In February as you walk the streets of New York you may see a buzz of camera flashes, impromptu photo shoots on street corners and people hovering outside white tents hoping to get a glimpse of what lies inside. Those scenes can only mean one thing: New York Fashion Week has arrived.

With this in mind, on February 6, Digital Irish has partnered with Alley Chelsea to bring together a host of fashion industry leaders and entrepreneurs to discuss the systemic shift in the fashion industry due to digital and tech advances.

The panel has been curated by Digital Irish Board member Anne Daly, SVP of Customer Engagement at Havas.

From the rise of artificial intelligence (AI), data analytics, robots and influencer marketing, new technologies are continually changing the fashion landscape. Brands, retailers, and start-ups are now feeling an increasing pressure to stay ahead of the game.

Digital technology is poised to breathe innovation into not only how we dress but how we shop. If we begin by looking at artificial intelligence, Amazon is trying to strengthen its presence in the retail world by launching Prime Wardrobe, which allows customers to try on clothes before buying them. The clothes you choose online are sent to your house and you only pay for the ones you decide to keep, while its Echo Look app, which leans on a combination of machine learning technology and ‘specialist advisors’ give feedback on your outfits. Recently, the tech giant was granted a patent for a blended reality mirror, which can superimpose virtual clothing onto your reflection. It would also be capable of placing you in a virtual scene, to match an outfit with the occasion.

Even high-end designers such as Diane Von Furstenberg are embracing AI technology. The brand recently relaunched their website and set up an algorithm-based discovery feed on its mobile site that’s curated using artificial intelligence and tailored to each user. Logging back onto the site after purchasing a skirt for instance, you will be greeted with complimentary shoes, bag, and top with everything in the feed aligning to your size and style based on previous preferences.

Personalization in the form of voice technology is another trend impacting the retail and fashion industry. In 2016, Macy's announced the first phase of the Macy’s On Call Pilot, an AI-powered, in-store shopping assistant, Macy’s On Call is able to receive questions from users and provide customized responses to inquiries regarding a store’s unique services. For example, you can ask ‘Where would I find a black pair of jeans? through the Macy’s app and the AI system will provide a customized response and specifically where the user can locate the product of interest in the store. Voice software tools are increasing in popularity in the fashion industry. One Irish start-up Voysis' have developed voice technology which can be integrated into an online retailer's app or mobile website allowing shoppers to simply buy products using their voices.

Digital technology not only changes how we shop but it also changes the production process. Adidas is one shoe company embracing the age of robotics. The idea behind robot factories is to make fully customized shoes on demand at remarkably faster speeds with the help of robots. In Adidas’ current factories, it can take weeks to complete a pair of sneakers. By automating the majority of the manufacturing process, Adidas can make a pair of shoes in about five hours.

With a robotic production process allowing fast fashion to get even faster the topic of sustainable fashion comes to mind. Many start-ups are beginning to try and tackle the issue of sustainability, with one Irish startup ‘Make It Black’ allowing customers to send their favorite clothing items in to be dyed black. They give new life to the never worn, once worn and overworn. Make it black want their customers to create something new and to reinvent and reclaim their wardrobe.

Lastly, let’s consider the power of the influencer as it continues to grow. Gone are the days where the biggest reach is in the pages of glossy magazines, now the best way to target your audience is through glossy images on Instagram. Teen Vogue are one publication embracing the digital age and recently announced it was discontinuing the magazine and instead focusing solely online, where they have 12 million unique users.

Victoria’s Secret was one company ahead of the game when it came to influencer marketing strategy. Their VS ‘Angels’ were their walking billboards with catwalk shows drawing in an audience of over 5 million. The company realized early they did not need an expensive traditional marketing strategy instead they needed the right people wearing and talking about their brand.

Are we now searching for more than just your typical clothing brand? What are we searching for? Some may be looking for a  brand connection that represents our lifestyle choices right down to the clothes we wear – showcasing this is the Irish start-up Gym & Coffee, the purpose behind their brand is to inspire people to make life richer and build a community around this passion.

One question often asked is for an industry worth $2.4 trillion, why the need to invest in digital tech? In today’s busy world, brick and mortar sales are down with less and less people going into stores to shop. There is a need to improve the in-store and online experience. Shopping is becoming more automated, but for some, the enjoyment in shopping comes from the experience of the store itself and seeing clothes in person. 

Digital technologies are also alleviating the burden on us to pick our own fashion, with a vast array of personalized choices literally at our fingertips. 

Meet the Panel for Digital and Technology Game Changers In The Fashion Industry

Don O'Neill, Creative Director of Theia at JS Group International 

Known for his elegant and sophisticated eveningwear, Don O’Neill was born in Ballyheigue in Co. Kerry. Having worked with top designers in London and Paris, he now serves as Creative Director for THEIA. The collection opened in Fall 2009 and was immediately bought by global retailers such as Neiman Marcus and Saks. The designs have also been worn by celebrities such as Oprah Winfrey and Idina Menzel. 

Eileen Shields – Footwear Designer, Eileen Shields Inc Design Studio

Born in New York, Eileen Shields grew up in Ireland and, after graduating from the National College of Art and Design in Dublin, worked for Donna Karan International in New York for over a decade. She launched her own collection in September 2004 and the EILEEN SHIELDS label is now available in over 60 high-end boutiques and department stores globally. Counting Angelina Jolie, Courtney Cox Arquette, Drew Barrymore and Halle Berry among her many customers. 

Michaela O’Shaughnessy- Social Media Producer at Teen Vogue

Michaela O’ Shaughnessy from Galway currently works as the Social Content Producer at Teen Vogue managing the brands Instagram, Snapchat and Facebook Live accounts.

Previously Michaela worked for MTV where she created and implemented social coverage plans for major tentpole events such as the VMAs, EMAs, and the Golden Globe Awards. Personally, she has a following of over 15K across social platforms, including her successful blog entitled ‘Life of a Lady Bear’.

Ruari Mahon- Founder and Director Loughlin Joseph

Northern Ireland-born and currently based in New York City, Ruari Mahon is a fashion brand and communications specialist, with ten years’ experience dedicated to the contemporary and luxury sector in the North American and European markets. 

After a seven-year tenure directing global communications at Nudie Jeans, Ruari founded Loughlin Joseph in 2017, a multidisciplinary communications consultancy for fashion and design interests. Loughlin Joseph melds organic and modern modes to create unified narratives that inform every aspect of strategy, from infrastructure development to implementation.

Christina McCarthy- Media Manager at Victoria’s Secret

Christina McCarthy is an integrated media manager with both digital, search, social and traditional experience, currently working at Victoria's Secret on the integrated media team for Lingerie & Beauty. Having previously worked at MediaCom, part of WPP, on the Revlon account. Christina has industry experience within the advertising landscape among beauty/fashion, healthcare, CPG, travel & leisure, food/beverage and personal care. Christina’s passion is digital and social strategy and connecting to young consumers and creating dynamic messaging that is tailored to moving businesses forward. Having studied at UCD Michael Smurfit and completed an MSc of Marketing Practice prior she has moved back to the states after being in Dublin for some time.

The event is sold out, but there's still time to get your name on the waitlist or join us for a Facebook Live on IrishCentral's Facebook page