5 Things You May Have Missed This Week

By Georgia Buchanan

1. Project Jacquard: Google and Levi’s ‘Smart’ Jean Jacket

Last year, tech giant Google and clothing brand icon Levi’s teamed up to announce the initiation of Project Jacquard, an interactive textiles endeavour making it possible to weave touch and gesture interactivity into any textile. And now this week we have seen the first big breakthrough; the “Levi’s Commuter x Jacquard by Google Trucker Jacket”; essentially a ‘smart’ jean jacket for urban cyclists.

The most exciting thing about this product? It doesn’t look like a ‘smart’ jacket. On first look (and second and third fourth, even), you would think it’s just an ordinary Levi’s denim jacket. There is nothing gimmicky about it. Nothing that makes you think ‘wearable tech’. This is one of the first real breakthroughs we’ve seen in which smart garments are being introduced into more traditional, everyday apparel, and this is the real game-changer.

The jacket relies on the addition of a single small black strap on the left hand cuff and an ‘error’ in the Levi’s weave to allow the wearer to do things such as control music, answer phone calls, access navigation and more, meaning no more struggling with mobile phones whilst you cycle. The ‘error’ in the denim stitching is in fact the source of the Jacquard technology - a conductive yarn that enables touch interactivity, whilst the strap is what holds the necessary electronics to connect the garment on the go. You simply need to tap, swipe or hold on the left cuff to fulfil the tasks above.

So why, as the first product launched, did they choose a jean jacket for cyclists? Paul Dillinger, VP of global product innovation at Levi’s, said: “Wearables as a category is potentially vast and we didn’t want to get lost in that territory. When Google started talking about the value of the solution, to us it was somewhat valueless unless it could be assigned to a very explicit problem… What we came up with was the urban cyclist, and once we got our heads around the fact this had amazing potential for the guy and girl we’re already talking to who loves their Levi’s, loves riding their bike, and can really use this help, then the ideation process around the function became quite natural and fluid.” Arguably though, the jacket is slightly more male-orientated and it will be very interesting to see how the product is received by the average buyer when it goes to market.

To hear more from Dillinger, read the full Forbes article here.
And to hear what people in the fash tech world have to say about this new product, read the Interlaced article here.

2. The World’s First Virtual Reality Store!

Following 12 months of development, eBay and Myer (one of Australia’s most iconic retail giants) have joined forces to create the world’s first virtual reality department store in which you can shop for products merely by using your eyes. Whilst so innovative in conception, the final process is surprisingly simple to navigate with customers only requiring a VR headset and an iOS or Android device with the ‘eBay Virtual Reality Department Store’ app.

The user simply chooses the departments they would like to browse and a customised virtual store is built to reflect their selections. Then, by just hovering over a particular product with their gaze, the consumer can view a 3D model of said product alongside icons showing price, specifications, availability, and shipping details. Want to buy a product? Simply raise your gaze to the “Add to Basket” icon and you will be taken to the eBay app to complete the purchase.

Not only does the “Sight Search” technology developed by eBay make the VR shopping experience so easy to use, it also allows the company to gain data on consumer preferences and behaviours, helping to continue further development of the platform. Whilst the product is still in its early stages, there are already over 12,000 products available on the virtual store, “providing a good range of inventory” said Steve Brennen, Senior Director Marketing, Advertising Sales & Retail Innovation for eBay. “The entire product range, pricing and stock information will also be updated in real-time, which is a first for virtual reality experiences globally,” he said.

When asked if the app could be seen as a threat to physical or online shopping, Myer Chief Digital & Data Officer Mark Cripsey said “We are all about bringing the online shopping experience to life and we feel this is a great experiment to see if customers enjoy the virtual world as much as they do when they walk into a Myer department store”. Brennen concurred the idea of the VR experience working alongside more traditional shopping experiences, instead of in place of them: “We see virtual-commerce being the fourth channel to the pre-existing physical, e-commerce and mobile-commerce experience.”

Future plans for the platform include the ability to enter your measurements to see how the clothes would look on your body shape without having to try them on, and also the hope that users will be able to bring a friend into the experience with them.

3. The Elusive Buy Button

With the amount of product browsing people do on Instagram and Pinterest you’d think the introduction of a click-to-buy button would be a no-brainer, a confident cash-cow even, and yet it just doesn’t seem to be taking. Sucharita Mulpuru, principal analyst of Forrester explains that “Few retailers say that social networks are a great customer acquisition tool. There is so much content on Pinterest, Instagram and other discovery engines, so any individual piece of content gets very little visibility, and even less conversion.”

It doesn’t help that the process of clicking the buy button to final purchase lacks consistency and is far from seamless. The number of products you can buy on social media is limited so often the things you would want to buy actually aren’t shoppable, and the ones that do have a Buy button often have issues like broken links. Mulpuru says: “On Pinterest, the intersection between what people want to buy and what is available to buy is huge. The majority of most popular pins are not buyable.”

