00:00:07 Introduction to digitalization and fashion, and guest Madeleine Czigler’s background.
00:03:00 Digitalization and fashion, and challenges in the industry.
00:05:00 The role of fashion blogs, Instagram, and influencers in fashion communication.
00:07:11 Using Instagram and data analytics to optimize product sales and messaging.
00:07:57 The importance of transactional data in the fashion industry for decision-making.
00:09:14 Social media’s impact on journalism and the Gutenberg Revolution.
00:10:46 Shifts in the fashion industry due to advances in technology and digitalization.
00:13:25 Speed as the key factor in the fashion industry and the challenges for smaller enterprises.
00:15:06 Supply chain challenges in fast fashion and the progress in automation.
00:18:19 The importance of teaching the basics of journalism to fashion students in a fast-paced world.
00:19:36 Debating the environmental impact of fast fashion and the textile industry.
00:23:17 The ethical challenges in the fashion industry’s supply chain and the need for balance.
00:24:42 Future of fashion industry with 3D technology, biodegradable textiles, and the potential return to slow fashion.
00:25:31 Importance of sustainability across industries and fashion’s environmental impact.
00:26:00 Energy production in cement and potential for massive impact.
00:26:33 Expensive fashion items treated with care and brands’ engagement in sustainability.
00:27:20 Wrapping up the interview and future of 3D printed clothing at home.


In an interview with Kieran Chandler, Joannes Vermorel and Madeleine Czigler discuss the impact of digitalization on the fashion industry. Vermorel, a software and analytics expert, highlights the challenges of applying technology to fashion due to the unique aspects of fashion products and the vast number of variables. Czigler, a fashion journalist, explores the increasing use of smart materials and consumers designing clothes online. The guests also discuss the importance of ethical practices in the industry and its environmental impact. While Vermorel believes the environmental impact is not as large as perceived, Czigler argues that fashion is the second biggest polluter due to the disposal problem associated with fast fashion.

Extended Summary

In this interview, Kieran Chandler, the host, talks with Joannes Vermorel, the founder of Lokad, and Madeleine Czigler, a journalist, TV producer, and professor at the American University of Paris who specializes in culture and the fashion industry. They discuss the impact of digitalization on the fashion industry, exploring the link between technology and fashion.

Madeleine Czigler shares her background in the fashion industry, which started from a young age due to her father’s involvement in textiles and knitwear. She later pursued a career in journalism, working with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) for 15 years before moving to Paris. In 1989, she began covering fashion shows for CBC’s all-news channel, starting with John Galliano’s first show in Paris. She eventually became the Paris-based producer for a show called “Fashion File,” which aired in 200 countries. After the show ended in 2009, she started teaching fashion journalism at the American University of Paris, eventually becoming the head of the fashion track.

Joannes Vermorel, whose expertise is in software and analytics, explains that applying technology to the fashion industry has been challenging because of the unique aspects of fashion products. Unlike other industries where products have high sales volumes and can easily be analyzed with statistics, fashion items are often sold at a much slower pace, with individual items being sold only once a month on average. This makes it difficult to gather the large volumes of data necessary for statistical analysis.

Additionally, the vast number of variables in fashion products, such as size, material, color, and design, creates nearly endless combinations. Vermorel gives the example of a shoe, which can have around 200 parameters to fully characterize it. Even for large brands, the sales numbers for specific types of shoes are not large enough to provide a robust data set for analysis. These factors have made the field of fashion difficult for technology to penetrate.

Despite these challenges, the discussion suggests that the link between technology and fashion is now stronger than ever. As the interview progresses, the guests explore the increasing use of smart materials in fashion and the growing ability for consumers to design their own clothes online. The digitalization of the fashion industry is an ongoing process, with technology continuing to impact and transform the way fashion products are designed, produced, and marketed.

