Developing nations fight for fair labor practices, while developed nations puzzle over how to best compete in the low-wage chasing, global economy. Automation and the implications of it — both good and bad — are a hot topic in not just the fashion industry, but every industry.
While technology continues to drive major changes in retailing across industries, it seems that one major clothing brand sits leagues above the rest with new technological innovations. Zara, the Inditex-owned, Spanish retail giant, boasts the industry’s fastest product sketch-to-store operations.
Now, it’s looking to use technology to enhance the in-store buying experience, raising questions for the industry regarding the future of manufacturing and the retail job market.
The newest Zara tech implementation is self-checkout. This movement the fashion industry has been slow to adopt, as its grocery store predecessors have done little to make the process feel luxurious.
The innovative part? No scanning. Simply stand near the machine and watch your items appear on screen.
This month, Zara began test driving their voiceless self-checkout droids in locations across the U.K. One Vogue writer decided to chronicle her Oxford Street shopping experience, delighted by the sleek responsive touch screen and security tag removal devices.
This could be the beginning of the end for traditional POS systems, but the fashion industry from production to sales has largely been a people-driven business.
The apparel production process has been largely immune to this shift, as armies of laborers are still relied on to thread fabric through the machines and throughout the assembly lines.
The technology already exists for significantly more automated garment production. This includes chemically stiffened fabrics that make it easier for machines to sew without human aid and an air hockey-esque table capable of moving garments from one assembly process to the next.
There is no doubt that the possibility of near full automation is very attainable in the near future.
Apparel production continues to be one of the first thriving industries of a developing nation’s economy. This is due to the little training required of assembly line workers and the relatively low startup investment necessary to start an apparel factory.
As automation continues to grow and become the norm, what will replace this vital lifeline for flourishing economies?
The rising economic concern is the reduction in available jobs not only abroad, but domestically as well. Production tech innovators like Jonathan Zornow believe that automation and the lack of associated labor costs will help bring production back to the U.S.
However, some still see the possibility for the continued decimation of the middle-class job market. Zara’s self-checkout droids are indicative of a much broader and industry transforming trend, as jobs from production to retail face the threat of obsolescence.
Though there is no simple answer to the industry’s preferred response to this technology, all facets of the industry must be cognizant of the changes ahead. Leaders must prepare for swift adaptation and sustainable environmental and economic growth.
Illustration by Hannah Wright.