Cyrus Gilbert-Rolfe, Managing Director, EMEA & Oceania, EVRYTHNG
According to the CBI Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Europe’s apparel import market was valued at €177.3 billion in 2019 and is growing at an average rate of 5% a year. The market is vibrant, and the region is already home to many of the world’s biggest and most renowned fashion brands. The largest markets: Germany, France, the UK, Spain, the Netherlands and Italy, comprised nearly 72% of all EU apparel imports in 2019. Imports from developing countries are growing faster than the EU’s overall import rate.
Despite this growth the industry faces significant challenges as consumers demand more transparency from their favourite brands, while those businesses in turn battle IP infringement and counterfeiters eating into their hard-earned brand integrity and income, damaging the brand. Regulatory and consumer demands for sustainability are accelerating the push towards more circularity in the supply chain and huge growth in the secondary market. In response, global apparel brands are recognising the need to adopt innovative strategies to address these demands and recognise one significant way to do this is by bridging the gap between physical and digital channels in a mobile-first world.
The tide is turning
The apparel industry has reached a tipping point where the developments in technology now enable an affordable solution to the challenges of brand protection, traceability, and consumer experience. Leading brands such as Ralph Lauren and Puma have made ground-breaking strides in adopting a Born Digital strategy. Born Digital is based on the ability to give every single item in their range a unique digital identity. This identity, or ‘digital twin’, is activated at the point of manufacture, enabling each product to be tracked, authenticated and interacted with throughout its life.
For brands this results in an unparalleled real-time visibility into operations, better control of supply chain integrity and the data intelligence needed to operate with more efficiency and agility.
Opening the door to a new, direct engagement channel
Just as important, these Born Digital products enable brands to reach their consumers in a new and powerful way – creating a direct engagement channel with end customers. By scanning or tapping interactive labels on garments with their smartphones, consumers can access contextualised experiences as well as sustainability and product information. The opportunities to turbocharge revenue growth and cost efficiencies while deepening the connection between consumer and brand are highlighted here:
- Data intelligence at scale
- Turning millions of garments into smart, data-generating assets brings unprecedented visibility and measurability while enabling brands to easily see how the supply chain is performing. Consumers can be better understood by collecting crowdsourced usage and behavioural data which provides unique insights to inform future product development, on-demand manufacturing and precision marketing.
- Consumer convenience and information
- Consumers want new and authentic brand experiences while demanding transparency and sustainability. Where did an item come from? What is it made of? How was it made? With Born Digital™ products, brands can deepen consumer engagement by transforming each item into an owned-media channel for 1-to-1 engagement that can deliver brand stories and sustainability information directly to consumers. They can also offer personalised content like styling tips or recommendations, and drive traffic to their ecommerce platform to further boost direct revenues.
- Brand protection
- Thanks to these advances in data science brands can protect their brand integrity, reduce illegal production and recapture lost sales. Machine learning and crowdsourced information from end customers is gathered as they authenticate products themselves using their smartphone. The result is unprecedented data capture across all geographies and products, giving more cost-efficient and wide-ranging detection than any legacy brand protection tools can offer.
- Traceability, transparency and circularity
- Because a Born Digital product’s journey can be tracked across the entire product lifecycle, brands can deliver provenance and product sourcing information directly to consumers and simultaneously comply with industry regulations, such as country of origin laws. Not only that, but the item’s digital identity can carry information about its composition and fabrics to inform recyclers about what materials went into making the item. Essential if brands are to deliver true circularity.
- Increase in operational efficiency and agility
- Efficiency and agility in the supply chain depend on having visibility of what is being produced, where and when. Apparel brands have to contend with fragmented supply chains, often relying on networks of production partners to produce their products. Thanks to the ability to capture data from the point of manufacture onwards, data silos are eradicated by aggregating data from different systems and locations. The resulting visibility of production, supply and quality, can help reduce losses, increase shipping efficiency and preempt issues before they arise.
- Secondary market opportunities
- The resale or rental of preloved products is growing massively, as demonstrated by Carrie Johnson, the Prime Minister’s new wife, and with this new sustainable behaviour comes a new set of challenges. Perhaps most painfully illustrated by The RealReal’s recent problems with counterfeit products. It is tough to manage brand integrity later in the product life cycle and until now, almost impossible for brands to play a key role after the point of initial purchase. As Born Digital™products can be tracked and authenticated at any point in their lifecycle, the secondary market becomes better equipped to track products between multiple owners or users.
It is estimated that the market for counterfeit clothing, textiles, footwear, handbags and watches amounts to a staggering $450 billion. That cost alone highlights to brands that measures need to be taken to address the impact on their IP and bottom line. With 66% of consumers willing to pay for more sustainable goods and the estimation that the Circular Economy will create in excess of €1 trillion in value in Europe by 2025 means that the opportunity for brands to evolve and adopt a Born Digital strategy is a reality.
As the last 18 months have shown, time does not stand still. Consumers are demanding more and more. Those organisations that hesitate to address their customers’ growing needs and that ignore addressing the complicated demands of their supply chains will be the losers in the great race to a more transparent, traceable, sustainable and engaging future.