Research shows that in reality, whilst the numbers of visitors to Instagram and Pinterest are so high, very few of these users actually want to shop via these platforms. GlobalWebIndex found that only 14% of 16 - 64 year old social users were interested in Instagram Buy buttons and only 13% interested in Pinterest Buy buttons. Brands are also very aware of this lack of interest and thus are mostly accepting that social media platforms work best as a means of connecting to consumers and gaging their interests and product browsing patterns, which they can then use to improve their shoppable platforms. 

Despite this lack of obvious substantial gain from click-to-buy buttons, however, Mulpuru believes that “It’s too early for them to remove buy buttons. They may be able to refine those features or invent something that truly benefits retailers, but it would be time-consuming and challenging.”

4. Fashion x Sustainability: The Ongoing Battle

The majority of the population is growing increasingly eco-friendly, with younger generations in particular leading lives that contribute to a more sustainable planet, whether it be through vegan lifestyles or different modes of transport. It is even beginning to reach the fashion world; a world which is historically extremely unsustainable.

As seen and heard at our London Summit in April, there are a number of researchers and companies worldwide now working towards a fashion approach with serious longevity. Technology is enabling us to create smart, versatile and innovative products that work towards preserving our world, instead of stripping it of its resources. But despite this, there is still the question of whether interest in sustainable fashion will translate to the mass market. Are we, as consumers, ready to consume less?

Corporate responsibility initiatives have been invoked across a massively diverse number of luxury and fast-fashion stores, ranging from Kering and Patagonia to H&M, but is this really making a difference? The widespread demand for inexpensive, trendy products is so large that retailers like H&M will continue to provide such products. The more ethical and organic the product, the higher the price tag (usually), and this is where the movement will struggle to spread.

Designers who do try to be as eco-friendly as possible are often met with barriers in their way. Lucio Castro was told by stores that consumers didn’t care about the production methods of the clothes they bought and that he was better off having lower prices than organic garments. Having had to make compromises on his sustainable vision to keep his brand alive, Castro laments: “[Change] hasn’t happened the way I thought it would five years ago. I thought, [as with food], there would be organic stores [for fashion] by now. But even from the fashion industry, there’s not much support or interest in promoting [sustainable brands].”

If customers knew what their need for huge, fast consumption meant to the labourers answering their demands, they make think twice about changing their shopping habits. But as the case with so many things like this, if it’s out of sight it’s often out of mind. Especially when ignoring the facts is the far easier, cheaper option. Elizabeth Cline, journalist and author of “Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion”, said: “I think fashion is dangerously behind on sustainability. Part of it is that we’re at peak obsession with fast fashion. Consumers want the absolute latest trend at the lowest possible price. They want to look like what they’re seeing on Instagram, and they want it now, and they want it for the lowest price.”

There are brands working with organic, eco-friendly processes, of course. A lot of new start ups are paving the way for a slightly more expensive but far more sustainable future of fashion, e.g. The Sustainable Clothing Company. However, the majority of established brands, and the luxury end of the fashion spectrum in particular, has yet to acknowledge and act upon the need for change. For fashion houses like these, the focus continues to remain on image and design, largely at the expense of a sustainable future. It is highly likely that new brands will have to become the vehicle for the change we so clearly need, and we will just have to hope that the bigger brands follow suit.

To read the full Fashionista article on this topic, click here.

5. The Importance of Digital

Luxury Daily wrote an article earlier this month on the disruptive effect that digital is having on bricks-and-mortar retail sales, specifically in the luxury space. Luxury brands are dependent on their stores and the revenue they bring in to the company, so with footfall declining as consumers increasingly move over to online shopping, it is the high-end fashion houses that are suffering most. We have written a number of pieces over the last few months regarding the need for fashion brands to ‘get digital’. In today’s internet-dependent society, if you do not have a presence across all channels, offline and online, you are going to fall behind. Many luxury brands, such as Gucci and Burberry, have acknowledged the changing landscape and listened to their consumers’ evolving needs, jumping on to the digital bandwagon early on and owning the eCommerce space very successfully. A vast number of others, however, are yet to realise the need to develop, and essentially monetise, their customer relationships through the use of a smart digital strategy.

From smaller emerging brands to larger luxury retailers, companies often struggle to make the initial move over to digital as they may not have the necessary tools or resources to implement a successful strategy. In order to keep up in this increasingly competitive digital world and make a name for yourself, you need a strong smooth-running eCommerce presence and easy-to-navigate point of sale products. This is something that can be outsourced, especially for emerging brands with limited resources, from companies specialising in such areas. One such company is Lightspeed. Lightspeed's goal is to help independent brands to create exceptional experiences for their customers, whether they shop online or in store. Their eCommerce and point of sales technologies combine to deliver an Omnichannel shopping experience that is as flexible as the purchasing habits of modern shoppers. To find out more about Lightspeed’s services, go to their website here: https://www.lightspeedhq.com/

Lightspeed are sponsoring our upcoming FashTech Talk at Shoreditch House on Thursday 9th June on ‘Luxe in Flux’. To find out more click here.