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Future of Ralph Lauren, and retail, may be coloring clothes in store


In a New York store window, Ralph Lauren Polo shirts can be seen.

Daniel Acker | Bloomberg | Getty Images

You may find a solution sooner than you think if the apparel stores choose colors not to your taste or if they are behind social media trends by time they reach the shelves.

In the next 12 months Ralph LaurenSome flagship stores will have textile coloring technology so that customers can have a blank canvas for cotton polo shirts dyed in-store.

Giant chemical company DowRalph Lauren and, an important player in textile dyes has worked together to create new cotton dyeing processes that are less dependent on chemicals, water, and more energy intensive.

Jim Fitterling, Dow CEO and chairman of the CNBC said at last week’s CNBC that Ralph Lauren uses cotton a lot. “To dye fabric it takes a lot chemicals and a lot water. It also generates a lot waste. ESG ImpactSummit

Trillions of liters of waterThey are also used in fabric dyeing. This is equivalent to 20% of the world’s wastewater.

Dow has developed ECOFAST Pure to reduce the use of chemicals and energy in dyeing cotton. This was announced by Dow earlier this year.

But the sustainability project could also have major implications for what is called experiential retail — the effort by retailers to give consumers new reasons to come into stores as e-commerce’s footprint, already large, only grows as a result of the pandemic.

Ralph Lauren Color on DemandProject uses Dow technology to color the cotton at all stages of production. It also reduces lead time for color decision making. Halide Alagöz, chief product and sustainability officer at Ralph Lauren, said in an announcement about the effort earlier this year that the retailer will be able to “meet personalized consumer demands faster than ever before.”

He didn’t actually say that, but it could be interpreted as he was possibly coloring the shirt at the store.

Fitterling stated that Ralph Lauren would be able “to put Color on Demand” in their New York flagship store next year, so customers can come in to get their Ralph Lauren Polo dyed there. This technology would not have made it possible.

Ralph Lauren spokesperson said that they look forward to learning more.

Experience retail after the pandemic

Ralph Lauren isn’t new to inventing new ways of involving the customer in apparel production. Online orders can be customized with colors to match the iconic horse logo. North Face is one of the other retailers that allows customers to choose and customize the jacket components and then have them made according to their specifications.

The retail sector will see many changes, including faster and more customized fashions that include the consumer. Levi Strauss & Co. CEO Chip Bergh has said the traditional sizes will be a thing of the past in fashionThe combination of 3-D body scanners, camera technology and faster manufacturing will enable retailers to create clothes that are unique for every person. Amazon and Nike have both made acquisitions of body-scanning technologies in the recent past.

Every conversation in retail pre-pandemic was all about selling experiences, not things. The lockdowns have put some of those plans on hold, as digital has become the only way to do businesses. However, these strategies will be reintroduced.

Simeon Sigel, retail analyst at Retail Analytics At. Simeon said that “e-commerce has achieved points of penetration. mindshare. and will not give them back.” BMO Capital Markets. Strong stores, which made it through the pandemic, are stronger than ever and will not disappear.”

It means that both e-commerce will become more popular, as well experiential stores for prominent locations. Siegel stated that the store would become more immersive every day. It’s about how you capitalize on that to increase sales.

A consumer could choose their own color, and have an item of clothing dyed by a retailer. This is a key factor in the future of retail.

According to Siegel, making the consumer the “creator” has always been powerful. It has been a win-win proposition to bring the consumer into the story.

“People want to get back out after the pandemic,” said Ivan Feinseth, chief investment officer and director of research at Tigress Financial Partners. The pandemic caused a lot of ideas to be canceled, but they will return. “A good amount of retail still happens in a shop,” he stated.  

It is exciting to see the rapid development of customizing and fast production of apparel, which allows customers to select their own color. Historically, fabric preparation was dangerous and workers who had protection from plant hazards could not do it.

He said that chemicals used to dye things, and the entire handling of how businesses get rid of it, are becoming more widespread. However, he also stated that chemical removal from cleaning products is increasing in popularity.

Dow did not elaborate further on the statements of its CEO.

Ralph Lauren announced in an official statement that it is working towards the creation of the world’s first “scalable, zero-waste cotton dyeing system.” The first phase will utilize traditional dyeing equipment and will require 85% less chemicals. It aims to make the Color on Demand platform available in over 80% of all solid cotton products by 2025. 

