It was a year of innovation, ideas and promise. Here’s how tech pushed the fashion industry forward in 2013:
1. Wearables proved to be more than a passing fad.
They’re still figuring out how to make them look good, but there’s no denying that wearables are here to stay. Analyst firm Berg Insight suggests that shipments of wearable technology — that includes things like the Nike+ FuelBand, Google Glass and the hotly anticipated-but-yet-to-be confirmed iWatch — will reach $64 million in 2017. And a Credit Suisse report released in May 2013 suggests that the market could reach $50 billion in 3-5 years. Design-wise, most of these wearables aren’t there yet, but Nike made great process with its rose-gold FuelBand, which was released in November.
2. Content became king, again.
Venture capitalists are hot to invest in fashion and lifestyle-related startups. And while e-commerce companies will always be the recipients of a good chunk of that funding, this year content-driven sites saw some of it as well. Into the Gloss, Editorialist, Refinery29 and The Coveteur each raised significant chunks of change this year, ranging from $500,000 (Coveteur) to $25.6 million (Refinery29). In fact, Refinery29‘s advertising business is so good that the site ditched commerce plans to focus on upping content.
3. Omnichannel became a buzzword — and an exciting idea.
Brands have realized that creating a seamless experience between their online and offline stores will make customers happier. So this year, retailers worked harder to make it easier for you to order something online, then pick it up in the store, or vice-versa. But it’s thinking beyond the traditional “omnichannel” experience that is getting the industry’s leaders excited. “All the frustration of going to a store and it not having what you want will go away,” Farfetch’s Jose Neves told Fashionista in April. The site, which powers online boutiques with hundreds of independent retailers around the world, is developing technology that will allow the user to buy online from a far-away store and pick it up in person and a nearby retailer.
4. 3D printing transformed into a viable production method.
How can designers benefit from 3D printing? While the method is still incredibly expensive and sometimes doesn’t allow for complicated designs, it does have its virtues. Traditional manufacturers typically require a minimal run on every item, but 3D printers do not. Each piece can be unique and made on-demand. In an industry where marketers talk a lot about the importance of personalization, 3-D printing is seen as a soon-to-be powerful tool. Even Neiman Marcus is experimenting with it.
5. Instagram drove sales without even trying.
Measuring the monetary impact of social media has been a difficult one for brands to measure. (Some studies suggest that social media drives less than 1 percent of sales.) But Instagram, the preferred social media platform of the fashion set, is slowly changing that. Independent boutiques are using Instagram to sell items every day. For instance, Fox and Fawn, a vintage store in Brooklyn, has said that 25 percent of its sales are made via the site. (Read more about how the process works here.) And with the advent of Instagram advertising, it’s likely that bigger brands will jump on board sooner than later. “I’ve seen plenty of times when a brand, whether it’s Kate Spade or Cole Haan, they’ll post an image of some shoes, and the comments are 50 people asking, ‘Where do I get these?’ ‘What sizes do they come in?’ ‘Do they come in this other color?’ ‘When are they available?’” said Instagram CEO and cofounder Kevin Systrom. “And that’s awesome.”
6. Retailers created mobile apps that were actually useful.
For years, stores and brands focused on creating novel apps that encouraged quite a lot of downloads, but not much long-term engagement. This year, that changed. Brands realized that the only thing people really want to do on apps is shop, so they created ones that helped make doing that on a mobile phone much easier. Free People, instance, launched its purchase-focused app over the summer. The brand saw a 10 percent increase in online sales the first week.
7. Startups that sell second-hand clothing drove the conscious-consumerism movement.
There was a lot of talk of ethical, or conscious, consumerism this year– and there are plenty of e-commerce startups out there with a specific focus on making the manufacturing processes more transparent. But it was the slew of second-hand clothing startups that launched at the end of the 2012 that really made a point in 2013. From digital clothing swap Bib & Tuck to online consignment store TheRealReal, there were plenty of places to sell clothes you don’t want and buy clothes someone else is about to toss.
8. Brick-and-mortar stores got smarter.
The NSA may be watching us, but so are clothing stores. And that may not be a bad thing. Much like computer cookies track your every move on the Internet, brick-and-mortar retailers have begun tracking in-store movements so that they can offer shoppers personalized discounts and other perks.