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Navigating Tomorrow: Using Digital in the Future

Sustainability, the Metaverse, and the dawn of Industry 5.0

By Johnny Shell, Principal Analyst, Keypoint Intelligence

The textile and apparel industries have been in the process of a digital transformation for over two decades. As new and innovative technologies come to market, industry stakeholders must recognize the opportunities in a future world that is largely driven by digital technology and understand the positive and negative implications of it. Below is a collection of my predictions for the future of digital technology in three areas you may not have thought of.

Sustainability Improvements with Digital

The textile and apparel industry has been slow to break away from its high-volume manufacturing model of mass production for fashion. Digital technologies and systems are gaining traction in the newer generation entering the industry and digitalization offers an escape from unsustainable analog models.

According to the International Labour Organization, the textile and garment industry accounts for 1.7 billion tons of global carbon emissions per year. Digitalization of the industry supplies an opportunity to reduce the massive overproduction inherent with the high-volume, mass production model used for fashion and apparel. Connected machines, smart factories and lights out manufacturing, as well as artificial intelligence (AI) will use big data to predict, plan, and execute near on demand production based on the trends of consumer buying patterns instead of trying to predict those buying patterns up to 18-months in advance. Fashion trends move too fast in the modern social environment and digitalization allows the production of textiles to be more efficient throughout the supply chain.

Machine monitoring, predictive maintenance, and energy management will provide data to aid in reducing energy usage. Smart sensors and manufacturing platforms will find opportunities to reduce water and chemical use based on manufacturing patterns. Ultimately, digital technologies will greatly improve the sustainability of the textile industry in a time where it is desperately trying to change its wasteful ways, improve its image, and prove its commitment to the environment.

Meta Who?

In a much different realm, the metaverse is an immersive three-dimensional virtual digital realm, shared with many users that spans various digital platforms (Roblox, Fortnite, Upland) and merges with the physical world. In the metaverse, people can shop, work, play, and hang out together in real time. The metaverse is focused on social connection – and it is generating sales and brand exposure for a variety of brand heavyweights like Adidas, Gucci, Nike, Louis Vuitton, and Ralph Lauren who have launched virtual stores, digital collections, digital avatars, and non-fungible tokens (NFTs) to gain exposure to digital-native audiences that interact with one of the many metaverse platforms. Fashion in the metaverse is booming and, according to Reuters, is expected to be worth USD $50B by 2030.

Ralph Lauren’s first-ever redesigned Polo logo
for its collection with Fortnite

While fashion and apparel in the metaverse will help consumer interaction and brand awareness, there is concern over theft and counterfeiting of intellectual property in a virtual environment with no boundaries or limits. It’s still too early to determine the impact of the metaverse on textile and clothing sales because the virtual world is used very differently than retail sales where consumers can touch, feel, and check the look and fit of a garment. Nevertheless, fashion brands are investing in the metaverse to broaden their brand exposure, not to mention diversify their product range well outside their norm.

The 5th Dimension: Human-Machine Partnerships

While there was much progress made within Industry 4.0, there is now a clear shift toward the impending Fifth Industrial Revolution (Industry 5.0), a new and emerging phase of industrialization that sees humans working alongside advanced technology and AI-powered robots to perform workplace tasks, and it holds the potential to transform the entire global manufacturing industry. This new chapter of industrial evolution places a central emphasis on human involvement within the workplace and aims to foster a symbiotic relationship between humans and machines, ultimately advancing the industry for the collective benefit. Unlike the approach of the productivity-driven digitalization of Industry 4.0, Industry 5.0 seeks to move into a worker-centric model with a strong focus on socio-ecological priorities.

In its role to shape the EU’s overall strategy and policy, the European Commission (EC) has brought the term “Industry 5.0” direct to the market. In its report “Industry 5.0 – Towards a sustainable, human-centric and resilient European industry”, the EC explains that “Industry 5.0 complements the existing Industry 4.0 paradigm by highlighting research and innovation as drivers for a transition to a sustainable, human-centric and resilient European industry. It moves focus from shareholder to stakeholder value, with benefits for all concerned.” The EC also says that “Industry 5.0 attempts to capture the value of new technologies, providing prosperity beyond jobs and growth, while respecting planetary boundaries, and placing the well-being of the industry worker at the center of the production process.” This new chapter of industrial evolution will truly bring humans as close as they’ve ever been to robots and intelligent, self-monitoring machines.

Keypoint Intelligence Opinion

As we navigate the evolving landscape of the textile and apparel industries, it’s clear that the integration of digital technologies is ushering in a period of transformation with positive and negative consequences throughout the supply chain. The pivotal conversation revolving around sustainability is long overdue, but is finally gaining traction that further strengthens digital technology as a more sustainable alternative to traditional models regarding waste and over-production.

While the metaverse holds significant potential for sales and brand exposure, it’s not without its challenges. Concerns about intellectual property theft and counterfeiting underscore the need for a delicate balance between innovation and protection in this boundless space that can’t be held, only seen and heard.

As we stand on the threshold of Industry 5.0, the boundary between humans and intelligent machines grows ever more intricate, promising unprecedented opportunities and intriguing challenges. In this era of dynamic change, it’s imperative for industry stakeholders to embrace the potential of digitization while being mindful of its far-reaching implications. By weaving sustainability, the metaverse, and human-machine partnerships into the fabric of their strategies, these industries can navigate the complexities ahead and pave the way for a more responsible, innovative, and inclusive future.

This press release was originally published via Keypoint Intelligence.

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