Apparel-Footwear Industry's Digital Transformation

The apparel and footwear industry, like so many others, continues a long and difficult transformation: overhauling how it works to leverage the revolutionary advantages of digital and 3D technologies. 

Historically resistant to change, the industry is now moving more rapidly to revamp the processes of a fading analog world, soldiering through the disruption and adopting new technology-driven methods for design, manufacturing, sales, and many things in between.

For evidence, look no further than last month’s PI Apparel NY conference. It featured 45 presentations, focus groups, think tank discussions, and keynote talks about the transformation’s benefits and challenges. Attendees gleaned lessons learned from the innovations of many companies, including major industry brands such as VF Corp., Under Armour, and Perry Ellis.

Embodee attended to demonstrate its role in the transformation: creating virtual product experiences. We do this by streaming 3D images of apparel and footwear for brands, enabling their online shoppers to customize and personalize products to suit their individual tastes. (See our customization platform in action.)

Our timing was adept. Recent industry surveys have shown a rapidly increasing interest in product customization and personalization, among industry insiders and consumers.

For example, earlier this year in a Sourcing Journal survey of 308 people working across the apparel, accessories, and footwear sectors, 68.9% said they think that “consumers expect customized apparel and footwear options.” 

One reason, according to the survey: consumers see big brands such as Nike and Zara giving them this ability, so they “expect it from other companies, especially smaller ones that can provide small-batch productions or hand-detailing.”

In addition, 83.5% of decision makers said customization can improve profits via increased sales.

Some industry experts, in interviews with the Sourcing Journal, touted other benefits of moving to customization: making products on-demand reduces overhead costs such as warehousing of large inventories and shipping costs from China. 

Another advantage: the customization process creates a wealth of data from consumers about their design tastes, said Matt Field, president and co-founder of MakerInsights. This could allow brands to streamline design and planning processes, leading to faster product release cycles and reduced time to market.

A survey of consumers last year by a global public opinion and data company, YouGov, found that 26% of U.S. consumers had personalized a product, most often apparel and footwear, and food and beverages. That’s compared to 17% in 2015.

Writing about the 2018 finding, Industry Week concluded: “In fact, ‘off-the-shelf’ is beginning to sound substandard. We all seem to want products personalized and right-sized to fit our preferences, personalities, and lifestyles.”