Fashion Talks in Antwerp: Leading industry voices on how tech enables transformation
Industry visionaries at McKinsey & Co, Ellen MacArthur Foundation, and Masjien lay out the roadmap for the forthcoming changes happening in fashion, leading towards growth and circularity.
18 Dec 2023

For the event, the Handelbeurs in Antwerp were filled to the brim with the most forward-thinking people in fashion. Featuring an equally packed schedule, the day comprised keynote speakers, panel talks, and breakout sessions that delved into the various facets constituting the fashion industry and its ongoing transformation.

Dr. Hanna Grabenhofer.

The day commenced with Dr. Hanna Grabenhofer, Associate Partner at McKinsey & Co., who presented the recently published report, State of Fashion 2024, conducted in collaboration with the Business of Fashion. The report addresses the uncertain fashion market and how brands could navigate the year ahead, necessitating considerable insight from executives.

— We’re in a tricky situation where everyone is longing for some relief, but it’s not necessarily forthcoming, she explains. I don’t want to sound gloomy, because there are pockets of growth in certain places and niches. You have to be almost surgical in identifying where these pockets of growth still exist. However, in general, growth won’t be based on volumes as it has been in the past.

Despite limited growth expectations within the fashion and apparel industry, some tools and technologies will prove useful in identifying successful next steps.

— The report mentions AI and brand marketing to elevate brands’ performance to the next level. What you can’t do anymore is work on averages; you have to look beyond the average and identify what’s working or not, then take dedicated action. To do that, you need all the things the industry has been striving to solve for the past few years — analytics, segmentation capabilities, customer data, among others.

Sustainability will undeniably have a major impact on the industry, not the least due to a wave of legislative actions related to fashion and apparel.

— We’re witnessing more political attention being paid to the fashion industry than ever before, especially in Europe, but also in places like the US and Australia, which now has a voluntary clothing stewardship scheme, Valérie Boiten, Senior Policy Advisor at Ellen MacArthur Foundation, shares. They’ve developed a comprehensive strategy to address aspects such as designing for longevity and collecting more textiles after use. Different policy initiatives are being implemented, but we’re still in the early stages of proposing and outlining visions. The real challenges will surface during implementation.

— Because of the novelty of this policy agenda, Boiten continues, the industry itself is still organising and comprehending the developments. There’s a bit of a ’wait and see’ mode because many of these aspects are still in development. Brands might not feel fully prepared because the new laws and obligations haven’t been completely finalized. This is where the art of politics lies — it’s a negotiation, and now is the time to shape these proposals.

Valérie Boiten (centre), together with other panellists Lieve Vermeire,
Charlotte Van Dierendonck, and Muchaneta Ten Napel.

However, readiness and staying abreast of these changes will be crucial to maintaining competitiveness in the years ahead.

— There’s urgency attached to sustainability as regulations kick in from 2026. If you don’t secure access to that ecosystem now, you’ll lose out later. You can think of it in two ways — do I gain market shares or do I protect myself from losing market share? I believe the latter is the more realistic approach, says Dr. Hanna Grabenhofer, McKinsey & Co.

Moving forward, the implementation of new technologies will be crucial in adapting to a transformed fashion system.

— For instance, I believe that integrating the creator economy based on Blockchain and Web3 applications will make a huge difference, says Ann Claes, co-founder of the sustainability- and technology-focused agency Masjien and the digital fashion brand Mutani. Connecting creators and brands to their products until the end of their lifecycle and involving them in each transaction could be transformative. Consider vintage items that are repeatedly sold. If linked to an NFT, interaction with the product could be perpetual. This exemplifies how we can make a difference, especially with the rise of the circular economy where the different phases of product use become more crucial.

— Additionally, she continues, considering the digital product passport, which will soon become mandatory due to legislation, my foremost concern is ensuring the integrity of shared information. How do we guarantee that all information shared is accurate?

— If we leverage Blockchain technology where every provider along the value chain can upload information, creating an immutable and traceable chain, the digital product passport becomes highly valuable and transparent across the entire value chain. I believe applications like this are crucial, not solely due to legislation, but also because of the potential for a digital product passport to evolve. For instance, Balenciaga recently introduced digital product passports linked to music, and Pangaia has a digital product passport allowing easy garment resale on their platform. As brands better comprehend how to implement these passports, I foresee their increased utilisation.

Ann Claes (right), together with Lena-Sofie Röper, Director of Designer & Luxury at Zalando.

Claes, who is also the innovation lead in the European Fashion Alliance, emphasises the necessity for wider adoption of new technologies across Europe, requiring broader dissemination of information and awareness throughout the industry.

— Access to knowledge will become vital. Many individuals in fashion come from creative backgrounds, and while new generations are more digitally savvy, there’s still a need to make this knowledge more accessible. It’s crucial for it to become an integral part of the new fashion system. This aligns more with education, perhaps not just within schools but across the spectrum. For example, understanding which technology will be used for the product passport and how it will connect to actual goods, she concludes.

To discover more, listen to our podcast featuring Dr. Hanna Grabenhofer and Valérie Boiten here