In a world where every step of business is going digital, within the fashion industry, balancing a human approach, nurturing artisan skills, and integrating the benefits of digital seems like an opportunity to keep the distinction of “the business of dreams”.

If a machine can do everything for everybody, then where does its unique quality lie? Are the technical processes better than handmade? Does fashion depend on high craftsmanship to elevate prices? Is digital fashion displacing the sensorial attributes of garments? 

Intricate questions to answer, as nothing is black or white, there is a vast gray area between combining technology, know-how, and getting the best of both worlds. Finding proper responses that articulate the business reality, the social side of the fashion industry, and responsible solutions for the future will be the only way to go forward. 

Theoretically, luxury can be a departure from the norm, something unusual. Also, it can mean distinction: linked to physical attributes. The bourgeois concept of luxury is related to the role that the Industrial Revolution gave to the court of suppliers, back in the nineteenth century.

The aristocratic and artisanal models were rooted within the production models before modernity entered the scene. Luxury goods were carefully crafted by highly skilled artisans and relied on exceptional quality, raw materials, and producing small quantities, as scarcity is one of luxury’s rules and precepts. 

High-Fashion and Couture business models rely on exclusivity, an extraordinary material sourcing selection, and bespoke tailoring. Their business purpose is against mass production as the higher the availability, the lower the prestige will be.

On the contrary, startup business solutions, hyper-fast fashion internet players, and specialist e-retailers have relied on technology, the digitization of processes, and the hyper-fragmentation of activities related to garment manufacturing to keep the costs under control and obtain profits. Digital does not always follow an ethical perspective either on the planet, or the fashion workers. 

In the fashion, luxury, and lifestyle businesses, there is no magic recipe to success, as change and product alterations are the basis of novelty that the fashion system requires and needs to exist. 

The artisanal and digital approach brings up the conversation about serving local versus global. Neither of these two aspects is mutually exclusive. 

It Is Possible to Be a Global Luxury Brand and Have a Significant Impact on the Local Communities

Chanel is a classic example of that approach. On one hand, due to the lack of artisanal processes and techniques affects directly the brand’s value proposition, and on the other hand, they understood that -at least in the luxury segment- cannot exist one without the other. 

Since 1985 the Parisian house has been acquiring small ateliers and artisanal businesses, in a clear strategic move to secure their supply chain and preserve specialized crafts, the base of French’s “savoir-faire”. The Paraffection subsidiary is the holding that includes embroiderers such as Lesage and Montex, over jewelry makers Goossens, shoemaker Massaro, feather specialist Lemarié, milliner Maison Micher, and knit specialist Paima. 

The goal of Chanel is to preserve and promote the heritage, craft, and manufacturing skills of fashion artisan workshops. The workshops maintain independence from Chanel Inc. as they can supply orders from other rival fashion houses such as Balenciaga, and Valentino.

This artisanal club is held under one roof, the recently opened Le19M, a multidisciplinary complex designed by architect Rudy Ricciotti, where  600 artisans and specialists have gathered inside the métiers d’art ateliers, a gallery, and a school. 

“Techniques are plentiful, they can be developed and passed on …they have to be attached to a tangible reality. Fashion is creation, but creation is embodied in tangible products that are underpinned by know-how, by people who have learned [these skills] and who transmit a kind of magic touch to these products… Without craftspeople, where will we be in 10 years? And that’s not just a question for Chanel”, stated Bruno Pavlovsky, president of the brand’s fashion division, in a Women’s Wear Daily article.

Another example of commitment is the Loewe Craft Prize. The Loewe Foundation seeks to “acknowledge and support international artisans of any age or gender who demonstrate an exceptional ability to create objects of superior aesthetic value. By identifying work that reinterprets existing knowledge to make it relevant today while reflecting its maker’s personal language and distinct hand”.  In their journey, the luxury brand Loewe aims to highlight the continuing contribution of craft to nowadays culture and reward, “the most outstanding, representing excellence, newness, innovation, and artistic vision in modern craftsmanship”.

Digital, as well, can offer endless possibilities for presenting the product engagingly and beautifully. Craftsmanship finds no contradiction in the use of technology to uplift the final result of fashion products. 

In a digital paradigm, it is easier and faster to communicate but is difficult to convey the sensorial experience. Digital can bring innovation to the work of artisans and craft houses: 3D prototypes, digital modifications, digital presentations, and the use of artificial intelligence in the cutting, sewing, and finishing processes of garments.

Craftsmanship is knowledge, digital connects the dots between that knowledge to make it more efficient and durable over time. If the fashion industry manages to combine both dimensions, its innovation -and permanence- will be assured.