leveraged technology behind the scenes. Material for their products is automatically dyed, then cut using Indira’s innovative technology that increases cutting speed and reduces errors and waste that are chronic with specific types of material. It is then automatically sewn while being ‘watched’ by technology that applies sophisticated analytics to control the quality of the final product. This enables them to provide their customers with a couture quality product that competes in price with off-the-rack competitors. They have also used technology to eliminate up to 40 percent of costs out of their supply chain through increased material production speeds.
Virtual Fitting Rooms: Virtual fitting room technology has been around for a long time but does not yet appear to have taken off in a big way. There are many solutions in this category. Several of them, like Metail, use a few (sometimes many) basic measurements and extract a 360 degree model of the customer’s body shape from them. This model is used to create an avatar upon which to display the fit of clothing. A second group uses imaging technology such as a Kinect device to capture an image of the customer, which is then overlaid with the clothing they are interested in (Toshiba’s solution works this way). Others, like MeAlity use sophisticated millimeter wave scanners like those used in airport screening to capture a detailed 360 degree model of the customer’s body, which is then used to select the best clothing size for the customer from a retailer’s or brand’s inventory. Each of these techniques has its pros and cons, but they can all enhance the customer experience in one way or another.
It is clear that the app economy is having a positive impact on the fashion industry, and it is changing both the game and the players. The change is real, and so are the benefits. And this is just one example of how the app economy is changing an industry.