Late post, and no picture today, first of all because my Google-fu is not sufficient to find me a picture of a robot wearing a dress (this will become clear later, and the first person to send me one not from The Jetsons will get Dress A Day swag) and secondly because I am slightly tired. I went (as is my wont when I am in NYC on a Wednesday) roller-skating at the Roxy last night and when they turn the bass up to "defibrillate" I find myself unable to stop skating and leave at a reasonable hour. (The Roxy got hip! I am resisting the urge to complain loudly about how I've been going there forEVER–I even have my own skates, which I keep in NYC–and how the hipsters and noobs are ruining it. 'Cause they're not! It was actually fine, once I got through the line at the door. A few more crashes and collisions than usual, but nobody took me out, so that's okay.)
Anyway. Why was I going to post a picture of a robot wearing a dress? Because I want to talk about The Future of Fashion. There have been other posts in the that talk about disintermediation (that is, cutting out the middleman), the need for virtual fashion shows, faster fashion cycles and greater consumer feedback — and I think all those things are inevitable.
In fact, in my dream world of the future, I'm not hoping for space tourism, food pills, and personal jetpacks (okay, I'm still crossing my fingers for the jetpacks). I am excited about infinite customization, smart (or even nano) manufacturing, and efficient marketplaces. If I want something (say, a pair of round-toed 2" heels with an ankle strap, in brown suede, or a lemon-yellow silk/Lycra short-sleeved cardigan sweater with a peter pan collar, pearl buttons, and 3/4 sleeves), I just spec it (including exact dimensions) and put it up for bids through an electronic matchmaking service. Manufacturers and designers will automatically send me price offers: who can make it for what price, in what time? Do they already have something close they think I'll like better? I'll weigh the offers depending on how fast or exact I want it, and whether or not I want to maintain rights to my design, release it under a Creative Commons, charity-benefit, or some other kind of license, or hand it over to the manufacturer in return for product.
I'm thinking the designing process will be much like an Identikit suspect sketch — you start with a template that you tweak by saying "not so much here" or "a little tighter there". You'd choose a color with a Pantone chart! (I can't tell you how much I wish clothing and accessory manufacturers would list Pantone colors so that I could search for things that are my favorite color green, for instance.)
People who don't want to design their own clothes (and really, do those people actually exist?) will "shop" by watching online fashion shows and getting feeds of what's new and hot right to their browsers. There are things like this happening right now, on a limited scale, mostly a few measurements and size and feature options. Custom Nikes. Custom sizing of pants at Land's End. Think of how Threadless.com works — some people design t-shirts, members of the community vote on them, and then the winners get printed up. Or where you upload your image to use on everything from totebags to thongs. Imagine that for handbags. Imagine that for shoes. Imagine that for every possible garment, plus the option to get one-offs made just for you!
You'd think this would kill retail, wouldn't you? But think of a store where you walk in, look around, select something and customize it to your size and preferred color right on the spot. You'd still be able to buy off the rack — for a premium. Everyone else would come back the next day (or wait for it to come in the mail) to grab their perfectly-fitting, color-matched, personalized garment.
The savings on the manufacturing side would be wonderful. No more guessing how many people are going to want the red in size 2 or the black in size 16. Much less waste. Much less shipping of product back and forth, from factory to store to outlet mall. (Maybe no more sprawling suburban soul-killing outlet malls!) Plus the chance to tweak designs immediately based on customer feedback and take advantage of fads instantly.
All of this, of course, depends on new fabrication methods that don't require tons of *different* raw materials — essentially nanotechnology and desktop fab. Technology that isn't really proven and has a long way to go. But considering how far other technologies have come just in my lifetime (computers, cellphones, the whole friggin' Internet) you have to hope that infinite customization is just around the corner. I'm willing to sacrifice the jetpack, even …