25 Oct 2018
'Making it Where It's Worn' Said to be Future of Fashion Production
Could micro-factories – compact, sustainable, on-site production faculties – be the future face of fashion, as shortened-runs, re-shoring and ever-smarter apparel rewrite the industry rulebook for a very different consumer generation?
As has long been the norm, thousands of industry professionals gathered in Las Vegas in August to peruse the vast collection of apparel, footwear and accessories that constitute UBM Fashion's Magic event. It wasn't all glad-handing and garment buying, however, with many attendees clearly preoccupied with the escalating trade tensions and ongoing moves to re-shore production, never mind the endlessly shifting sales channels and all the latest fashion trends.
Overall, though, the US clothing industry seemed more positive about the future than it was a year ago, a sentiment reflected in the US Fashion Industry Benchmarking Study, as released by the United States Fashion Industry Association back in July. Tellingly, though, the study did note that confidence has yet to be restored to its 2015-16 level, with many seeing the Trump administration's protectionist trade policy as likely to prove their biggest immediate headache. As a consequence of this, many of those interviewed for the study maintained that developing a relatively diverse sourcing base was now a key element of their forward strategy.
At Sourcing, the Magic sub-show with a focus on procurement and manufacturing, the aisles occupied by Chinese exhibitors had noticeably less traffic than in previous years, while several prescient long-term mainland exhibitors had clearly decided to give the show a miss. With using cheaper overseas labour seemingly a little verboten at present, it was perhaps unsurprising that this year's event focused more on automated systems and sustainable technology than it had in the past, a development that played well with the current nationalistic sentiment and the longer-standing commitment to environmental protection.
For the second year running, a micro-factory took centre stage at the event, though its 2018 incarnation – with its focus on water-based inks and the cost-effectiveness of small-run digital production – attracted much more attention than its 2017 predecessor. This year's installation – the EFI Textile Eco-System – was very much a collaborative effort with companies from the US and Europe all pitching in – including Electronics for Imaging (California), Klieverik (a Dutch thermos-process manufacturer), Zünd (a Swiss digital-cutter) and Brigade Manufacturing (a Mississippi-based clothing company).
Explaining just why micro-factories are suddenly so much in vogue, Christopher Griffin, President of the Sourcing event, said: "As it can take several months for goods to be produced and delivered, the mere threat of imminent tariffs puts pressure on buyers to immediately seek other options, including a micro-factory.
"It's a concept we're going to continue to push, partly because it's the flipside of sustainability – technology for smaller footprints. Over the next 20 years in the clothing sector, it will increasingly be about making it where it's worn and being very close to the consumer."
Very much endorsing this particular notion, Adele Genoni, General Manager of EFI Reggiani, a specialist, California-based textiles printer, said: "Using this kind of technology, our customers can create new opportunities and establish profitable apparel lines, all produced closer to the point of need."
While it still may take a while for the concepts to really catch on, moves towards sustainability and the circular economy are already clearly gaining traction. Across several different presentations, companies such as Alicante-based Recover, a business that turns post-consumer plastic and cotton into yarn, were mentioned time again, as were a number of the new generation second-hand clothing businesses, notably California's ThredUp and RealReal.
Another Californian exhibitor, Ürth Apparel, was keen to offer responsible and transparent product development and manufacturing to established, as well as up-and-coming, designers. Explaining the thinking behind its proposition, Founder Alex Soler said: "When you put a premium price point in front of them people will often retreat from their commitment to sustainability. Overall, though, young entrepreneurs and start-up brands tend to be far more genuine about it."
This commitment to sustainability is increasingly shared by consumers, according to Mitchell Cole, Global Director of the Pantone Color Institute, a New Jersey-headquartered colour consultancy. Charing a panel on the trends now shaping the clothing sector, he said: "We're living in a time when consumers are spending their money on experiences rather than on buying things just for the sake of it.
"They're choosing to clean out their closets and they shop 'gently used'. After decades of fast fashion, which spurred an accelerated seasonal cycle, which, in turn, spurred an accumulation of goods, you have to wonder if we've reached a tipping point.
"I believe that, in the future, products will rely more on collaboration and inclusion, while the defining image will be 'maxtravaganza' – a look where colours and textures are piled on top of each other, creating a visual cacophony and expressing individuality."
Highlighting another trend – the move towards brand collaboration, particularly between street style and luxury – he said: "With 85% of new business in luxury coming from Generations Y and Z, and hip-hop being their preferred entertainment and a more relevant touchpoint than red carpet glamour, many brands are now trying to reach them on those terms.
"We see it, for instance, in terms of Louis Vuitton moving into streetwear, Levi's opting for a significant revamp and CK turning to hip hop..."
Moving on to the colours and textures set to dominate in Autumn-Winter 2019-2020, Cole was enthused by the new levels of energy and luminosity offered by such hues a nebular blue, tofu and orange-tinted pink, as well as by iridescent and metallic finishes, which he sees as especially effective on darks. At the same time, he believes pastels will continue to gain ground in the technical world and active sports as an alternative to black.
A glimpse of future trends was also the highlight of a presentation by Kristine Upesleja, the founder of the Los Angeles-based Madisons Innovative fashion consultancy. Predicting the coming season's must-have sustainable fashion items, she highlighted designer bags made from apple pulp, mushroom-sourced leather alternatives, linen hats and recycled cork applied to wool to provide higher thermal insulation and breathability.
Turning to the rising tide of smart clothing, she noted Apple's recent launch of an environment-aware jacket that can help the visually impaired find their way around, while also singling our Google Jacquard's use of conductive fabrics to convert a conventional jacket into a somewhat smart one.
Assessing the challenges that lie in wait for the sector, she said: "Smart fashion will only prove lastingly popular if it provides real, sustainable solutions. The possibilities, though, are hugely wide-ranging, with clothing designers now embracing electronics, software and bioengineering. Basically, we're on the very cusp of a major materials revolution."
Magic 2018 (August edition) took place from 11-16 August at multiple venues in Las Vegas.
Anna Huddleston, Special Correspondent, Las Vegas