Joannes Vermorel notes that the advent of online fashion trends and the influence of the internet have pushed the fashion industry towards e-commerce and digitalization. He believes that the industry’s initial foray into smart analytics began with fashion blogs, which then led to the collection of more data, such as web page visits. Vermorel states that Lokad has recently seen increased interest from fashion brands seeking to optimize prices and quantities, and the latest developments in statistics are now better equipped to handle this challenge.

Madeleine Czigler points out that, from a communications standpoint, platforms like Instagram have become crucial for marketing fashion products. Instagram leverages individuals, or influencers, to sell products, which can be bewildering for large fashion companies like Dior, who struggle to identify the best person to represent and sell their products.

Vermorel suggests that fashion companies should first focus on transactional data, such as sales, stock, and pricing, before moving on to competitive intelligence and eventually social media data. He notes that the volume of data increases exponentially with each step, making it more challenging to process and analyze. For example, while handling a few gigabytes of transactional data is relatively easy, processing petabytes of images and video streams from platforms like Instagram can be very difficult.

Czigler then discusses the impact of social media on journalism, likening the current technological revolution to the Gutenberg Revolution. She explains that traditional television and print media are facing significant challenges as advertisers flock to digital platforms. Large newspapers like The New York Times and The Guardian have had to adapt by implementing multi-dimensional strategies to survive.

Vermorel highlights how digitalization and the emergence of influencers have shifted the fashion industry from a top-down approach, where mass media could easily execute marketing plans, to a more complex, multi-dimensional, and diverse landscape. The loss of control and increased noise have forced supply chain experts to adapt their strategies and develop analytics that can cope with these new challenges.

The discussion then moves to how organizations need to change to accommodate faster product delivery. Vermorel mentions that traditional practices of having a fixed number of collections per year can hinder flexibility, and companies should consider using better software tools and different communication practices with suppliers and retail chains to facilitate a more agile approach.

When asked about the relevance of the skills taught to her students in the ever-changing fashion landscape, Czigler emphasizes the importance of grounding oneself in the basics of journalism, understanding the fashion system, and knowing the history and key names in the industry. She believes that having a strong foundation allows students to adapt and use any tool to communicate their knowledge effectively.

The conversation shifts to the environmental impact of the fashion industry, with Chandler mentioning the negative press surrounding fast fashion. Vermorel argues that the overall impact of fashion on the environment is not as large as people perceive. He points out that most clothing waste comes from biodegradable materials like cotton and that the construction industry generates far more waste than fashion. Additionally, he highlights that concerns about waste in other industries, like consumer electronics, are often overblown when compared to other sources of pollution.

Vermorel brings up the ethical concerns associated with the textile industry, particularly the sourcing of cheap labor from underdeveloped countries. He acknowledges that while it’s beneficial for these countries to have new business opportunities, there must be a balance to ensure ethical practices, such as avoiding child labor or inhumane working conditions. Vermorel believes that one of the main challenges for the industry is ensuring that the entire supply chain follows ethical practices.

Czigler, on the other hand, highlights the environmental impact of the fashion industry. She states that it is the second biggest polluter on the planet, mostly due to the disposal problem associated with fast fashion. She explains that only about 20% of the clothing sent to Africa is sold in markets, while the rest ends up in landfills. However, Czigler finds it encouraging that the carbon footprint of the industry might be reduced through localized production.

Full Transcript

Kieran Chandler: Today on Lokad TV, we’re delighted to be joined by Madeleine Czigler, a journalist, TV producer, and professor at the American University of Paris. She’s going to talk to us a little bit more about the link between digitalization and fashion. So, Madeleine, thanks very much for joining us today. It sounds like you have a very varied background, so perhaps you should start by telling us a bit more about this.

