Will algorithms be the new growth trend in fashion & apparel?

The apparel, footwear and fashion industries of the next five years will look completely different than today. Connectivity, sustainability, personalization and on-demand manufacturing and distribution will create new business models like we’ve never seen. 

The interesting thing about the essence of the fashion and apparel industries is that it’s driven by the human need to either stand out or fit in. There are no products more definitive to showing who we are as a person than that of what we wear. The exciting, and scary, thing about this is that our behaviors, preferences and underlying needs are quickly turning to data. And where there is data, there are algorithms making decisions for us. So what happens to the fashion, apparel and footwear industries when decisions are made on an algorithmic level versus an emotional one. It may sound farfetched, but it’s happening as we speak.

Rightly or wrongly, people might reach the same conclusions about Big Data algorithms: they have lots of hitches, but we have no better alternative.
— Yuval Noah Harari, 21 Lessons for the 21st Century

As we look at the trends driving change below, think about the new opportunities for companies to deliver business models for growth. These trends may just be starting, but the level of acceptance is nearing scale. By understanding the connected human nuances and aligning manufacturing with distribution, fashion, apparel and footwear companies can begin to offer and deliver a vertically integrated product development solution for individual consumers - all driven by the consumer’s human needs. 


There has been a lot of talk about wearables over the last few years with Apple Watch and FitBit. But as fitness companies like Under Armour, Polar and Lumo test the abilities of true wearables with tracking exercise and tech giants Google’s Project Jacquard and Apple getting in the mix, we can easily see a future where massive amounts of data can be derived from what we wear and what we do. This data can not only help manufacturers create better products, but can provide valuable insight as to what the wearer is trying to accomplish with their lifestyle with clothing -allowing a company to create a more valuable holistic experience. 


Sustainability has been and will continue to be a topic of immediate conversation. However, there are some amazing things happening in the industry to provide a benchmark from where to grow. Adidas and Parley sold over 1 million shoes built with ocean plastic. Nike has created Nike Grind to upcycle product waste into new products and services. As sustainability continues to grow into a global issue, more and more consumers will expect companies they purchase from to be leading the charge in making a difference. 


As algorithms begin to make more and more decisions for us, the ability to personalize product offerings will become easier than ever before. This level of personalization goes well beyond a name or color choice, but an offering of an entire line dedicated to the needs and desires of the consumer. As we’ll see in the next trends, on-demand manufacturing and upcycling will give manufacturers the ability to not only offer these designs and solutions, but will be able to deliver them in an acceptable time period for the right cost with little waste. This personalization will be a determinate hierarchy of decisions driven by the data and information a company can gather on a consumer. 

On-Demand Manufacturing

As mentioned above, manufacturing has long been a rugged process to deliver products based on estimates and forecasts by economic analysts. As manufacturing continues to be digitized and new processes like 3D printing come to scale, on-demand manufacturing starts to take shape. This gives manufacturers and retailers the opportunity to build new business models encapsulating individual consumer needs. 

Real-Time Distribution

We’ve all experienced the innovation in on-demand distribution in our personal lives with Amazon and Amazon Prime. While these logistics technologies are in a mind-bending place now, we can only imagine how great these will become over time. The shopping need to try on, touch, feel and experience in a store will be reduced through the ability to do that on the consumer’s terms, at home or in the office. 

These trends, individually or collectively, offer companies a massive opportunity to transform. They each have unique abilities for new value propositions, which can create new business models. How is your company capitalizing on them? 

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