These two companies have also stated earlier this month they open-sourced the dyeing processes for the textile sector.

Innovations in the field of color technology

Many breakthroughs have been made in fabric dyeing. The way that consumers choose color and patterns is changing with digital textile printing has already been revolutionized.

According to Ken Butts (global key account manager for Datacolor), “The sky’s the limit on what customers can order and get,” which helps retailers implement digital color solutions in their supply chain. It has only been possible for online businesses to do this for DIY craftspeople and in patterns, rather than for solid colors, on fabrics such as upholstery or curtains. However, it is now being expanded into apparel. He said that companies are investing in digital printers and print samples, with the goal of printing direct for customers.

Although digital printing allows for quick responses to consumer demand and interest, it is not likely to replace traditional dyeing in the near future. There are still many fabrics that can be printed on it.

Butts added that “it doesn’t mean it won’t get overcome some day.” “But your average polo shirt, which is first manufactured to look like a t-shirt and then dyed into the shape of a shirt. You cannot print it and you can’t turn it around. [the printer]” 

Traditional dyeing of clothing such as a poloshirt requires intensive processes with many gallons pigment, large-scale machinery, and significant time. But even at industrial textile facilities there are small machines that can test the color of samples.  

Butts explained that any factory which dyes fabrics using large-scale machines, thousands upon thousands of pounds, will also have a piece similar in their lab. That’s the place where they are testing their ability make the desired color. When a retailer requests a specific color, the first thing a supplier should do is test it with smaller equipment.

Although the smaller equipment requires water and chemicals, the end product will have to be disposed of. But, technology is improving rapidly and it’s not difficult for retailers to dye fabric in store, particularly larger flagship-style shops that are not limited in space.

It is possible for customers to bring their color selections with them to the store, which will allow software to convert it into dyes. However, timing is a problem for the in-store revolution of color-dyeing. Even at its best, chemical dyeing can take up to an hour to create the garment. This might be a better process for the consumer as well as the retailer.

“Now designers are choosing a palette that will appear in a store six to nine months from now, summer 2022, and trying to predict consumer trends,” Butts said. If they don’t know the trend, retailers may rush to produce and transport new products. This can lead to high cost and may miss the trend. He said, “This will allow you to respond to hot trends.”

A customer could walk into a shop with an idea of a color, or maybe they’ve seen someone wearing the same, and apparel can be made within days. The retailer doesn’t have to order 10,000 shirts ahead. Butts explained that dyeing fabrics to the customer’s preferences can be really thrilling.

The sustainability of the apparel consumer

Datacolor works to translate colors into numerical codes so that they can be shared between textile manufacturers and designers in the supply chain. The process reduces the shipping of samples back-and-forth during design and helps with quality control to ensure the correct color when manufacturing thousands of units. That is a more efficient approach to apparel production than a designer in one location sending color palettes to dye mills around the world, which then have to send back fabric samples for visual review — “back and forth until the designed finds something they like,” Butts said.

The retail sector faces a challenging sustainability problem, regardless of whether digital or dyeing innovations are involved. While faster communication is attractive for customers, it is also more cost-effective to make clothes. However, if a customer is changing their wardrobes more often, that does not mean they are being sustainable. And giving consumers more reason to come into stores — and potentially spend a longer time while waiting for a custom item to be finished, leading to possibly even more purchases — means more consumption.

Butts stated that while you can get rid of the most pigments from the machines, at the end of it all you still have a garment or fabric. This question must be answered. While I enjoy seeing color improvements, we must still address sustainability from an overall perspective.

Siegel replied, “Let’s face it.” In retail, it is best to stop selling the item.

Retailers and brands can benefit from manufacturing that is more sustainable, less expensive, and has a smaller carbon footprint. However, this does not address the problem of consumer waste or landfills. This is why many retail models have been evolving, with the emphasis on reuse and resale businesses like Rent the Runway which was publicly traded last week.

While the Ralph Lauren-Dow Partnership may seem unique because of the way it can tell an entirely new story in experiential retail for consumers, there is no better brand than Ralph Lauren.

The retailers do not just want to increase their sales, they are also interested in improving their sustainability. Siegel explained that it is up to Siegel to find the right balance between these two. They must balance the high-wire act to be better while not alienating customers, and convince consumers that walking away is best. That story has yet to be told.