Signs of Things to Come
We live in a complex world that today seems more interwoven than ever before due to the rise of technology, trade and other forces that have exponentially increased the interconnectivity among all members of the globe. Very recently, I’ve had the sense that we are at a tipping point, and that many of the forces at play will have significant importance for the apparel industry. I’d like to share just a few of those.
• Jon Zornow, inventor and founder of the startup, Sewbo, has produced the first robotically sewn garment. For years, robots have been assembling cars and machines, but the big hurdle to having robots sew garments was the flexibility of fabrics. What Sewbo figured out is how to temporarily stiffen materials. This allows the robot to pick up and maneuver the fabrics correctly into the sewing machine. After the clothes are assembled, the clothes are dipped in a solution that returns the fabric to its natural state. This is revolutionary, as it can completely automate apparel production. (View the robot in action at sewbo.com/video.)
• Across the board, advances in technology are mind-boggling. Georgia Tech has recently produced a textile that can generate electricity by harnessing the body’s energy. You can read about other advances in wearables in this month’s cover story.
Or consider the amazing advances in areas such as speech recognition, language translation and image recognition. All of these advances are due to the same development: a family of artificial intelligence (AI) techniques called deep neural networks, popularly known as deep learning. A subset of machine learning, deep learning is a process whereby computers teach themselves, after having been fed a learning algorithm and many terabytes of data — perhaps hundreds of thousands of images or speech samples — to figure out for themselves how to recognize the desired objects or words. The possibilities for deep learning are virtually infinite. As an article in Fortune recently reported, “Google had two deep-learning projects underway in 2012. Today it is pursuing more than 1,000 … in all its major product sectors, including search, Android, Gmail, translation, maps, YouTube, and self-driving cars. … Venture capitalists, who didn’t even know what deep learning was five years ago, today are wary of startups that don’t have it.” (Read the article here: fortune.com/ai-artificial-intelligence-deep-machine-learning.)
• Advancements in 3D printers and in materials continue to rise. Next month, you’ll read about one of our 30 Under 30 Award winners who is making a name for herself by creating beautiful apparel designs and printing the clothing out on a small 3D printer in her bedroom. She fully envisions that this will be much more common within five years within the general populace.
• Millennials but particularly Centennials are digital natives and have grown up in a world in which theoretically, everyone is capable of connecting with everyone else in the world. This has changed their relationships with and expectations of businesses. They expect transparent supply chains that allow them to see inventory and where it is, as well as how it was made and by whom. On the flip side, they expect to see and be seen, which has turned consumer behavior on its head when it comes to traditional media and advertising. The biggest social media influencers — including everyone from bloggers to young girls making haul videos to young men making gag videos have larger followings than most popular TV shows and movies. A 60 Minutes episode, “The Influencers,” which aired last month, featured 21-year-old Logan Paul, who has garnered 30 million followers — more than Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton — with his slapstick videos and is receiving large sums of money to hawk products in them from companies such as Bic and Dunkin’ Donuts.
• Finally, there’s trade, business, and the election. We’re seeing some interesting movements. A Chinese firm that manufactures for adidas has agreed to build a plant in Little Rock, Arkansas, employing 400. Donald Trump’s ties and Ivanka’s shoes have put focus on the loss of American jobs and the working conditions abroad. TPP has been a point of contention. As I write we are close to electing our next president — what that will mean for trade remains to be seen, but it will no doubt have an effect on where and how business is done.
There are a lot of moving parts in our complex world. I don’t know how they will all come together, but I’m pretty sure the apparel industry of tomorrow will look much different from the apparel industry of today.
Jordan K. Speer is editor in chief of Apparel.
She can be reached at [email protected]