Madeleine Czigler: Sure, well, I can tell you that from babyhood on, I’ve been in the fashion industry because my father was in textiles and then in knitwear. So, from the age of ten on, I really knew what was going on in the fashion industry. I became a journalist, went to the University of Toronto, and covered news and current affairs for about 15 years with Canadian Broadcasting. Then, when I moved to Paris, CBC started an all-news channel, and they asked me to start covering fashion shows. I began covering fashion shows in Paris in 1989, and the first fashion show they sent me to was John Galliano’s first show in Paris. John Galliano is now a legendary name in fashion. For the next 20 years, I was the Paris-based producer and European producer for a show called Fashion File, which had tremendous success on the all-news channel and was sold to 200 countries around the world. I worked with a man called Tim Blanks, who’s still very much in the fashion field. He’s with the Business of Fashion. I had a lot of fun covering hundreds of shows, mostly in Paris, but also in Milan, London, and other places. The show folded in 2009, and since then, I’ve freelanced, doing a lot of cultural documentaries. The American University of Paris asked me to start teaching fashion journalism, and from then, it morphed into more of a job where I am head of the fashion track and teach fashion history, fashion business, fashion system, and journalism.

Kieran Chandler: That sounds like quite a life, getting to travel around and attend catwalk shows around the world. And, of course, I’m joined by Joannes. It’s probably going to be a little bit out of our expertise in this area of high fashion, but we’re going to be talking a bit about the digitalization of the fashion world. So, what’s your initial take on this?

Joannes Vermorel: My take is that, indeed, for a long time, people were thinking that there were some domains that were literally unapproachable by machines. We are a software company, and we try to deliver value through smart analytics. There are some domains where it’s easier than others. Obviously, if you’re selling food in an open market, you have tons of products, high velocity, and it’s easier to apply statistics. When it comes to fashion, a typical fashion store product is only going to be sold something like once a month. So, it becomes much more difficult to think of statistics because you need a certain volume of data. Also, there is the fact that in fashion, you can have nearly endless combinations. You have so many variables. Take a shoe, for example; you have the size, heel height, material, color, shade, and probably about 200 parameters to completely characterize a typical shoe.

Kieran Chandler: Looking at that much, but what is interesting is that with the advent of online fashion trends and the influence on the internet, it pushed them more towards e-commerce and digitalization. So, it didn’t start in fashion with smart analytics; it started with fashion blogs and other things that brought them to a more digital world. No analytics involved, but then they started to have a lot more data, like visits on web pages, etc. And now, for the last year, Lokad, we are seeing quite a lot of traction of fashion brands coming to us, querying about the possibility to optimize prices, quantities, and the latest developments in statistics are more capable of dealing with this. There is a combination of interests that are only coming now, but also with classes of statistical tools that can work with less data, which is critical in fashion because, again, you are not selling thousands of units a day in the store. So, Madeleine, there are a lot of digital tools out there in the fashion world, and which do you see as being the most important?

Madeleine Czigler: Well, I think you’re absolutely right, Joannes. It’s all about how you’re communicating your product, and right now, it used to be blogs, but now it’s Facebook and Instagram. Instagram is the leading digital tool that fashion uses to market their products. The interesting thing with Instagram is that it’s not necessarily a brand-based entity, but it uses individuals to sell products. It’s about influencers. This is the age of influencers, and it’s totally bewildering to big companies like Dior in Paris because they have to determine who is the person who will sell their product best, who will message their product best. So, this is a huge challenge for them.

Kieran Chandler: From a Lokad perspective, how can you use Instagram? Is that something of interest to you statistically?

Joannes Vermorel: Ultimately, yes, but right now, because fashion companies have not been delving much into it, I would typically advise to start with the transactional data. First, you start with data that is very limited but very reliable, like your sales, your stock, your prices, and the prices of competitors. Then, you need to have a proper description of your products so that you know your products correctly, instead of just having the knowledge in the heads of very talented people, but it’s not actually shared inside the organization. Then, as you progress through concentric circles of data, you would probably first start with the core, which is the transactional data, then extend to competitive intelligence where you’re just looking at what the competitors are offering. It’s easier to grab this data compared to social media. And then, once you’re done with that, you go to social media.

