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BAT, customization and technology discussed at this year's AAFA summit

American Apparel & Footwear Association’s Executive Summit recap

INSIGHT ARTICLE  | 

If you missed American Apparel & Footwear Association’s (AAFA) recent Executive Summit, we’ve got a quick take on what was discussed. The summit gathered senior level executives from retail, apparel, footwear and fashion accessory brands from the United States and around the globe for two days of thought-provoking dialogue on what’s trending, what’s changing and how these dynamics affect fashion manufacturers, designers, wholesalers and retailers.

This year’s theme was “Rebels, influencers and transformers,” and sessions included discussions on the evolving guest experience and use of technology, the importance of brand protection, supply chain optimization, policy and reform impact in the Trump era, pros and cons of fast fashion, and more. Throughout the summit, the following three takeaways resonated in the various sessions:

Growing anxiety over border adjustment tax

A panel discussion addressed the concerns around the proposed border adjustment tax (BAT)—legislation that would levy a tax on imported goods and a tax break for exported goods—and uncertainties of how this rule could negatively affect the fashion industry. While the original goal of BAT may have been to create transparency and boost the pace of economic growth through job creation, opponents of this legislation worry the added tax will do just the opposite and harm business growth, particularly in the fashion and retail sectors. AAFA is on Capitol Hill actively challenging BAT and working with legislators to help them understand the grim issues businesses might face if this tax becomes law. Whether BAT passes or not, it’s a good time for fashion businesses to assess their supply and value chains now to identify and mitigate possible BAT risks.

Technology hits the business accelerator

Throughout the summit, the topic of innovation was continually stressed as a best practice for successful fashion companies and retailers. And central to innovation is the optimal use of technology, in all its forms, to enhance consumer experience as well as optimize actual product offerings.

On the consumer side, session presenters talked about the power of social media as a prime way of engaging consumers; in some cases, social media is even more powerful than traditional advertising. In the social media sphere, fashion bloggers have become major influencers of consumers. Millennials, in particular, rely on social media to discover, interact with and research the brands and products they’re interested in. And while outreach via technology is key, leveraging data about consumers has also become a massive undertaking for fashion businesses, with many companies employing data scientists using artificial intelligence, big data and other information to determine the needs of consumers and the appropriate measures to meet those needs. Smart fashion companies are so driven by technology that they are not only apparel companies now, but technology businesses too, continuously developing new strategies and technology to further understand their ever-evolving consumers.

In addition, summit discussions included insights on augmented and virtual reality used to personalize the shopping experience to increase sales to young consumers. However, it’s important to note customers are looking for meaningful relationships with companies, not just the latest tech fad. Consumers seek fashion brands with authentic and purposeful commitment to a value system in line with their own.

On the product side, manufacturers for the fashion industry are increasingly leveraging automation and robotics as a place to invest capital, as opposed to traditional labor. In addition, the fashion industry is seeing new breakthroughs in technologies producing synthetic fabrics which might mean further automated manufacturing of synthetic spider silk, 3D knitting, spray-on materials and more. Likewise, artificial intelligence is growing in use by more companies, such as the use of website chat bots to supplement product ordering methods and direct customer service interactions. Technology is increasing the speed of the fast-moving fashion world. Successful companies must keep up with this rapid pace or get left behind.

Customization is key, but patience is needed, too

Personalization is paramount in today’s fashion marketplace. Smart fashion companies know that consumers want unique products customized to their own likes, measurements, style and color preferences. Session presenters discussed the trend toward individualized experience with personalized products as well as retail locations that are customized to address local preferences. What is relevant to a customer in one region may not be the preferred product or experience in another locale. This customization effort is driven by exhaustive data gathering and specialized analytics. An important insight, however, related to the customization strategy is that providing custom and personal experiences and products may not necessarily be a quick path to purchase. Rather, this journey for the buyer may require a longer discovery period of product understanding and relationship building. Successful fashion businesses and retailers must examine the entire buyer journey to provide the needed information and interactions along the way, which in the end fosters a connection with the consumer, encourages brand loyalty, allows for a deeper understanding of the consumer’s preferences and hopefully results in a sale… eventually.

For additional insights on issues affecting the fashion industry in 2017, check out top trends to watch. Questions? Contact us.

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