After Corona: The digital transformation of Fashion Tech

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After Corona: The digital transformation of Fashion Tech

How will the fashion world change once the COVID-19 pandemic is under control? The future is still unclear, but deep down we are beginning to see the beginnings of a paradigm shift. In this special series of articles, "After Corona", we take a look at the realization of unprecedented difficulties and changes in values, and consider the future of fashion. 

In this article, Nobuyuki Hayashi, an IT journalist who has been covering digital technology for 30 years and is an expert in the field of fashion tech (fashion x IT), explains how the fashion industry should proceed with digital transformation (DX) and introduces the latest technologies to watch out for.


Fashion Tech in the Post-Corona Era

“The biggest post-war crisis in human history.” As Tadashi Yanai, CEO of Fast Retailing, put it, the new coronavirus has caused incalculable damage to our economy, our society, and our daily lives. Perhaps the biggest cause for concern is the lack of clarity on when this situation will be resolved.

For the sake of our mental health, it is important for each one of us to dream of an "after Corona" world. The worst-case scenario is that this problem will not be resolved in the foreseeable future and that humanity will live with the coronavirus for some time, just as we live with the HIV virus and AIDS. As has been widely reported recently, a recent study by Harvard University suggests that unless a vaccine is found or mass immunity is achieved, the situation of social distance will continue until around 2022.

In this article, Nobuyuki spreads light on some of the technologies that are essential to continue to operate in the "with Corona" world, both in terms of fashion production and sales.


Production in the "With Corona" Era

Let's start with production. According to him, what fashion/apparel manufacturing companies need most is not new technology, but a firm embrace of the fundamentals that have always been 'important'. Particularly important is the restructuring of supply chain management (SCM), including material procurement, production ordering and inventory management. In the world of "with Corona", the term "Business Continuity Plan" (BCP)  is used to describe the measures taken to ensure that a business can continue to operate in the event of a crisis, such as a terrorist attack or a disaster.

In the world of "with Corona", we cannot rely too much on other countries for purchasing and production, and we have to engage quite a bit in domestic businesses and markets. If you have a good supply chain management system in place, it is easier to have multiple sources for materials and multiple fabs for production orders.

It would be preferable to make these preparations in normal times when there is more time to prepare for emergencies, but unfortunately, we are already in an emergency situation with no way out. Fortunately or unfortunately, there are probably many operations that have been halted by this situation, so those companies that have not yet put in place a solid SCM system should use this opportunity to make the most of the extra capacity available to them. This "digital transformation" will have significant benefits even after the new coronavirus situation has been resolved. For example, it will make it easier to cope with an explosion in demand for a particular product in a short period of time due to its reputation on the internet.

It will also contribute to the creation of a low-carbon society, which was a social problem before the new coronavirus. This will make it easier to switch to a business that reduces the environmental impact of transporting goods from distant locations.


Distribution and Sales With Corona

And what about sales? Most shops, including department stores, have closed due to voluntary restraint, and consumers have largely turned to the internet for their purchasing activities. Retailers who have failed to move towards the omnichannel approach, as has been suggested for some time, are now paying the price.

Sales that should have been booked on a daily basis are not being made at all, and stocks of seasonal products are coming to the end of the season without being seen by the public (of course, in this situation, resale at a later date is an option). In his opinion, there is a way for some businesses to sell some of their products on the existing large mall-type e-commerce sites. Through this,  at least "zero sales" can be avoided.

This is not to say that you should give up on your own eCommerce site and continue to rely on the major mall e-commerce sites. In the first place, many small e-commerce sites are not suitable for conveying the emotional appeal of the product, and he believes that it is better to reduce the degree of dependence as much as possible. However, it is not possible to set up your own e-commerce site immediately. If so, the idea is to first set up an owned media to disseminate product information that can be set up more easily, and then use the mall e-commerce site as a mechanism for orders and payment.

The customer reads the information on the product in the owned media (or blog), and when they like it, they click the "buy" button and jump to the page of the product in the E-Commerce mall. When the situation is settled and you have successfully launched your own e-commerce service, you can switch to your own e-commerce service as the destination for purchases linked from your articles to ensure a smooth transition for consumers.

If you don't have owned media yet, there are a number of publishing platforms that make it easy to sign up and get started. If you have employees who have a lot of time on their hands while the shop is closed, this is a great opportunity for them to practice using text to introduce products that they would normally do with their voice, which will help them build up their know-how.

