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How AI, Automation, and Technology are Changing the Industry

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Here, Dakota Murphey, shares her first guest piece with us – a look into the very near future of Fashion. Dakota has more than a decade of experience in business growth, working independently as a business consultant for a number of years.

Technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and automation are having a huge impact on businesses across all industries – and fashion is no different. At all points in the supply chain, design, marketing, and retail, technology is reshaping how retailers and fashion businesses work. Let’s take a look at the future of the fashion industry, and how modern technology trends are making a difference to companies today.

Revolutionising inventory management

When we think about how AI could influence the fashion industry, our first thoughts might fall on how machine learning could benefit the design or production stages – but it also having a very potent effect at a different point in the process; managing fashion businesses’ inventories.

Designers, manufacturers and retailers face the challenge of having enough stock to be able to meet demand, but not so much that it becomes a drain on cash flow and resources. To do this effectively, you must be able to predict the kind of demand. Machine learning and AI algorithms are able to use a huge amount of historical data in order to make more accurate predictions.

In fact, these tools can help retailers to reduce forecasting errors by up to 50 per cent – potentially saving businesses a huge amount of money.

New ways to find fashion

AI is also affecting how customers search for and find items. One innovation that Google is currently working on is an image search function that will allow customers to search for products using images. Google’s AI will scan an image for any visible products and then present Shopping tab results that are similar to those in the image. This has broad implications for fashion, as it will be possible to search using only visual cues.

Could we expect to start seeing manufacturers focusing on products that are a perfect visual match for designer items or commonly searched products? This is one technology that is outside of the fashion industry’s control, but could have far-reaching implications.

Can AI function as a fashion designer?

Interestingly, we are already seeing how companies are reacting to this kind of technology. Amazon’s research and development project, Lab126, has developed an algorithm that allows it to analyse images and then create items that match those found in the images. It’s easy to imagine how this technology could be matched with social media sites such as Instagram in order to create the most up-to-date items possible.

This can give companies the opportunity to create items on-demand, rather than going through the lengthy process of planning and research.

Automation is augmenting fast fashion

The key market here for many companies is the concept of ‘fast fashion’ – a term used to describe speeding up the process of production in order to get products that are on-trend with the latest styles as soon as possible. It is not hard to see how the immediacy of AI learning could have huge benefits in this area of the fashion business.

Indian business Myntra has been working on one innovation that could have an impact here. Developing on an idea where an algorithm would come up with suggestions on popular attributes to designers after trawling through data, the team was able to shorten the process further by incorporating popular ideas together into final designs.

Chatbot customer service

Levi’s was one of the first brands to experiment in this area, launching its Virtual Stylist back in 2017. The entirely automated AI chatbot was able to make suggestions and recommendations for customers looking for the perfect pair of jeans. And while this innovation did not last for a long time on the site, further AI advancements have superseded it.

Many businesses in industries such as banking and food and drink are utilising entirely automated customer support, which could easily be incorporated into fashion.

A reduction in returns

Technology could also create advantages for business in some unexpected areas – a great example of this is in reducing the number of returns. Customers having to return items can be a pain for them, but is arguably even more challenging for the businesses themselves. According to research from IHL, preventable returns cost retailers worldwide $642.6 billion every year.

Brands like ASOS are using AI to combat these types of returns. ASOS now uses an AI digital assistant to recommend sizes to customers based on what they have bought and kept in the past.

Some across the fashion industry see technology as a problem that is going to infringe on how they work – but for most, these advances represent incredible opportunities and new paths for growth and success. At all stages of the design, marketing and sales process, technology can augment and improve, as well as replace and revolutionise; this makes the future of fashion extremely exciting.

Lydia Mageean Lydia Mageean has been part of the WhichPLM team for over six years now. She has a creative and media background, and is responsible for maintaining and updating our website content, liaising with advertisers, working on special projects like the Annual Review, and more.Joining mid-2013 as our Online Editor, she has since become WhichPLM’s Editor. In addition to taking on writing and interviewing responsibilities, Lydia has also become the primary point of contact for news, events, features and other aspects of our ever-growing online content library and tools.