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sts.components.contact.mr.placeholder Sebastian Webel
Mr. Sebastian Webel

Editor-in-Chief

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Pictures of the Future
The Magazine for Research and Innovation
 

Internet of Things

Scenario 2035: Suit Yourself

In 2035 hardly any clothing is sold off the rack. So when Thomas Jones, a professor of medicine from Nigeria, orders a suit from the Hamburg branch of a worldwide fashion chain and asks to have it delivered to him in Lagos, the company uses Web-based software solutions to look for the best combination of growing area, weaving mill, and processing plant in terms of costs and climate-friendliness.

2035. A young professor of medicine from Nigeria is shopping for a tailor-made suit in Hamburg. In the process, he gets a look at how products are created in an age of comprehensive global networking.

Business is booming this afternoon at a shopping mall in Hamburg, Germany. Thomas Jones, a professor of medicine from Nigeria, has completed his meetings with German colleagues and is now using the early evening hours to look for a new suit. For quite some time now, buying clothes off the rack has been a thing of the past. Jones, who is now 40, knows of this custom only by hearsay. His suit will be not only tailor-made but also produced in an almost fully automatic process that includes everything from the purchase of raw materials to production and delivery. What’s more, the entire process is designed to be environmentally friendly.

Jones smiles expectantly as he enters a branch of an international fashion company that keeps his measurements — naturally with his consent — on file.

Customer-Specific Information

“Good morning, Thomas,” says a young salesman. The last time Jones shopped at a branch of this chain was two years ago in his home town, Lagos! Obviously a camera must have scanned his face and software must have recognized him as he stepped into the store just now, uploading his data onto the salesman’s information device.

The two men begin a detailed discussion of suits. “My father always wore a shirt and a dark suit when he went to his job at his company,” Jones recalls. “Mine too,” replies the salesman, who turns out to be one of the managing directors of the fashion chain. He introduces himself as Paul Erikson, the son of the company’s founder. At the moment he’s spending a week working at the Hamburg branch in order to get a sense of what customers are asking for these days. The market analyses he receives are optimally differentiated, but human intuition is still a crucial factor for a fashion company’s survival.

Fair Trade

Jones steps onto a platform and has his measurements taken with a laser scanner. A computer compares the current data with the data registered from earlier visits. “Just a bit wider around the hips,” says Erikson with a smile. Then the two men choose a color from a table of more than a hundred shades and decide on the desired type of cloth. Jones chooses a lightweight cotton that will be appropriate for the Nigerian climate.

Six weeks earlier, Buthan Singh stood in his cotton field in the state of Punjab in India, checking to see whether his crop was ready for picking. “We should start the first harvest in two days,” said his foreman. Singh does not use fully automated harvesting methods. Instead, he picks his cotton according to the individual plants’ degree of maturity. That results in much higher quality and earns him good prices on the world market. The farm has been owned by Singh and his ancestors for five generations, but only in the past 20 years have Singh and his family been able to make a good living from cotton cultivation. That’s because during this period the government’s subsidies for agricultural produce have been gradually reduced and almost entirely abolished.

Singh sells his harvests via an automatic raw materials exchange. An English weaving mill that specializes in high-quality suit fabrics has bought the first batch. The mill’s customers consider not only price and quality important; they also look to see how sustainably the cotton was produced. This information reaches the end customer by means of product tracking software that works with smart RFID labels. Customers need this information in order to know how much a purchase adds to their personal emissions’ account.

The age of globally mass-produced products was over. Only individualized products could make a profit.

Textiles from England – Not India

“The cotton for this suit comes from Punjab,” says Erikson after a quick look at his information device. “The fabric was manufactured — just a moment — ah yes, in England.”

Jones smiles before replying. “It’s rather ironic that there are weaving mills in England once again, after so many decades in which textiles were produced almost exclusively in low-wage countries,” he says.

“Now that everything is tailor-made, we only need relatively small batches of fabric. The only requirement is that the transportation routes have to be as short as possible and the carbon dioxide balance has to be kept in mind,” Erikson replies. He tells Jones that the company almost went bankrupt in the early 2020s. Clothing could no longer be offered at rock-bottom prices after countries like India and China started not only producing clothing but also selling it themselves — and thus keeping a large part of the profits.

Tailor-Made Offers

“My father soon realized that the age of globally mass-produced products was over and that only individualized products could generate a profit,” Erikson recalls. At that time there was a recession, and lenders weren’t willing to invest in corporate restructuring.

But Erikson’s grandfather was not prepared to give up. In line with the concept of crowdfunding, he used social networks to find 1,000 private investors who believed in his vision of a modern and sustainable fashion firm. Initially the company only produced clothing on demand, but soon it also incorporated factors such as pesticide-free cultivation, fair working conditions, and sustainable production processes. And because more and more firms were adopting this approach, the big technology companies developed new Web-based software programs that gradually created a comprehensive network of customers, producers, and raw materials suppliers.

Quality without Borders

Jones tries on a jacket made of the fabric he has selected. “It’s very pleasant to wear,” he says. In a wall “mirror” he sees a picture of himself wearing the new suit he has ordered. “Hmm, the color’s still not ideal. I think I’ll take a lighter tone,” he says, having changed his mind. Then he realizes that he’s leaving Hamburg tomorrow and that the suit has to be delivered to Lagos. “No problem,” says Erikson, typing this in on a keyboard. Three minutes later, the ordering system comes up with a completely new delivery chain. “Your cotton will now come from Chad, and the weaving mill is in Benin,” Erikson says. The sewing will be done in Nigeria. The design is available to all of the chain’s contract tailoring shops via our Web-based services. “The hardest thing was to get all of our suppliers to comply with a uniform quality standard.” But ever since the governments in West Africa began focusing on education and professional qualification programs, this has been no more problematic than in other countries. “Nowadays a good suit can be produced in the same way on every continent. And it no longer has to have a dark color!” Erikson concludes with a smile.

Katrin Nikolaus