Home Featured The Future of Retail for Fashion: starting now!

The Future of Retail for Fashion: starting now!


Susan Olivier, VP Consumer Goods & Retail Industry Solutions at Dassault Systèmes, shares an exclusive article with WhichPLM, exploring the future of Fashion from a retail and technological standpoint – a future adapting to the changing behavior of consumers. 

The Changing Behavior of Consumers

Each day, consumers are influenced less by what brands are ‘selling’ them and more on their own curated tastes and what they see across a wealth of social and digital media. Every person has their favorite pair of jeans, their most comfortable or most visually attractive pair of shoes, and their ‘go-to’ top. As individuals, we already have a sense of what our “look” is and what we prefer to wear on a daily basis. And when we add to our wardrobes we don’t want to just acquire the latest trend; we want our purchases to reflect our tastes, activities and aspirations.

This has resulted in one simple truth: consumers do not shop from a single brand, but from a wealth of omni-channel options where they create their own personal “brand” – one they believe will best meet their needs.

We also live in a world where consumers are hyper connected, with tablets and smartphones ‘always on’ for the latest updates from social media.  And consumers increasingly want to engage with that media, sharing an interactive experience whether through personalization or immersive reality – not just for seeing a retail environment or product differently as an observer, but actually interacting with the product to create, and buy, customized and personalized options that reflect their “look”.

And consumers living in an ‘always on’ world are no longer willing to wait for product offerings and product deliveries.  They expect see now, buy now, and engage with fashion brands and retailers through all the channels they use.

Customer First

In a world of accelerating consumer empowerment, winning brands and retailers will find better ways to incorporate the consumer into the heart of the ideation and commercialization process. With new technologies, brands and retailers now have multiple options to personalize the product experience as well as the shopping experience.

If brands want to evolve and adapt to new consumer behaviors, they need first to rethink their product development process.  In the past, brands and retailers tried to predict trends in advance, often with long lead times for products designed to appeal to as wide a range of consumers as possible to maximize supply chain efficiencies.  But now consumers want to have more options and more personalized product tailored to their needs, with not just customized looks but also fit and functional adjustments.  Think about the advances in performance athletic footwear where you can select colors and materials not just for the uppers but increasingly for the soles to match your running style. And consumers are willing to share more data about themselves; performance expectations and style preferences to really engage in co-creation on future product lines.  The ability to make sense of real time data signals from social media, market activity and consumer interactions will change how quickly product development moves from concept to consumer…and from the consumers’ social ideation to new design options.

Voice of the Consumer

Finally, it’s about bringing the voice of the consumer more deeply into the ideation process, and at the earliest possible stages.  With new technologies available today, consumers can be offered early previews of new products and seasonal collections using 3D prototypes, and their feedback can be used to eliminate unpopular styles, colors and variations before committing to production.  

Where does Technology Fit?

Innovations in 3D digital design, virtual merchandising, virtual store and high-end visualization impact the way we can design, develop and sell fashion products.

From Traditional Fashion Design…

There’s something about fashion apparel that inspires people. It is, perhaps, the oldest craft in the world, evolving from the simple utility of animal skins to the modern, purpose-built, tech apparel of today. People are passionate about their clothes: the fit, the color, the style, and the way it compliments their form. And why not? There are so many aspects to enjoy about apparel. There is the coziness of fleece or the comfort of a tee-shirt. Fabrics that, because of the thread construction, shimmer like fluttering fall leaves. There is the bliss of finding those pants with the perfect fit that seem to effortlessly compliment the human form. Apparel is a fundamentally physical experience, so how can we hope to improve the experience with the cold preciseness of digital technology?

Humans tend to be binary in nature: plus or minus, black or white, either/or. The reality is that there is so little in life that is totally clear cut. The truth is generally found all along the line between the extremes, and so it is with physical and digital fashion design. Fashion design is, and always will be, about how a physical garment looks and feels on the body. But the fact remains that there are certain things that are either difficult, or impossible, to do in the real world. Many of these things, however, can be extremely easy to accomplish in the digital domain.