If your company already has its own e-commerce site, this is a great opportunity to take on a new challenge. The three latest technologies introduced at the end of this article could be tested, and the challenge of transferring authority to employees and sending out information via social media, for example, is easy to take on now that every day is "extraordinary" (of course, the company needs to be able to keep track of what employees have done and respond immediately in case of emergency). 

The adoption of SCM and the use of EC together is not a new technology, as it has been discussed many times before. This fusion of SCM and EC is also very effective. Even if the spread of the new coronavirus is miraculously contained, other viral pandemics have been predicted for several years. If, when the next pandemic strikes, you have not yet taken action "with Corona", you will no longer be able to escape the fatal consequences for your company.


Three technologies that bring the EC closer to retail shopping

Now, it would be a boring article if it only talked about old technologies. In closing, he highlights three technologies that could be of use in fashion. All of these technologies could be key in promoting fashion e-commerce.

  • Digital Fitting

The first is the technology of "Digital Fitting". Many people have become accustomed to shopping via e-commerce, but when purchasing fashion items that cannot be tried on, there is an inevitable risk of returns due to ill-fitting sizes. In order to minimize this risk, this is a system that suggests product sizes based on the customer's body shape, foot size, and other measurement data. Virtusize (https://www.virtusize.jp), Bodygram (https://bodygram.com/jp/), 3DLook (https://3dlook.me), and many other technologies have different formulas and accuracy. It would be a good idea to start piloting these technologies now so that employees can try them out, get feedback and be ready to move on if another technology becomes the standard.

What is 3D look? Digital fitting

3DLook, which won the Grand Prix at last year's LVMH Innovation Awards, is an AI-based technology that takes body measurements by taking just two photos with a smartphone. As with other measuring technologies, 3DLook's business model is to provide the technology to e-commerce services, rather than providing its own app.

  •  VR180

The second technology is called VR180. In fact, Google calls it VR180, but there are various names for it yet, such as 3D Stereo 180VR, 3D-180 Video, or 3D Video. Up until now, the most common type of goggle-wearing VR has been 360-degree full-dome images (or VR360 as Google calls it), which allow you to turn your head in any direction and see the view in that direction. The VR180, on the other hand, only allows you to see half of that, in the forward direction. Instead, it uses two cameras to capture the image in front of you, so you can enjoy a sense of perspective and three-dimensionality as if you were actually seeing it with your own eyes, making the image more realistic and lifelike.

Recently, there are cameras that can shoot this VR180 video at 5K resolution (higher resolution than 4K TV) for about 50,000 yen, and if the video is shot in a bright place, you can feel as if you are really there. YouTube VR already has a function to search for VR180 videos, and the effect can be experienced with inexpensive goggles such as the Oculus Go, so if you already have one, you should give it another try.

VR 180

At a time when due to the COVID-19 pandemic people are holed up in their homes, the value of VR goggles that can actually make you feel like you're out in the world is rapidly increasing. When 5G communication becomes a reality in the autumn or later, live streaming in 3D 180 VR will become a reality. It would be good to take this opportunity to verify the effects and characteristics of 3D 180 VR images. 

  • USDZ

The third is the distribution of AR files called USDZ. Recently, Apple's products have a section on the company's product homepage called "Use AR to see <product name>". When you touch this link on your iPhone screen (or iPad), a life-size image of the product appears through the iPhone's camera. As you move the camera closer, you'll be amazed at how realistic the surface textures are.

This is made possible by USDZ, a file format proposed by Apple and Pixar for distributing AR content. When you touch a link on the official website, a 3D image of the product is downloaded to your iPhone in a file called USDZ, which activates the AR viewer on your iPhone. Apple's iPad Pro, launched in April, also features LiDAR, a laser surveying technology that allows for more precise measurements and distances, and there are rumors that the same technology will be used in the next iPhone.

USDZ itself is an open-source technology, so there is a big chance that it will become available for Android as more people use it. It's well worth starting now to experience and test it with AR images of Apple products first. If you have more time, you may also want to gather information about Reality Composer, a free tool provided by Apple for creating more-complex AR content.


In Conclusion, as our current situation does not allow for in-person shopping trips and experiences, we have noticed once again that technology is starting to offer a not-bad alternative quality Given that consumer sentiment is beginning to shift towards continuing to shop online rather than not, it's not a bad idea to be prepared by researching the e-commerce experience one step ahead.