The power of data for digital fashion design

As much as we think of fashion as something intuitive, it has always
required a great deal of knowledge and information. From the
trickle-down and bubble up of fashion trends, to market statistics,
and customers sizing details, it is all data which needs to be
ethically and fairly processed to adhere to issues concerning privacy.

What is the role of the designer in this process? How should we handle
this data for creative purposes, not only marketing and sales? Are
there possibilities for co-creation using data, or utilizing this
technology to engage with the consumer’s real time feedback? Is data a
friend or foe for the fashion designer?

We invited an expert group to answer these and other questions
concerning how data can be employed by the fashion designer and the
fashion system to optimize and streamline every part of the fashion
supply chain.


This article is a collaboration between
The Digital Fashion
Group Academy and FashionUnited, written by Dr Lívia Pinent, Digital
Professor for Research at The Digital Fashion Group Academy.

Trust your instincts and your data

“You can say my gut feeling is backed-up by very early signals data”,
said Julie Pont, Fashion & Creative Director at Heuritech. The
Paris-based startup is a trend forecasting solution for fashion and
luxury powered by Artificial Intelligence. Heuritech uses machine
learning algorithms to trawl millions of social media images and
analyze, with the help of their fashion team, early trend signals and
how they are operating in different markets.

Traditionally trained as a fashion designer, Pont commented on how it
wasn’t easy to trust data at first. “I was a bit scared, to be honest,
due to my creative background. Could this replace my job? I was
intimidated by what could be the added value of data. I was operating
on gut feeling, like we do in fashion. As a designer, you know that
your instincts and your creativity are the reasons why you’ve been
hired. But I soon realized data is not here to replace designers but
to help with the uncertainties.” adds the Parisian fashion designer.

Pont sees data as a time saver for fashion designers. “As a creative
person there are many sources of inspiration you can research but you
have so much demand from your customers, from the brand, and your
market. Technologies such as AI powered trend research can optimize
the time and quality of the designer’s research and improve the
decision-making processes. To me, as a fashion designer, I rely on
data to secure my creative decisions. It validates my ideas” states

Data analysis and consumer behaviour

If from the designer’s perspective data can help to make better
decisions, from the consumer side, this is not always the case. For
Jonathan Chippindale, Founder & CEO of Holition, a creative technology
agency in London that creates immersive experiences for retail, the
secret to analyse data correctly is to look at consumer behaviour and
understand that it can always change.

“There is a massive sense of irony with algorithms. We have infinite
information and data that we have access to, but algorithms are
funneling it down into areas where it thinks we might be more
interested and removing areas that are less interesting to us. In some
ways, it is pushing us into the middle of the bell curve where you
take all the colors, mix them all together, and you end up with grey.
It’s the average. But that’s not human, is it? That’s not the way we
are. We all dress differently. We will behave differently. We’ll talk
differently. We all like different things,” says Chippindale.

And he adds: “If we can recognize where the emotion comes in, if we
can recognize behaviour, but also the causes of behaviour and feed all
of that into it, that’s interesting to me. Recognize a propensity to
take risk and a propensity to discover. ‘I want to go on to that
mountain top that because the view is going to be great. No one’s been
up there before, but I’m going to go up there.’ That’s what digital is
all about.”

For Chippindale, the impact of digital in the fashion industry today
is particularly focused on how brands deal with the consumer: “brands
have had to let go of control. When I was a marketing director, brands
used to tell women what to wear, how to wear it and when to wear it.
That behaviour just seems crass today, someone telling you what to
wear, that just feels wrong.”

More data, better products?

If telling the consumer what to wear feels wrong, how can brands
position themselves when they have access to consumer data and can
influence purchasing decisions? The question is about consent, and if
I as a consumer, agree to the brand gathering my data and developing
better products for my use, the control is with me.

But how can a company make consumer consent related to data viable and
scalable? For Beth Esponnette, Co-Founder, Chief of Product and
Executive Chairman at Unspun, a robotics and digital apparel company
building custom-made jeans, the answer is an on-demand system.
“The more data, the more information you can get on that person, the
more intentional the product is going to be.” This is a key concept
for Unspun, as Esponnette adds: “We are attempting to flip and start
with the customer and then produce a product for them. The customer
takes a body scan, chooses the design they want, and then we make the
product for them.”

And does the customer always know exactly what they want? “We have to
sift through that”, says Esponnette, “If they tell us, ‘No, I like to
wear my jeans like this’, they don’t always know exactly how, but this
is something that we collected over time and we put into our
algorithms. But that leads to two issues: are we working bias? Is
there bias in this based on how we’ve categorized people?” questions
Esponnette. The more we research how data can impact the fashion
system, the more complex the issue presents itself, making it even
more important to know with whom we are sharing our data.

Data can be used by fashion designers to better know their customers,
to help them in their creative process, to make smarter decisions
based on real-time trends, and/or even choosing a different aesthetic
option. The opportunities are endless if we respect data and where it
comes from. Data is generated by our behaviour as consumers online and
offline. All we do, everyday generates data that can help us, or be
used against us. The issue is to use it and share it wisely. As
Jonathan Chippindale added at end of his interview, “the algorithm is
not an oracle, we are the ones who should be questioning.”

This article is based on the webinar “Digital Design &
Sustainable Futures: The Data” hosted by The Digital Fashion Group
Academy. You can watch a sneak peak of the discussion below and the
full webinar at TDFGA’s website.


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