Just to give you an idea, every time you go from one circle to another, you’re probably going to have 100 times more data. So, you start with your transactional core, and if you go into competitive intelligence, it’s like 100 times more data. And if you go to social media, it’s probably going to be another 100 times the data. The challenge becomes very technical, very fast. Processing a couple of gigabytes of history is relatively easy nowadays, but processing petabytes of images and video streams from a gigantic social media platform like Instagram is a significant challenge.

Kieran Chandler: How has social media impacted journalism? I mean, that’s where you had a real background, and it’s an area that’s been completely reshaped by digitalization.

Madeleine Czigler: It’s all over the map, really.

Kieran Chandler: Really, I would say it’s like the Gutenberg Revolution. I started under Marshall McLuhan in Toronto, and he was a firm believer that technology drives society and what drives our lives really. So right now, we’re undergoing this unbelievable technological revolution, which of course impacts the field. I mean, first of all, television is having a hard time surviving because of all the other streaming services that you can do via the internet, and you can watch by the internet. But I would say print is really undergoing a huge upheaval, to the point where, of course, advertisers are leaving en masse print media and going into digital media, where they’re not even sure whether or not they’re very impactful. That’s another question, right? But be that as it may, The New York Times, The Guardian, all of them have to have very multi-dimensional ways of really gaining their livelihood. Joannes, tell us about some of the advances in technology and what are the real sort of advances in technology that digitalization has really given us access to and how’s that affected the fashion industry?

Joannes Vermorel: It’s interesting because you see, if we take the old world that you just presented and all those fashion companies, they could operate in a very top-down fashion, in the sense that if you had some mass media like TVs, newspapers that had captive audiences, you could have a very top-down approach where you say, here’s my marketing plan, the list of works that I’m going to mass-market, and execute that plan. And thus, for us, with supply chain people, that was about saying the marketing is going to push this amount of budget on TV, on all the channels with specific products, so we can forecast that there will be a corresponding demand and execute on that. Fast forward 50 years later compared to the emergence of TV, now you have things that are, as you just presented, much more multi-dimensional and also much more diverse because the age of influencers means that instead of having four main national TV channels that you could discuss with, suddenly you have like 10,000 influencers who have different audiences and where you don’t have the same degree of control. You usually can’t just say I’m going to buy slots on your blog, they might not be willing to do that, they might have firm beliefs on what they want to push and whatnot. So suddenly, it becomes a lot more fuzzy. The way I see that is that, in terms of tech, we changed from having tech to execute sales and operation plans with big top-down visions to something that is maybe less ambitious but just copes with the ongoing noise. From our perspective of supply chain, I think that the analytics start to emerge to be able to operate in this sort of new world where you have less control, where there’s a lot more noise, and also where people expect to operate much faster. That’s this idea of capturing the latest trend. At some point, if you can’t predict the latest trend, it becomes a matter of how you can act and deliver something that fits in a matter of weeks, super fast.

Kieran Chandler: Madeleine, let’s build on that a little. How do you see this?

Madeleine Czigler: It’s absolutely about speed. And that’s where big companies like Inditex have a huge advantage because they’re vertically integrated. They don’t have to go out to get their products. They see a trend, they work on it, and in two weeks, it’s in the store. So really, to behave in this speedy manner, it’s a huge challenge for a smaller enterprise

Kieran Chandler: Somebody’s trying to break into the field, and hence there’s this upside-down trend where you do start communicating before you even producing. You communicate your brand like Miss Weiss with “Into the Gloss.” Ten years ago, a little Vogue model editor starts doing a little makeup blog called “Into the Gloss.” She had hundreds of thousands of followers, very clever cookie. She works from 4:00 till 8:00 in the morning every day to do her own business, figures out, goes and tries to get seed money, gets a few million dollars together, and starts producing four products. And those four products in five years have morphed into a billion-dollar company. So she started with communicating her own pretty face and her ideas, and then the product came after. Yes, and we spoke a bit about it before maybe on their lokad TV, but it’s not a super fast fashion where you’ve got lead times of sort of two weeks from concept to being on the shelves. I mean, what supply chain challenges does that kind of introduce?

