Fast fashion? No, it’s cognitive couture, darling

IBM’s Mary Wallace argues that a more intelligent approach to fashion to better engage with shoppers.

side view of fashionable woman on catwalk rushing, glamour dress in motion, seductive attitude.

One of the retail highlights of 2016 has seen the newest fashion-meets-technology concept – ‘Runway To Retail’ – sashay down the catwalk, as Christopher Bailey from Burberry explains: “The changes we are making will allow us to build a closer connection between the experience that we create with our runway shows and the moment when people can physically explore the collections for themselves. From live-streaming, to ordering straight from the runway, to live social media campaigns, this is the latest step in a creative process that will continue to evolve.”

It’s heartening to hear from a majordomo of the fashion world that this is an evolving process. On the surface, it might still appear that the current conversation is still all about the purchase of product and not enough about the richer, wider ecosystem around fashion – the inspiration, the design, the production. Is it really creative to just sell the pieces to a fashion-savvy consumer in a different way? Why not take advantage of the context and involve me in the process; market to a moment that is meaningful to me, not just a customer profile?

It’s easy to understand why fashion brands are so keen to get on the ‘See It Now/Buy It Now’ groovy train. The perception is that to keep you coming back and win your loyalty, I need to constantly give you something new to buy.

But making a connection as a fashion brand is not just about winning loyalty; it has to be about creating a unique moment for each shopper, consistently making it right for that potential customer. It’s not about being super-cool or edgy, but putting everything into the right context for each individual, making them feel in control, supported and included.

Yet we are still operating in a ‘broadcast to many’ fashion world where the model is: “Here’s some products we think you might like and we’re taking an educated guess on whether this will shift or not”. Hence those sad ‘statement’ garms which are still hanging forelorn on the rack during the never-ending sale that started with Singles Week, has extended into the now 12-day Black Friday, and will probably extend into the sales season of the New Year. Hands up who actually bought last season’s culottes? Nope – me neither.

If we adopt a cognitive approach – where we learn and understand through intelligence, experience and perception – the model could be much more creative, pragmatic and rewarding for everyone. We can link the momentum we see building – across intent, conversation and behaviour – to production processes, the supply chain and communications, ultimately creating the product more efficiently and marketing the moment more meaningfully for the fashion shopper; not just selling to her in a faster way.

Think of the cognitive approach as being cut from the same cloth as couture – bespoke moments, unique products, personally tailored for the fashion shopper, in perfect context. Let’s call it ‘Cognitive Couture’, because this is fashion and we need a label!

And let’s go another step beyond the transactional process. We need to understand more about not just what the fashion shopper has done (because so much ‘analytics’ is actually just fast interrogation of historical facts, wearing a bad hat), but also the triggers for her behaviour. Understand the environmental factors, what she’s touching, seeing and sensing at the time she is making, or about to make, a decision.

The information from these indicators will form the ‘Cognitive Couture’ fashion shopping environment – contextually relevant moments within sensually interactive surroundings rather than clicks and swipes on a screen. That’s where ‘Cognitive Couture’ could really come into its own. It’s not about analysing ‘What Just Happened?’; it’s understanding ‘What is Happening?’ to tailor ‘What’s About To Happen’, so that it fits me perfectly – whether ‘it’ is a moment, a customised dress or my own shade of nail polish.

So – taking all this contextually relevant intelligence – the next logical step to the ‘Retail to Runway’ evolution could be: “I don’t just want to buy it right now – I want to see it being made, according to my own specifications, interact with the process and I want it to be unique to me.”

So perhaps in 2017 we will evolve beyond the latest ‘Runway to Retail’ of fast fashion. Our own, personal fashion odyssey – driven by Cognitive Couture – could take us from ‘Process to Product to Purchase’. Let’s create a new system of engagement and design a box-fresh experience across stores, makers and fashion shoppers.

Leave a comment