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What the Internet of Things means for Fashion

In their second guest piece for WhichPLM this year, Dassault Systèmes explores the Internet of Things in our industry, discussing RFID, smart technology, and PLM. Dassault Systèmes – or, the 3DEXPERIENCE company – is a French multinational business that specializes in 3D design, 3D digital mock-up, and PLM software.

Today’s consumers want more value from their products but, increasingly, that value is being measured in terms of experience, and not price. The Internet of Things lives within a world of experiences, and that’s a continuum where it’s not the “thing” that matters but the experience, along with the data associated to the experience, and what happens to it.

From the time a consumer wakes up in the morning to the time they go to sleep, they’re interacting with products. What consumers want is a better product experience. They want a product that supports their lifestyle – maybe even makes life a little easier – while also reflecting their personal taste and their values through the brands they choose.

What brands and retailers want is to be able to make better use of real-time data collected in an increasingly wide range of nonintrusive means to create better products, streamline supply chain responsiveness, improve the shopping experience – physical and online – and connect with customers that then reinforce that loop of designing better products.

In a variety of sectors, from cars and airplanes to industrial equipment and appliances, the Internet of Things has already improved factory responsiveness and increased consumers’ expectations of their products with respect to feature, function, speed and reliability.

Now the fashion industry is embracing its own digital revolution and putting its own spin on what the Internet of Things means for consumers, from RFID to embedded sensors.

When RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) was first introduced it was a way of tracking the “thing”. Now it’s about understanding how people interact with these things and what they do with them.  For example, RFID can be made smarter and used to capture what items consumers put together in a dressing room. Or used real-time with proactive monitoring to alert the store merchandising team if something needs restocking now. RFID used to track inventory can also accelerate visibility to fast moving items, ideally supported by potential reflows from a responsive supply chain.

Electronics and embedded sensors as ‘wearable technology’ are also revolutionizing the consumer experience, through smart watches, smart jackets, fitness tracking bracelets and more. Wearable technologies are connected systems that can detect changes in their environments and react to stimuli from the wearers’ bodies. Some wearable technologies also have memorization and “learning” capabilities, and they are reinventing the functionalities of clothing and accessories. Consumers are embracing these embedded technologies to provide real-time monitoring on health attributes from running, walking or even sleeping. Advanced eyewear can even provide real-time performance coaching. Consumers can also aggregate their information across their devices for a comprehensive picture of themselves. They can also share or even compare results with like-minded communities without additional effort.

Brands and retailers could use the same information to offer purchase incentives after a certain period of time or number of miles run as products are nearing their projected breakdown points. But why stop there? Consumers are usually willing participants in defining better products. Why not use aggregated data from the same sensors to assess how well a product performed compared to the brand promise? How many washes did a garment withstand before the sensors failed? How many miles before the outsole began to degrade on performance footwear?  All of this can lead to better products with direct, but non-intrusive, customer connectivity.

New materials are also being developed with smart fibers directly woven in. Some of the first uses are for changing colors in response to light, and adjusting heat retention based on temperature. Other fabrics are being developed to generate electricity from light, heat and movement, so charging your smart phone becomes as easy as putting it in your pocket.

Of course, smart products have to be aesthetically pleasing as well. Some consider the Abacus ring, a relic of China’s Qing Dynasty (1644 to 1912), an early form of wearable tech. The abacus, made of silver, was positioned within a ring and used by traders to make rapid calculations. So the Abacus ring was not only functional and wearable, it was a fine piece of jewelry, just as many of today’s smart watches are hidden within a beautiful bracelet.

Many of these smart products are the result of alliances between brand owners and component suppliers that have not previously worked in the same spheres and that’s where things can get messy. Without proper coordination and communication between extended teams, product development can run into unforeseen incompatibilities and delays, or even failed products.

Since consumers expect the best of both worlds – functionality and beauty – development needs an integrated view of the product (its style, materials, mechanics, electronics and embedded software) and how all of them work together as changes are made. This allows teams to iterate and advance through the product lifecycle in parallel, while staying aligned to the functional and brand vision, saving time and cost.   Without the proper Product Lifecycle Management software (PLM), companies have to design and test embedded components separately from the actual product, often working in silos. They then have to assemble elements into a physical prototype and perform tests again to determine compatibility or uncover errors that could force them into redesign. This physically separate process is simply not sustainable in today’s fast-moving and competitive business environment.

Managing ‘one truth’ was a key enabler for fashion powerhouse FOSSIL Group, for example. They used an integrated digital platform to develop their smart Q Watch, enabling designers and technical experts to share a single source of product information that accelerated decision-making and boosted innovation.

Progress has always been about how to make life easier and more convenient, how to make the everyday enjoyable. Modern technologies and business solutions are helping make the devices around us ‘smart’; with the ability to collect data, use it both to inform and potentially improve our lives. Used right, that same Internet of Things data helps to improve the products themselves, and even the environments in which we shop for them, providing the best possible consumer experience.