Internet Marketing Pioneer: Fashion And Tech Never Go Out Of Style
IoT pioneer and EVRYTHNG founder Andy Hobsbawm on the intersection of tech, apparel and imagination
You might feel naked without your iPhone, but you wouldn’t actually leave the house au naturel. Andy Hobsbawm, Purple Lister and founder of software company EVRYTHNG, discusses how fashion and apparel can innovate into the future as one of our most basic needs.
Ever since Victoria’s Secret launched their first e-commerce site in 1998 (and later ‘broke the Internet’ with their Superbowl-advertised online fashion show in 2001), digital innovation and fashion have walked arm in arm down the runway. This year has already given us the first advertising campaign born from collaboration between a luxury fashion house and a video game developer. The flawless graphics of Square Enix’s role-playing game (RPG) Final Fantasy XIII prove the perfect way to showcase the latest offerings from Louis Vuitton, gracing both website and printed page of Vogue.
Indeed, technology seems progressively more reliant on fashion to make it popular. Wearables are a good example: Consider last year’s 12-page print ads for Apple Watch in issues of Vogue round the world. Indeed, designers now talk about the potential for 3D-printed custom shoes and dresses, and even incorporate this technology into fashion shows.
It’s fitting then that this year’s digitally-themed Met Ball was sponsored by Apple and titled ‘Manus x Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology,’ exploring how digital technology is shaping the process and product of fashion.
After announcing the theme last October, Vogue and Apple published a preview in February this year. Unsurprisingly, Apple’s Chief Design Officer Jony Ive—the man who, with Steve Jobs, turned consumer technology into objects of desire and part of popular culture—commented: “Far from being mutually exclusive notions, we believe that technology and craft go hand in hand —much like beauty and utility—and become all the more powerful in combination”.
To put it another way: Fashion is the one technology trend that will never go out of style.
The clothing and footwear market is huge because it touches everyone, every day. One of the reasons Toms’ much imitated ‘one for one’ shoes giveaway (when you buy a pair, they donate a pair to children in need) was so successful is precisely because shoes are both fashion accessory and basic human right. No one decided not to get dressed when they went into work today (one hopes, at least). In 10 years, consumers may not own a car, they may not have a phone (at least in the form we’re familiar with)—but they’ll almost certainly be wearing clothes.
Uniquely, clothing addresses both the bottom and the top of Abraham Maslow’s famous hierarchy of needs. However stylish or skimpy, what we wear still fulfills a foundational physical need by protecting us from the elements. But clothing also feeds the top of this hierarchy by addressing our higher order needs, like personal identity and self-expression. Fundamentally, this combination of being useful, usable and desirable, is, thanks to Apple, what all personal technology now taps into.
To enable a complete transformation of what ‘connected clothing’ truly means, it must become mainstream. Fashion products from world-famous brands can be ‘born digital,’ manufactured with unique web-based identities and added software capabilities that enable mobile applications making those products more intelligent, more interactive, and more personalized.
At last, goods used by billions of people across the globe can be digitalized at source and start their life fit for a connected world. It will take a while before embedded, washable and durable electronics appear in our everyday apparel, so it’s only with a strategy of embedding a smartphone readable software identity into products at the point of manufacture, onto existing labels and tags, that this can happen today at global super-scale.
Data flowing from cloud-based digital identities for individual items can also solve operational fashion challenges like real-time tracking inventory and fighting counterfeiting by authenticating real products from fakes. The sales and marketing opportunity for brands is to use products to deliver better, more relevant content, apps and assisted in-store experiences, better omnichannel retail data visibility, better product personalization, promotions, recommendations and offers. And retailers can tackle return fraud, which costs billions a year, by scanning items to access data about where and when it was purchased and by whom.
For consumers, what if your shoes could get you into a club or event? Not just because they fit the dress code, but because the brand sponsored the event and is letting some customers in as a thank-you. It could be free hospitality, or special services like a happy hour taxi. These ‘passport promotions,’ often used by mobile operators to make their customers feel like VIPS, could also be accessed by apparel companies, through a digital label and platform that uniquely identifies an item to trigger the right privileges, rewards or transactions, at certain moments in time.
As industries like media have discovered to their cost—having traced the same kind of path since the 1990s—there is everything to gain for those who join the revolution early and figure out what works, and nothing but pain for those who hold back and join too late, when the first mover advantages are gone.
Like the inspired fashion designers who shape our culture and communications, the only limit for apparel brands will be their imaginations.
Andy Hobsbawm was the European chair of the digital services firm Agency.com. He founded the first international Internet agency in 1994, and was a founder of Online Magic, a firm that merged with Agency.com in 1997. Merging his passions for ads and the environment, he’s a cofounder of the website Green Thing, which shares seven fun, punchy little (and big) ways to go green, using clever video and graphics to get across a message of accessible greening. He’s also a founder and the chief marketing officer of internet of things software company EVRYTHNG, which aims to give every physical object in the world it’s own intelligent identity on the Web.
Woman using phone via Shutterstock