Transforming creative professions in the era of digitalization

Conversation with Katia Cahen - Market Intelligence Director, Lectra - about how fashion industry can succeed in adopting innovation without compromising on the creativity, emotion and magic that defines it

Digitalizing a traditional industry

The fashion industry has embraced extensive technological change to accommodate increasingly connected consumers and adapt its tools to new market demands.

Given the new environmental, social and economic challenges on the horizon, this is a necessary shift in thinking.

Doted with exceptional savoir-faire, the fashion industry must also reinvent itself in the interest of uniting tradition and innovation. How can it succeed in adopting innovation without compromising on the creativity, emotion and magic that defines it?

ITW Katia Cahen site

The digital transformation came later to the fashion world, and it is plausible that the industry’s distinctive traditions and savoir-faire have been a barrier in the process. Such barriers are about to be lifted, however: the fashion industry, aware that it must reconcile heritage and innovation to look to the future, seems determined to catch up.

Most of today’s fashion players are now savvy to the added value of digital transformation and appreciate what data analysis lets them do:

  • better understand their consumers;
  • eliminate time-consuming and unprofitable tasks in favor of creativity;
  • promote emotional and creative intelligence;
  • boost agility and reduce time to market;
  • produce less but better by taking a predictive approach with finer analysis;
  • limit unsold stock;
  • cut back on excess quantities
  • and better manage collections.

A certain reluctance persists, however, with regard to incorporating innovation into creative processes. The fear of seeing people replaced by technology and of losing one’s bearings, paired with the apprehension of time potentially wasted as a result, remain real obstacles. These fears are compounded by a lack of tech experience and the difficulty of choice among myriad existing solutions. Software and new digital tools are often perceived as expensive and tough to master, so despite the obvious benefits of digitalization, few companies have seized these opportunities to innovate.


Competing with a new generation of brands

Traditional fashion is increasingly challenged by a new generation of brands and by digital native vertical brands (or ‘DNVBs’) in particular. These internet-born independent brands, which use data integration and analysis to hone their knowledge of consumers and their needs, are injecting a new dynamic into the fashion industry. Their open-mindedness to social and environmental issues, their ability to test, change and adjust, as well as their willingness to create meaning and make the consumer their number-one concern all make a real difference.

This positive influence brings with it new faces (RIHANNA - JACQUEMUS - VIRGIL ABLOH - KIM JONES), a new vision and new habits in fashion houses, where tradition has been sacred, proving that the new is compatible with a rich heritage. Therefore, to meet head on the emergence of new creative business models, it is urgent for the entire fashion industry to reconsider and redefine creativity, structuring, creative processes and professions.


Find new, more agile, flexible and eco-responsible ways of designing seasonless collections that deliver what consumers really need

In the current context of the Covid-19 crisis, more than ever industry players need to re-examine their value chain. How can companies shift from a long-term time line - the traditional choice of the fashion industry - to a short-term one? View the customer as an end and no longer as a starting point? Strike the right balance between a meaningful product and a fair price?

To address these fundamental issues, highlighted by the crisis, the fashion industry has had to implement solutions for creation, collaboration and production, and think about new missions within companies. Fashion players need to gear up on tech to obtain easier to use plug-and-play solutions as well as creativity-oriented tools which include features for optimizing ROI, time and margins.

This is a difficult task in an industry where the notion of creativity and savoir-faire are fundamental and nothing short of sacred. And while creativity has been freed from the confines of academia and enriched by emotional intelligence, social observation and innovation, there is a need to preserve traditional know-how and a connection with the product and the quality of materials. These values, which are the backbone of fashion, will nevertheless benefit immensely from new prerequisites such as eco-design, collaboration, technology, digital solutions and data.


Creative processes that re-think their approach

Most important is the need to rethink creativity from different angles; creative processes vary according to a company’s culture, business model and time to market. For a fast fashion or mass market brand, creativity teamed with innovation becomes a powerful lever to check overproduction and overconsumption. With the implementation of more modular and more responsible product development practices, we can produce better with less by using data, design and 3D prototyping to better test, make real-time adjustments and reduce related costs. In the luxury sector, which by definition relies on excellence and artistry, innovation can also play a role, for example by reducing time spent on unprofitable tasks and giving free rein to creativity. But this must be done for the benefit of tradition and creativity.


Updating professions to serve the new fashion industry ecosystem

The challenge for the fashion industry is to make innovation and data a part of the creative process. And because creativity is closely connected to product experience and customer experience, traditional fashion professions and training will need to become more global, more experience-oriented and more customer focused. Marketing professionals, for their part, will need to consider connection to a product and the importance of its components and esthetic value, which will give rise to hybrid profiles that fuse creative and marketing talent and combine sensitivity and digital expertise.

Rethinking creativity, solutions, jobs and their related missions means eliminating the silo system that hinders the fashion industry and communication between employees. This receptiveness is one of the challenges of the fashion industry. The future will involve enhancing interaction between professions: creative and marketing staff, data scientists and designers, designers and product managers, designers and pattern makers, product managers and stylists. And to facilitate this, returning collaboration and transparency to the heart of processes with the help of collaborative tools such as PLM (product lifecycle management) is essential.

The evolution of processes, companies and professions will serve above all to create a new fashion ecosystem with more openness, transparency, traceability, collaboration, innovation, meaning and responsibility.


Evolution is not revolution – it’s hope

Adopting new technology, digital solutions and innovation in fashion does not contradict efforts to preserve traditional know-how; on the contrary such change promotes and enriches it. Nevertheless, this technological transformation must be integrated subtly and requires support and expert advice. The future of fashion is being shaped by a win-win alliance between traditional know-how, the value of which has been reassessed, and ongoing innovation.