For instance, when creating a physical garment, there is no way to instantly change its color, material, or shape. Further, it takes a massive amount of effort to rearrange a physical retail space in order to try different assortments, layouts, and fixtures. However, making these types of changes are nearly instantaneous in the digital world. And although the digital realm is very good about showing options and allowing you to make changes, it can tell you very little about how a garment feels and nothing about the quality of its construction. And it’s because of this last gap in digital tools that many in the fashion world often throw these tools out completely.

But is there a middle ground? Is it possible to have the benefits of digital while retaining the authenticity of physical?

…to 3D in Fashion

Many industries have moved to the concept of the “virtual twin.” A virtual twin is a digital version of something that exists in the real world. This virtual twin often has many of the same attributes of its physical counterpart such as size, weight, bendability, stretchiness, color, and texture. The idea behind this virtual twin is that different scenarios can be tested on the digital version far more quickly and efficiently than with constructing and testing versions physically. This is done routinely in aerospace and automotive industries where real mechanical physics are applied to digital vehicles, which are flown or driven many times before a single physical part is ever created.


© Julien Fournié Footwear collection


So, can this idea of a virtual twin be applied to apparel and fashion? Many companies now make the tools that allow fashion brands to create an apparel virtual twin in order to gain a great number of benefits.

Designers can sketch their ideas on a 3D form to get a clear vision of how a product will look from all angles. Product can be simulated with actual material physics to see how they fit long before fabric is ever cut. And they can assess a range of options and variations for their design ideas.

Fashion designers such as the French famous couturier Julien Fournié have already conceived their collections for fashion accessories and footwear using 3D tools.

A multitude of retail assortment ideas can also be tested in a digital space without having to construct and make constant changes to a physical showroom. The result? A physical product that is truer to the designer’s intent, in less time, and with less expense, with a physical retail experience for the consumer that is more pleasing and relevant. For the brand that moves to digital, it means improved sales, increased margins, and a happier consumer.

And when we think about 3D, the possibilities are endless. Customers could tailor their purchases using detailed 3D holographic screens for example.

3D Printing in Fashion

In manufacturing, 3D printing (additive manufacturing) is changing the nature of the supply chain and reinvigorating on-shore manufacturing.   And even if not all materials can be printed in 3D, the ability to manufacture-on-demand and in batches of 1 if needed opens more possibilities for designer and consumer options in trims, accessories, and performance footwear.  Combining 3D printing and knit-to-shape or assemble-to-order uppers is already a reality in footwear brands and some innovative apparel brands, dramatically reducing inventory and lead times while increasing consumer choice and margins.

Retail Stores Tomorrow

Fashion consumers are still interested in physical products to see fit, form, material and color.  But tomorrow we can envision a store with only a limited number of physical reference products and ‘endless aisles’ of digital options.  Options would be pre-validated for compatibility, and contain rich data on lead times (measured in days or hours not months).  Product and component history can be displayed for consumers passionate about the ‘sheep-to-shelf’ sustainability journey.  Consumers could book an appointment with a stylist or designer in a different location and get real-time ‘styling tips’ or custom creations.   Brands could provide recommendations based on consumer interests gathered in-store or from loyalty apps. And consumers could customize and personalize their bag, shoe, eyewear or smartwatch using a configurator on a tablet.  They could use life-sized screens to evaluate various options and smart-screens could be used to ‘recommend’ complementary purchases.   All of this provides a level of engagement and entertainment that goes far beyond the frictionless shopping experience easily supported by web or mobile device. It differentiates the physical retail environment as a ‘destination’ and critical component in the purchase journey.

The overall result will be consumers who still want to curate their own sense of style.  But they will spend more time, and money, with retailers who give them more options to engage.


© Julien Fournié

Lydia Mageean Lydia Mageean has been part of the WhichPLM team for eight 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 our PLM Project Pack, or our Annual Publications, 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.