Joannes Vermorel: Tons of them. I mean, first, it’s hard to produce in Bangladesh if you want to have like two weeks lead time, so you need to bring it a lot closer, which is more expensive. But also, it’s funny because, you know, in terms of tech, we have now completely automated factories for cars, which are very complicated products. I think nowadays, an average car has like 60 processors in there. It’s like a technological marvel, super complicated. But it’s funny because in fashion, doing a knot on a piece of clothing is extremely hard to automate. But the tech is gradually getting there, and those things that were extremely labor-intensive are very incrementally, but we are getting to a satisfying degree of automation when it comes to sewing and cutting textile, which is very difficult even if it doesn’t look like super high-tech. It actually is a massive industrial challenge. And thus, I think what I’m seeing for the next decade is that with better automation plus maybe a willingness to put a bit more money on the production side, there will be companies and brands that will actually bring some of the production closer. I guess that’s probably one of the first keys to enable faster fashion. I think the second constraint is that if you bring the production closer, the second constraint is to change the very organization so that they can have swift product delivery. Because too frequently, for example, when we started working with clients, they would have four collections per year. But if you have four collections a year, that means that pretty much by design, you may be one month or half behind whatever is the latest trend, just because you’re working on a schedule, and your schedule goes by quarter after quarter. So if you want to be super flexible, then you kind of have to give up those collection-driven organizations. And that requires, you know, for our clients, they were entirely organized around this idea of having a fixed number of collections being pushed every year. And I think with better software tools, they can think of dropping new products like every week. But it’s a massive challenge because all the old practices are kind of out of whack. You need to communicate completely differently with your suppliers, and you need to communicate differently with your retail chain or your stores if you have that. So, at Lokad, we can help them with the software side, but there are so many practices to reinvent that are just beyond what we do.

Kieran Chandler: We’ve spoken a lot about this new world of fashion and how it’s going forward. I mean, what can you teach your. What do you think is still going to be relevant in twenty years time in your respective industries?

Madeleine Czigler: Well, it’s very much about grounding yourself in the basics. For example, in journalism, you need to understand the business from the ground up. What I teach is really the basics of journalism to my students pursuing fashion journalism - who, what, where, when, why - and go from there. The tools change non-stop, but you have to have the basic knowledge and skill in order to transmit your knowledge via these tools. It doesn’t frighten me, and what I love about teaching students is that they teach me as much as I teach them. I teach both grads and undergrads, and sometimes I ask the grad students about a tool, and they would say they’re 24 years old and they’d tell me to ask the 20-year-olds because they don’t know. So it’s going that fast. As far as I’m concerned, it’s really about the basics. I believe they have to know the history, the names in fashion, the whole fashion system, and how it’s done. After that, they can do whatever they want with that knowledge and use whatever tool they deem fit to communicate with.

Kieran Chandler: Joannes, what about you? We’ve seen a lot of negative press around fast fashion and its impact on the environment. How can we overcome some of these negative impacts, maybe through digitalization and addressing fast fashion concerns?

Joannes Vermorel: First of all, I don’t think the impact of fashion on the environment is that large. People tend to forget orders of magnitude. For example, in France, 90% of the waste we produce comes from the construction industry, which generates much more waste than all the clothes you’re going to wear in your entire life. Furthermore, most of the clothes we have are made of cotton, which is a fairly biodegradable product that can be recycled easily. I don’t see it as a major problem, but fashion tends to attract a lot of attention because it’s so prominent in the news.

