Personalization in Sustainability Will Breathe Life into Apparel Retail


Every garment that is manufactured starts from a single thread that is harvested from a point of origin. The transformation from thread to fabrics, materials, manufacturing and then the designed article of clothing has never been introduced into a data story that holds meaning for the consumer in an industry transformational way, until now.

The Value Propositions

The retail industry is struggling with sustainability on all fronts. Manufacturing, fulfillment and the evolution of the direct-to-consumer marketing experience are challenging heritage and emerging brands alike.

In a world where wearable technology has carved out its place in fashion, and AI consumer predictive technology is shaping the future of consumer behavior and retail transactions, the value of data as a lifeline to the fundamental start of a product’s sustainability should not be overlooked.

Further, what if using the apparel’s data carried a lifetime digital identity that would lend intrinsic value to the consumer and the retailer or brand, as well, making it exponentially more valuable?

Emerging Technology’s New Possibilities

How is this possible? Technologists have been building robust data systems and complicated algorithms that feed online and physical consumer facing experiences. Now they are creating connected systems and physical manufacturing enhancements that will change how we integrate technology into the manufacturing process, as well as design consumer experience programs that will also impact sustainability, manufacturing and the garment’s sales cycle.

For example, what if the consumer were able to buy a t-shirt that was encoded with a history and the customer’s own unique story; it then has the potential to become a true heirloom and becomes connected to the buyer in who new ways. Embedded smart technology thread affords a whole different way to personalize the apparel.

Brands and retailers alike can create ecosystems reliant on this thread technology that allows the digital identity of the apparel, consumer and environment to interact with one another. This is the future of consumer experiences and wearable technology that will fuel a sustainable industry (in terms of how the product is sourced and comes off the line, how it wears, how long the consumer wants to wear it, as well as return and exchanges).

As a result, the consumer is likely to see that encoded “limited edition” shirt, for example, an extension of themselves. The tag might unlock content, a special code or app on their phone — what new items will soon be launched by the brand or retailer, or unlock special content as the consumer walks through the retailer’s brick-and-mortar store, as part of a product launch, promotion or a special pop-up. 

What if that thread connects to your Alexa or your Spotify account? What if you wore that shirt to an NFL game and could now order food to your seat or be called to look at the stadium’s Megatron with a message designed specifically for you? The possibilities for ways retailers and brands can unlock content are seemingly limitless.

That shirt, if returned or exchanged at a micro fulfillment center — small retail showrooms that fill the void of empty storefronts where consumers can pick up merchandise or return items purchased online — would offer information to the consumer about other items they might be interested in trying. This smart technology would afford the consumer a personalized experience for making the trip and potentially be a boon to sales within the fulfillment center.

From the brand’s perspective, this thread technology impacts the manufacturing process, too — providing rich data about how the materials were sourced, track how it was sourced (what did the sheep, whose wool was used in the sweater, eat?), manufactured and worn (how often was the item worn and when was it discarded?).  All this information can help the designer and retailer develop best practices for a more sustainable garment.

We have been moving towards this important transformation. In the past, we have focused technology as a way to harness more, different and advantage-driven manufacturing, distribution, customer acquisition and purchase-focused customer data. Welcome to an age whereby technology is focused on delivering value to enhance sustainability and a more connected social conscience.

Michelle M. Collins is founder and president of A Non-Agency, a consumer experience marketing firm based in New York City. 

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