What if – the clothes we wore solved some wicked problems and created some new ones

Our latest what-if short explores our future relationship with the clothes we wear, the manner in which we may acquire them and the broader purposes they may come to serve. It’s not a prediction, and is enormously unlikely to be right but it is a useful meander into a possible (and potentially plausible) future … here we go …

The Extinction Rebellion

The antics of Extinction Rebellion and other similar movements gradually created a far deeper and broader degree of climate anxiety across the population than was ever anticipated – particularly amongst the young. A palpable shift in shared consciousness and a powerful collective conscience emerged. Younger generations became wholly unsatisfied with the established and habitual, seasonal approach to fashion design, the growing reliance on mass-produced clothing, and the methods of shopping and courier-led delivery that prevailed in the early 21stcentury.

Individuality without harming the planet

People now seek apparel that enables them to express their individuality without harming the planet. Typically, they want garments that go far beyond looking good and continue to serve a positive purpose, even after they have been discarded as an item of clothing. Repair, reuse and recycle are now inbuilt values for the fashion industry and all items have lifelong regeneration built-in to the production cycle. Clothing is made of biodegradable materials which have been scientifically proven not to shed in ways that might pollute air, land, sea or wearer. Every item carries an integrated validation certificate which, when scanned, proves adherence to strict new environmental standards. All clothing outlets feature a recycling shoot where old clothing can be returned for managed degradation and subsequent inclusion into the production process as a recycled raw material.

Physical shopping precincts have become relatively rare and are typically frequented by older generations who have adapted less well to recent technological innovations. VR (virtual reality) and AR (augmented reality) have now advanced to such an extent that there has been a veritable explosion in the development of virtual shopping malls that can be accessed via the latest home gaming and info-tainment (HoGIT) systems. The most up to date HoGIT systems exploit holographic technology to provide group shopping excursions, from the comfort of your own home, with friends who live far away.

Initially, avatar models of various standard sizes enabled shoppers to view the clothing on a body shaped similar to their own – clothes were then ordered and dispatched by a network of couriers (much like Amazon today). Frustration with a lack of standardised sizing (the perennial problem of a size A3 in one shop not in any way resembling a size A3 in another – and indeed often wildly differing within the same shop) and resulting wastage resulted in the development of software that could generate a wholly personal avatar body-double that could be used for more accurate sizing. A scanner, added to HoGITsystems, can now accurately measure an individual’s body and create an entirely unique avatar. Tailor-made, off-the-shelf clothing (previously an oxymoron) was now available for everyone.

The Industry evolves

As courier-led delivery played on the collective environmental conscience, start-ups emerged that used 3D printing to create ordered clothes near to point of delivery. At last, remote production sweat-shops and long-haul logistics were becoming a thing of the past. Drone delivery was leveraged to ensure environmental costs of delivery remained low.

As the industry fast evolved, other sectors became interested in how they could work with it to deliver their products and services.

The emerging wearable tech sector accelerated its ambitious programme of innovations to provide a range of optional extras that could be included in ordered clothing. Initially shoppers could decide to add a pocket, select fastenings or perhaps mix a unique colour, but eventually they could also add virtual wifi hotspots, mobile communications, immediate access to passport and banking data and changeable permeability (automatically responsive to weather conditions).

Initial exploration of wearable tech in the fitness and exercise sector led to in-home gyms where HoGITsystems were enhanced to create exercise programmes with inbuilt mental and physical reward mechanisms and the ability to alter intensity dependent on current wellness, fatigue levels and activity schedule. Yet more positive developments came from ambitious partnerships with the pharmaceutical sector. Vital signs tracking, bacterial culture evaluation, viral load measurement, emergency response request and casualty location tracking combined with a range of programmes of automated medication administration for a variety of conditions -all programmed into the apparel. The now sophisticated ‘internet of things’ combined with wearable tech in multitudinous ways – for example, to identify vitamin and mineral deficiencies and adjust grocery deliveries to provide the best ongoing nutritional value to the wearer.

Apparel help and advisory centres (AHAs) were established as locations where advice and guidance could be later sought regarding erroneous or faulty tech.

The Yes BUT Movement

Presiding governments woke up to the possibilities this fashion revolution presented to them and pressured manufacturers to covertly incorporate identity data and location tracking. Within a very short time it was possible to identify and track an individual, and to remotely check and validate driver permits, passport details, credit worthiness and all manner of other things through a remote and discreet interface with the clothing they wore. As those avoiding the routine surveillance got smarter so did the software, resulting in clothing that automatically synced with the DNA footprint of its wearer to ensure identity authenticity.

As to be expected, there was a small yet significant proportion of the population who resented the fact their clothing constantly and routinely shared their identity and personal data with an ever-growing list of authorities and corporations. Some resisted on principle, others for less salubrious reasons. Regardless of their personal reason for resistance, a growing black market in expensive beta ultra-tech (BUT) clothing was developing. A BUT garment that could conceal the identity and data of its wearer could fetch astronomical prices and was hard to get hold of, even on what remained of the dark web. A fledgling movement offering cheaper rip-off BUT clothing and vintage pre-tech fashion grew into a thriving underground resistance towards trackable tech. There is now a vibrant collector market for pre- tech vintage Fashion and for those ‘in the know’, PITe (pre-identity tech – pronounced Pity) parties are held where vintage items can be selected and adjusted using secretive tailors and dressmakers. Such skills are now very scarce and highly in demand. Owning and wearing pre-tech clothing is the height of anti-establishment resistance (identity privacy now fast replacing environmental concerns for the emerging youth)…

The Yes BUT movement is growing in strength and has recently been suspected of inciting major cyber attacks waged against registered clothing manufacturers, their software partners and drone delivery systems. Their activities are becoming ever-more disruptive and have repeatedly caused the unfortunate failure of medical tech alongside the identity tech they are railing against. Yes BUT movement leaders are united in their response that these are unfortunate side-effects of their much-needed activist march against an increasingly disturbing and malevolent appropriation of wearable tech. They show no indication that their methods of activism will alter, or that their activity levels will reduce. Yes BUT continue to assert that tech identity invasion is the new pollution…

Think through possible future worlds

Having little to no experience of the retail sector or clothing manufacturing industry is in many ways liberating when considering how the sector and its incumbents may evolve. As you think through possible future worlds, consider how the future scenario may come about and what drivers in the present may spark a particular change. Don’t let a lack of ‘professional’ experience in a field scare you away from considering how a sector may evolve. Often the ideas with greatest potential impact come from end-users and people working in entirely unrelated sectors …what else might happen to the clothing we wear in an unpredictable future and what impacts may these changes have in store for the people who wear it?

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