Last month the 3rd edition of PI Apparel took place here in HK. I was honoured to be asked to Chair the event again and lead off the proceedings with my thoughts on what Fashion Tech can, and should, do to help what is obviously the pre-eminent topic du jour, outside of Brexit, Trump and anti-whatever. That of the damage that is being done to our home, this planet.
I’ll put a transcript of the speech at the end of this post if you can muster up the strength to read.
But, back to the conference.
Two days of back to back presentations, panels, closed door session and intense networking with well over 300 people there for most of the time. At least until the champagne ran out at the end of day 1.
Intense competition in the area of inspection services meant a bit of an overload in that area and general industry feedback from the customers/users was narrowed down to criticism in a couple of areas.
The old chestnut of inter-operability and standard formats. Particularly between the main 3D design players. I can totally understand the reluctance to completely open up but as each competitor has their own strengths there should be an 80/20 solution somewhere in the mix. 80% of the file formats being compatible and a “simple” process for the other 20% to be conditional and specific to the provider. At least then you won’t have the current situation where the major players, as well as those sitting on the side line, have to consider where to play their cards or build workflows and services around 2, 3 or 4 different systems with licenses, staffing, training compounded accordingly.
The other key point was over-promising. Companies offering “out-of-the-box” solutions, simple integrations, intuitive set-ups, immediate ROI’s, need to hold back their enthusiastic sales pitches. As much as we can all see the opportunities that tech can offer the, mostly antiquated and in many cases pre-historic, apparel business there are HUGE obstacles. That’s for another ranting blog post but needless to say a high degree of practicality and realism has already set in to the expectations of many parts of the industry. I will add that is healthy scepticism, in my opinion!
There were a few definitely challenging topics with the highlights for me being the Panel Session on the circular economy with relation to fashion. Mediated by Christina Dean, Founder & Board Chair/Co-Founder & CEO, Redress/The R Collective with Aamir Sakhia from Lane Crawford, Gloria Yao from HKRITA, Jacqueline Lewis of MOTIF, and Chung Yuen Tam from SGS. This session touched on a number of areas where progress is being made before getting to whole question of consumption as a whole. Again, a whole MASSIVE area of debate which would have to touch on a lot more then re-using cardboard and recycling plastic hangers.
Then there was the inspiring talk from David Hanson from Hanson Robotics, the inventor of Sophia, the human-like robot with AI capabilities. The ideas and possibilities outside of our fashion/apparel world were awoken in a few people in the crowded room for the 2nd day’s keynote address. For me the most inspiring presentation of the conference.
So, to sign off, a great event as always from the team at PI Apparel. Solid content and professional speakers, perfectly organised. It was a sell out so make sure you sign up early for next year. See you there.
And, as promised, here is the transcript:
Good morning everyone and a very warm welcome to this third edition of PI Apparel here in Hong Kong. I am more than pleased to be here again after being your chairperson last year and I have to say thank you to the good people from PI for inviting me back. Which goes to show they must think I did an amazing job last year - or that I am incredibly cheap.
This time last year I gave a welcome introduction and used, as an example of how access to the internet has evolved dramatically over the last 20+ years, an original copy of Netscape navigator, which came IN A BOX. A prime example of how our world has massively changed through the advent of digital technology, and now, how that is affecting our industry, the apparel business, today and into the future.
As I was preparing for this year's edition I was bouncing a few ideas around with family, friends and colleagues about topics that would be of interest and was struggling to come up with something that we thought would actually be meaningful in the current climate and would not just be me voicing, again, my personal frustrations with the way the garment industry functions.
Anyway, about a week ago I was invited to an event in Hong Kong. A small and cosy evening talking shop, with the topic of supply chain. The audience and the speakers were predominantly from e-commerce, logistics and data related to the front end of retail.
What struck me during the Q&A session was that everything was focused on how to PUSH more product through the pipeline into the customers face and hopefully, their hands. There was very little attempt to address the meaningful aspects of all this effort, (ie) was the product relevant, was it really needed.
Data analysis, algorithms, targeted marketing, returns policies, are all well and good but if we are still producing goods based on guesswork and fingers in the air to check the wind direction, carrying inventory models based on already decided discount plans, and deciding the best way to show success is purely by growth then we are missing multiple opportunities now available to us.
And this leads me to where I hope, and believe, that these next 2 days of presentations, conversations, workshops and networking should be able to address, particularly from the manufacturing and the development and design sides of the business. We now have the tools and the technology to be much more efficient, much more sustainable and much more economically viable as we create and deliver fashion product into consumers hands.
If you're in the fashion world it's simply not enough these days to just keep creating and selling. We have to be much more aware of the repercussions, and potentially the damage that is done to the environment, by just creating product for the sake of it or because markets “want stuff” and shareholders “demand” growth for its own sake.
Through the use of technology, whether that be virtual prototyping, efficient communication and data sharing, through to automation and robotics and flexible production methods, we have the opportunity to actually make sure that we are giving consumers what they need rather than what they think they want. And, if we are prepared to really embrace the benefits of all these tools and tech, we, as businesses, can definitely be more efficient and profitable.
As the father of what are commonly termed “millennials”, but I prefer to call daughters, I am of the firm belief, gathered through first hand experience, that the expectations that will be placed upon the fashion industry, as well as every other consumer product and lifestyle choice, by the next generation of consumers will have the health of the planet and its occupants at the forefront.
While I accept that the world is a very complex place and the culture of scepticism has tended to override facts and science in recent years AND that there are economies and individuals where basic needs will take precedence over “woke” consumer choices I will happily point out that the majority of people in this room have the awareness, capability and resources to contribute and, hopefully, make a difference to making our industry a positive force as we deal with the challenges the world faces.
There are many companies that are taking meaningful steps, and some making huge leaps, to effect change and I am sure we ALL applaud those companies and individuals.
So, to wrap up on a positive note lets all get stuck into two days of engagement, sharing, learning and, at the end of Wednesday, I hope that at least a few more of us will leave charged with ideas and enthusiasm on how to make even a small difference to their business, or even transform it by applying something they have learned from the various sessions and interactions with the sponsors and exhibitors here at PI Apparel 2019, Hong Kong.