We are living in the age of digital Darwinism – an epoch where evolution of both technology and lifestyle is way too fast for businesses to adapt naturally. Rapid change in technology and changes in the way we communicate, connect, and discover are carrying incredible implications for businesses across industries, compelling them to evolve through rigorous innovation. Whether it be global bigwigs like Toyota Motors or a domestic fashion brand that has been just launched, business across the world are now compelled to endorse a forward-looking strategy and invest in both creativity and technology to adapt and outperform peers.
Even in India, a country whose disposition towards evolution in general has always been phlegmatic, exercises to innovate, adapt and stay relevant is fast becoming the trend for all industries. This especially holds true for a dynamic, impulsive, creative and people intensive industry like fashion retail. Fashion itself has had the reputation of being ephemeral since ages; and this rapid metamorphosis in the ecosystem has but only been instrumental in making it a more challenging business.
So, how are brands in the fashion industry being innovative? Before we access that let’s gauge what the word innovation means to most of the players of this domain.
“For us, innovation is the profitable implementation of ideas that deliver exceptional value to our consumers and to the company,” says Matteo Lambert, VP Collections, Bata. As a forerunner in the Indian footwear industry, Bata is propelled by a 3 Key Innovation mantra that relates to comfort, performance and sustainability. The brand’s light weight, flexible and more rebound outsoles made of enhanced and unique formulation compounds speak volumes about the brands dedication to innovate. The healthy comfort footbeds and insoles of its Comfitrange and Insolia Collection are some of the highlights of its latest offering.
Popular home grown denim major Spykar holds that innovation is all about creating trendy and hi-fashion products using updated and efficient technologies which provide great look, feel and finishes to the end product while reducing waste, and are eco-friendly and sustainable.
“Some of the innovations we use at Spykar include less water intensive washes, laser technologies for dry processing and using recycled yarns. We have created the entire line of jeans and joggers using bi-stretch denim fabric. This collection, for both men and women, provides extra flexibility and gives freedom of movement,” says Abhishek Yadav, Design Head, Spykar.
As explained earlier, even relatively younger brands are impelled by core principles of innovation. Premium women’s wear fashion brand Samshék is a fine example. The brand believes that innovation is at the heart of the future of fashion and hence is driven by a policy that revolves around three Is – Innovation Immediacy and Individuality.
“We initiated with developing a novel manufacturing system to ensure a quick turnaround time for custom clothing. We started with delivery of 48 hours for store bought products and the ultimate vision is to reduce this delivery time to 99 minutes. Our online orders are delivered within 5 days pan India, USA and the UK,” says Samiksha Bajaj, Co-Founder, Samshék.
“We have an excellent manufacturing system and a fantastic customisation tool on our website. Recently, we launched another innovation of 3D body scanner for perfect measurements in our physical store. We are trying to work on recycled and wrinkle free fabrics for the future,” she adds.
Urban Blackberrys is a fashion trend driven brand for the youth, where innovation is achieved with a unique ‘Runway to Market’ design approach rather the industry standards that follows fashion forecast agencies.
“Our innovation relates to implementation of design thinking and unique process that helps to identify new areas to explore and develop, which in turn leads to innovative products,” says Kabeer Kodaniyil, Head of Design, Urban Blackberrys.
While most brands and companies think of product or process innovations, a slew of brands have been successful in cashing in on the prediction of the future trends. Hyderabad based Sygnal, an Al based firm that is creating ripples across the globe with its blend of technology-infused fashion, is one such name. The brand aims to enhance the utility of clothing by innovating smart clothing for safety, health and fitness or to simply make a fashion statements.
“We envisaged apparels will soon catch up with the boom in technology. We figured it would evolve to adapt more and more functions of the gadgets we use routinely, since apparels cover a wider body surface area,” explains Saumil Shah, Co-Founder, Sygnal.
Sygnal has the distinction of producing the world’s first touch-enabled t-shirt. The brand now specializes in integrating electronics with fashion and offers a range of smart fitness tracking t-shirts, a glow LED clothing line and smart accessories for men, women and kids alike.
Creative industries survive on the ability to generate ideas that excel and innovate and nowhere is this truer than in the world of fashion! Aesthetically rich designs are one paramount aspect in fashion that businesses cannot afford to ignore. In the recent years, design has become progressively more significant in the fashion industry, with design-centric products, retail environments and promotions now being the sole facets in differentiating retailers from their competitors in the volatile modern business weather.
“The ability to convert international runway trends into viable commercial concept is our key strength. To achieve that we follow a unique design process which not only looks at runway trends but also adapt the trends as per Indian market and consumer needs. We refer to forecasting sites at a later stage just to validate our findings, whereas most of the brands are depended on forecast sites and their outcomes make brands look similar to each other,” states Kabeer Kodaniyil.
Indian fashion brands are progressively investing on professional design teams to assist them in the highly complex, sophisticated and ambivalent process of product development. “All our collections are exclusively created by our team of designers. We follow specific seasonal themes as inspiration, from which we develop amazing stories,” adds Matteo Lambert.
