Industry 4.0 And How It Brings Fashion Closer To On-demand?
An easy way to look at the history and growth of any industry would be in the context of all the industrial revolutions - periods marked with groundbreaking innovations. For the fashion industry, the first revolution brought cotton production to a new level using steam-operated machines. The second revolution brought electric power, fueling the mass production of garments. The third revolution brought computer-driven systems and initial widespread eCommerce. And now the fourth industrial revolution has brought a massive digital transformation to every sector of the industry.
The fourth industrial revolution, or Industry 4.0, with pervasive interconnectivity at its core, is a technological shift in manufacturing. It promotes ease and automation of customization and personalization through deep integration of systems participating in the process. It is led by a collection of transformative digital technologies, including Additive Manufacturing (3D printing), Augmented Reality (AR), Autonomous Robots, Big Data and Analytics, The Cloud, Industrial Internet of Things (IoT), and Simulation.
The term Industry 4.0 originated in Germany back in 2011 as a part of the German Government’s high-tech strategy to promote computerization and deep customization of products to ensure highly flexible (large-scale) production. Concepts developed within this project have been refined and adopted by companies across countries and industries.
In the context of fashion, it envisions the rise and spread of Smart Factories, often dubbed as ‘factories of the future.’ Such factories represent fully digitalized and integrated workshops that use connected devices, machinery, and production systems to continuously collect and share data with customers, suppliers, as well as in-house, empowering these factories to mass-produce “customization” with unparalleled agility and efficiency.
Historically, on-demand fashion businesses manufactured exactly that - customized, non-standardized products with a high level of craftsmanship. These businesses operated as micro or small-scale production units, yet played a much bigger role within the economies where they operated, serving as the backbone of local communities. They celebrated the local craft and talent and created self-sufficient and sustainable ecosystems. In developing countries around the world, micro or small-scale production units are still a major contributor to export, employment, and income.
When every business, regardless of its size, requires constant technological upgrades, it is no surprise that on-demand fashion has fallen behind technologically and become costly for most, especially when cheaper and trendier options are available in a fast fashion store on high street. As a result, on-demand fashion occupies a small market niche consumed occasionally and typically only by wealthier fashion connoisseurs. Technological gaps also made these businesses more susceptible to high production costs of the personalized items, inability to cope with the economic crisis, and difficulty to compete with larger competitors.
Absorbing the latest technologies in the context of Industry 4.0 will allow on-demand fashion to slowly find its way back into the fashion realm in new and modern ways, serving the requirements of modern society, inclusivity, and uniqueness. For brands, it is an opportunity to rethink their business models and upgrade them to a version that is relevant to the consumers, efficient for the business, and sustainable for the planet.
Authors: Rahul Verma & Julia Chinakaeva