The digital closet has been the dream of many a fashion fan since the release of the much-loved film Clueless. In the 90’s film the heroine Cher controls her huge wardrobe of clothing using a computer to mix and match her outfits. At the time it seemed like the pinnacle of fashion technology. Now, the fashion tech industry is focused on making that a reality so people with stuffed wardrobes can keep track of what they own and make decisions on what to wear.
There have been several ‘responses’ to Cher’s digital closet. One of these is the Echo Look, which offers a style feedback service and integrates with Alexa to give you opinions about whether a particular style will work on you or not in order to help you choose outfits.
It’s presently supported by the input from human stylists backed up by huge volumes of trend data. And there’s also Cladwell, which recreates the spirit of the Clueless wardrobe by offering you clothing combinations based on what you already own.
Better digital organisation and input into our clothing choices are likely to have an impact on the fashion industry. Firstly, it may help us keep track of what we currently own and wear. It’s been said that people only wear 20% of the clothing they own, and digital clothing management technologies could make this pattern clearer to us and change our buying behaviour so we become more efficient shoppers.
Some buyers tend to repeatedly buy the same item again and again, and it’s possible a smarter wardrobe could limit that behaviour. This change wouldn’t be good news for most retailers who rely on consumers overbuying items.
Secondly, digital closet technology tends to integrate very well with the sharing economy trend that’s already considered something of a threat on the horizon for fashion retailers.
A more positive view of the retail implications for the technology is that it encourages consumers to become connoisseurs and curators of clothing, which could actually drive more buying as it encourages consumers to become more discerning about what they buy.
It’s arguably possible for some favoured brands and retailers to be invited to liaise directly with the customer’s closet, enjoying a more intimate relationship with them. It’s possible to imagine a world where socks get reordered automatically, kids clothing gets updated as they grow and the consumer is offered their favourite brands’ capsule collection on a seasonal basis.
In theory, it’s a way for brands to be able to cut through the marketing noise consumers face and reach them more directly.
But can technology like this really change human nature? The fact is people buy clothing they won’t wear because they like to think they have lifestyles they don’t have. Women can own multiple pairs of stiletto heels yet live in more practical flats that better suit their daily activities.
People buy gym wear and then never go to the gym. People buy clothing they think is beautiful and then never wear them. Can a better-organised closet change our deluded aspirations?
Digital closets arguably require more admin and thoughtfulness than we’re prepared to put into our daily dressing decisions. If people can rarely be bothered to organise their email inbox, are they really likely to take the time to log their clothing choices?
It’s arguably no more demanding an activity. Surely the reason we’ve all got piles of clothing we never wear is we just want a fast solution to getting dressed rather than a new admin task.
Data from Cladwell indicates that some people really do stick to the program when it comes to their digital closet. A core of dedicated users of the Cladwell app will wear 95% of their clothing and will log their outfits scrupulously. But does this core group really reflect the wider consumer?
Perhaps a more important question is whether they need to. In today’s cut-throat retail landscape, fashion brands rely on tiny margins to survive. It only takes a small change in behaviour from an important group of consumers for a brand to get into trouble quickly.
That’s particularly true of the more exclusive end of the market. Luxury fashion brands often depend on quite a small number of consumers who faithfully buy from them. A break in the pipeline of how they reach those consumers, or how those consumers make decisions about what to buy next, could really land them in trouble.
For many retailers, the prospect of having to liaise not with the human customer but with their digital wardrobe assistant is a real threat.
Brands that are experts at connecting with customer emotions may need to re-think their strategy to reach them via a digital closet acting as an intermediary. There’s real potential for the entire fashion landscape to be disrupted if digital closet adoption becomes widespread.