Brands also are leveraging on cutting edge technology to streamline the production process.
“Techniques like laser etching and cutting is widely used for denims and indigo shirts during dry process.
At the production stage we utilise hyperfuse and seam sealing machines to create techno-aesthetic products,” says Kabeer Kodaniyil.
Made-to-measure brand Tailorman is armed with the technical know-how to offer complete personalization of an ensemble – right from the buttons and linings to the construction and fit of the final garment. “The customers can also choose to curate their look according to their personal sense of style or occasion, across different price brackets. To further personalize you can add custom monograms or contrast pipings to elevate your look,” says Aswathi Krishnan.
Samshék utilises a slew of softwares to suit the different stages of production. “Starting from order to end manufacturing some softwares have been outsourced for pattern making and some are developed inhouse for internal communication with production team. This has been done to fulfill the orders smoothly on daily basis,” says Samiksha Bajaj.
The brand is currently vying to implement automatic sewing robots and a mobile app for taking measurements from photos. The automatic sewing robot will help us to automize the sewing process to some extent as well. The measurement app will help customers to extract measurements from three pictures of their front, back and side easily and accurately.
Bata is leveraging on three technologies to come up with power laden and technical lifestyle apparel — PWick featuring fast dry and anti-moisture management, Activent for enhanced breathability and Psoft for comfort.
Indian brands and retailers are also increasingly drawing on Omnichannel for increased revenue, reduced costs and increased return on assets.
“Our Omnichannel approach allows a seamless shopping experience across all our platforms. Our team of stylists and master tailors are available at the comfort of your home to help you curate an impeccably tailored look, while our website offers the opportunity to visualize your customizations through 3-D rendering,” says Aswathi Krishnan, Manager- Design & Marketing Communications, Tailorman.
Brands like Sygnal have the advantage of being a technology-led company, rather than apparel manufacturing units. Most of the brand’s processes are now machine based and it continues to concentrate its efforts towards reducing human intervention to the minimal.
“Our inhouse software platform caters to our custom requirements to link each function in a system based format from the point to receiving an order to linking it directly up to the production stage. In layman terms, you can compare it with the functionality of a McDonald’s outlet, as soon as the order is received the kitchen starts preparing the required item,” explains Saumil Shah.
Sygnal is working towards building a platform of smart clothing with sensors which can be further iterated with features like touch, navigation, gesture or posture recognition, so as to provide better solutions in the domain of safety, health, fitness, wellness, etc. The brand’s range of Connected Apparel can be integrated with such electronic patches to provide the user with a solution to wear such patches without having to be be conscious about the appearance since it would be integrated within the fabric. The Connected Apparel can communicate with the brand’s Artificial Intelligence platform to use and transmit the data more effectively.
Indian consumers have long been known to be price conscious. While brands are coming up with designs and products that align with the price sensitivity that Indian consumers are synonymous with, there is a balance of sorts as consumers too are slowly opening up to the idea of paying more for quality products.
Kabeer Kodaniyil echoes this saying, “More than affordability, we focus on creating value in the product. For example, new technology like seam sealing can hike up product costs.
However, we try and control costs by converting the techniques into aesthetics rather than functionality,” he says. Having said so, competitive pricing policy remain a paramount strategy for all brands across the fashion industry.
“Our products are affordable luxury and we assure a higher quality than others in the same price. Our virtual inventory model allows us to spend more on improving quality. Our average ticket size is Rs 3,000 inclusive of customization and shipping panIndia,” says Samiksha Bajaj.
Also, affordability is very subjective, especially in a country with a vast demographic diversity like India. “When it comes to fashion, we can get a similar looking product at very different prices. What makes the difference is the raw material quality, workmanship and fashion quotient. At Spykar, we ensure to deliver all the three factors,” states Abhishek Yadav.
Sustainability is a crucial issue in the fashion retail industry especially in this eco-friendly age; and in the wake of increasing environmental awareness among consumers, an increasing number of brands are committing themselves to both the people and the planet.
“Traditionally, fast fashion model is not sustainable. It produces tons of inventory and the unsold inventory is dumped causing environmental harm. However, our model allows us to have a virtual inventory and make our business model completely sustainable. We are working on utilising recycled fabrics in the future and also work on smart apparels,” says Samiksha Bajaj.
“It is a challenging topic, but very actual among consumers, especially the younger generations. Sustainability is and will become more and more part of our agenda. Our target is to make sustainable collections, without compromising on style, comfort, quality and great pricing,” adds Matteo Lambert.
It is clear that the retail template around the world is being overhauled by constant connectivity, contextual relevance, and a multi-screen world. To adapt to the new competitive reality, smart retailers are drawing on constant innovation and trends to transforming shoppers’ experience. It also has to be noted that, generally, although product or process innovation is more stressed on, brands and retailers also need to converge focus on intangible innovations such as business model, networking and brand innovation to reap benefits of long-term value creation.
(With Inputs from Gurbir Singh Gulati)