How the digital thread is charting a new path for the footwear and apparel industry.


Sebastián Ramirez

Country Manager Colombia

Fast fashion has become even faster. Due to proliferating online options, fashion brands are no longer limited to physical storefronts or the boundaries of seasonality. Social media has become the new fashion runway where brands can reach audiences and provide constant inspiration for both consumers and designers.

Social commerce is driving growth in the apparel sector. Instagram and TikTok are two of the most popular apps to uncover new trends, find wardrobe advice, or discover deals. Unlike in stores when buyers can peruse and try on items, impulse buying has taken on new meaning when items are routinely bought with the tap of a finger.

Buying footwear and apparel from Social Media

Younger generations are increasingly interested in sustainable fashion. It is no longer a secret that fast fashion produces enormous quantities of waste and has high rates of overproduction and overconsumption, according to an environmental review in Nature. In 2021, the fashion industry accounted for as much as 10 percent of global CO2 output and 20 percent of the world’s plastic production due to the industry’s reliance on petroleum-based polyester.

To reduce this environmental impact, a growing number of consumers are prioritizing the longevity of products and seeking more information about how products are made. Footwear and apparel brands are being asked to create sustainable end-to-end supply chains by reducing, reclaiming, and reselling used clothing.
Consumers value disclosures about product materials and sourcing on product tags or QR codes. However, while consumers value brands that confront and minimize their waste, they still enjoy having wide choices of products that are made and delivered quickly.

Sustainability in footwear industry

Companies have new ways to forecast emerging trends. To integrate real-world feedback earlier in product development, companies can build new digital platforms for consumers in limited geographies to provide input about potential new styles. Enhanced data-driven collaboration across departmental silos can incorporate this input faster. Moreover, in addition to batch-production or emergent styles, companies can also invest in customization tools that offer personalized options in aesthetics or comfort. New investments in direct-to-consumer sales can also reduce retail costs while providing customers more personalized service.

There are two potent opportunities for sector growth. The first is in secondhand marketplaces. General concern about the economy and inflation have pushed many consumers to consider buying pre-owned items they would have previously bought new, while social media has promoted the thrill of finding valuable or vintage items at deep discounts. Take-back programs, such as lululemon’s Like New initiative, can open new revenue streams and drive customer loyalty by paying customers in dollars or credit for their used items. Patagonia’s Worn Wear program is a central hub to “repair, share, and recycle” Patagonia gear. Importantly, companies must vet product quality to build trust and reliability in second-hand goods.

In Fall 2022 The North Face debuted its first collection of circular products, comprising 20 wardrobe staples like zip-up hoodies that have been redesigned to be easier to “cycle” into something else at the end of their useful lives. With its first circular apparel collection, The North Face is targeting “cycle-ability,” which refers to both recycling materials into new textiles and “downcycling” them into other types of products.

Creating immersive experiences for customer in the footwear and apparel industries

The second opportunity is in the integration of physical, digital, and metaverse or 3D communities. Companies can provide in-store touchpoints that enable shoppers to see activity in digital spaces, and vice versa. They can also engage on social media through influencers and popular hashtags (such as #sneakerhead on TikTok) to build familiarity and trust. Passive loyalty programs, in which consumers are rewarded for low-intensity actions like “checking in,” submitting a daily code, or retweeting a branded tweet, can also drive increased engagement, trust, and brand loyalty.

The Bot Initiated Longevity Lab (B.I.L.L.) in Nike Town London takes a swing at popularizing circularity by generating buzz in-store. With the insight that giving a product a second life reduces its environmental impact, B.I.L.L. combines “advanced robotics and 3D modeling, old-school handcraft, water-based cleaning products, and recycled polyester patches” to refurbish a pair of Nike athletic shoes in about 45 minutes. As of Fall 2022, the service is currently free of charge to Nike Town London shoppers.

Converse bringing sustainability to life as a viable growth stream in their business

Converse, a propelland client, sought to bring sustainability to life as a viable growth stream in their business. Moreover, they wanted to make their customers feel that they could be part of the solution, while elevating interest in the Converse brand and driving foot traffic in stores. Using a “Test + Learn” approach, we tested digital services and experiences with Converse customers across 5 countries in order to gauge the desirability of specific sustainable services. Iterating upon these learnings, we have conducted multiple live experiments at the Converse Renew Labs store in Australia to assess business viability.
In another project with Converse, we prototyped 45 Chuck Taylor sneakers incorporating sustainable materials sourced from ecopreneurs in 11 countries. Eight of the tested Chuck Taylor concepts launched on Earth Day with support from brand influencers.