Another industry facing similar concerns is consumer electronics, with smartphones being a prime example. People worry about the millions of smartphones that need to be recycled, but a smartphone is only about 150 grams of plastic. If you drive 20 kilometers with your car, you’re going to burn a lot more oil than that. The gasoline you burn in your car is not that different chemically from what you have in your smartphone.

The bottom line is, in terms of supply chain, it’s very important not to lose sight of the orders of magnitude of the problems you’re dealing with. A more interesting and challenging problem is that some companies in the textile industry, not just fashion, are sourcing manpower from countries with the lowest costs, which comes with ethical challenges. People criticize companies for producing in Bangladesh, calling them vile capitalists, but for Bangladesh, it’s a tremendous opportunity to become a textile exporter. It’s not all bad; it’s very good that we are pushing business to very poor countries as it will ultimately make them richer. However, we need to strike a balance between triggering growth in underdeveloped countries and avoiding issues like child labor or inhumane working conditions. I think the challenges for the textile industry are more on this side.

Kieran Chandler: What are the biggest challenges you see in the fashion industry, particularly in terms of supply chain and ethics?

Joannes Vermorel: One of the biggest challenges is dealing with the suppliers of your suppliers because that’s how the industry operates. Usually, it’s not your direct suppliers that are the issue, but rather those further down the chain. Ensuring that everything is ethical is a significant challenge, much more than dealing with a bit of waste from cotton, which is fairly easy to recycle.

Kieran Chandler: Madeleine, what are the real challenges you see for the future of the fashion industry, and how do you see them being overcome?

Madeleine Czigler: To be honest, I don’t agree with Joannes that waste isn’t a vital problem. What I’m learning is that the fashion industry is the second biggest polluter on the planet because of the disposal problem. Fast fashion items that we dispose of in boxes on the street eventually make their way to Africa, where only about 20 percent of them are sold in markets, and the rest end up in landfills. That’s a big issue. What’s encouraging, however, is that due to the vast demand, the carbon footprint will be much smaller because production will be closer to home.

What I find really encouraging is the potential of 3D technology. I foresee a future where we go back to the slow fashion days of my mother’s era, where we get a pattern, take it home, and produce our own clothes with our machines. We’ll still need designers and pattern makers, but it’s going to be more personal and sustainable. As for disposal, I see places like MIT experimenting with biology and fashion, using mushrooms and algae to produce biodegradable textiles. I find it very exciting. There’s a huge challenge with fast fashion and disposal, but I think people are becoming more conscious, and change is happening.

Joannes Vermorel: Absolutely, and I don’t want to give the wrong impression. I think all industries have to make an effort to be more sustainable and ethical.

Kieran Chandler: Not sustainable, but from my biggest perspective, in terms of investment, people should not mistake that there are some industries where the impact is just completely, I would say, an order of magnitude more impactful. For example, I believe that there is about 15% of the worldwide energy production that is just to produce cement. It’s very simple things where you can have a massive impact. Even if fashion makes tons of efforts, I’m fairly confident, especially with valuable brands, that the virtue of being expensive means people treat these things with more care. So I do not see goods from luxury brands covering the Earth, just because those products are very expensive, so people are not going to treat them like disposable tissues. I think there is virtue in that. I believe that they are doing their fair share, and as we have seen with brands like Chanel and others, they are literally competing to do the right thing and helping to reconstruct. I think those brands are fully engaged in the broader problems of their time, so I’m relatively confident that they will not be lagging behind in terms of environmental challenges.

Joannes Vermorel: I agree, and I think the fashion industry is aware of its responsibility and will continue to improve its practices.

Madeleine Czigler: Yes, it’s fascinating to see how technology and innovation are shaping the future of fashion, including the idea of printing clothes at home.

Kieran Chandler: Absolutely, it’s great to hear about this. Thanks for your time, and thanks to our listeners for tuning in. That’s everything for this week, and we will see you again next time. Bye for now!