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Robots vs Runways: a Conversation with Mark Harrop

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In late January, Mark Harrop, CEO of WhichPLM, shared thoughts on the future of the fashion industry with Future Fashion Factory members at the University of Leeds. Sarah Parkin, Communications and Digital Engagement Officer for Future Fashion Factory, shares her thoughts on the day.

Last week, creative designers, textile manufacturers and fashion students explored major shifts in the fashion and textile industry at a talk from Mark Harrop, CEO and Founder of WhichPLM.

In ‘Robots vs Runways’, held at the University of Leeds, Mark spoke about the significant change he has seen over his 46 years in the industry. Where once a small group of creative directors effectively controlled fashion trends in two discrete seasons each year, now brands rely on smaller ‘drops’ every few weeks and consumers demand faster fulfilment from large online retailers.

However, a growing backlash against fast fashion is likely to lead towards smaller-scale production in micro-factories, allowing for ‘mass customisation’ as consumers seek more personalised products. Examining these trends, Mark argued that products will no longer languish in stores and that the market demands a new data-driven model to guide design, manufacturing and marketing.

Significant changes lie ahead for brands and are already taking hold, both upstream in design and manufacturing – such as connected manufacturing and digital product development and rendering – and downstream to the consumer, including cross-channel retail experiences and mass customisation.

Crucially, Mark emphasised that sustainability underpins the entire value chain, as consumers are increasingly concerned about the social and environmental impact of their choices. Transparency throughout the supply chain, using technologies such as RFID and blockchain, will be a priority for brands that want to connect with ethically-conscious customers.

“It was fascinating to hear Mark talk about the opportunities being enabled by digitalisation, and the practical ways in which technology is responding to the needs of consumers and brands, from mass customisation to sustainability – topics that are also at the heart of Future Fashion Factory’s vision for the industry in the UK,” said Professor Stephen Russell, Future Fashion Factory Director.

Future Fashion Factory is a dedicated research and development (R&D) programme driving innovation in the fashion and textile industry. It develops advanced textile and digital technologies to support the design and manufacture of high-value creative products in the UK, working collaboratively with researchers at the University of Leeds, University of Huddersfield, and Royal College of Art along with more than 180 industry partners that have joined its free membership network.

The Programme’s events series brings in industry leaders and experts to share their knowledge and experiences at the forefront of the sector with Future Fashion Factory members as well as students embarking on the variety of careers available in fashion and textiles.

Previous speakers have included Adam Mansell, CEO of the UK Fashion and Textile Association (UKFT), and Jonathan Chippindale, CEO of innovation agency Holition.

Professor Russell added: “We want our events to be challenging for students and industry partners alike, and for our audience to deliberate on the latest innovations, market insights and know-how that will directly impact the future of the fashion and textile industry.”

Mark’s talk invited lively questions on everything from the comparative speed of e-commerce and high street shopping to techniques for supply chain transparency, as well as the consequences of increased automation in garment manufacturing.

“I really enjoyed Robots vs Runways organised by Future Fashion Factory,” added Beth Hetherington, Head of Design (Apparel) at industry partner Harry Hall International.

“Mark is a wealth of knowledge and provided some real insights into future trends and developments within the industry.”

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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.