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Founded in 1985, Tommy Hilfiger is seen to many as a classic brand with immediately recognizable logos all over the world. But even the classics need to reimagine themselves to keep up with the times and the droves of new innovative brands bursting onto the fashion scene. Technology is, in many ways, the future of the fashion industry and Tommy Hilfiger is winning the race. The brand is making waves, playing with technology in both their design process, online shopping experience, and physical clothing. With ventures into the world of artificial intelligence and wearable tech, Hilfiger has proven to be a company without fear of innovating to fit the new tech-savvy world, and certainly not afraid of trying daring, new business models.

2018 was a big year for the Tommy Hilfiger brand; they announced a partnership with IBM and FIT (Fashion Institute of Technology), using artificial intelligence to create a project known as “Reimagine Retail”, and launched Tommy Jeans XPLORE, a new line of clothes and accessories “bugged” with smart chip technology in a fresh twist on a rewards program.

Hilfiger’s “Reimagine Retail” uses IBM’s AI tools to decipher real-time fashion industry trends, customer sentiment around the brand’s products, and resurfacing themes in trending patterns, silhouettes, colors, and styles in the fashion industry. Artificial intelligence as a whole is a technology most people associate with robots (Siri anyone?), but it can be used beyond iPhones to revolutionize the fashion design process and online shopping experience, spearheaded by Tommy Hilfiger. AI technology does this by mining data to produce key insights on trends, expediting the initial design process to predict accurate demand for products, helping brands to manage costs, and streamlining efficiency.

Michael Ferraro, executive director of FIT’s Infor Design and Tech Lab spoke on the project saying the AI tools used, “...gave us insights about the Tommy Hilfiger colors, silhouettes and prints that we couldn't begin to consume or understand with the human mind.” In the partnership, students at FIT were given access to IBM’s AI tools specifically trained with fashion data in order to analyze the “DNA” of Tommy Hilfiger. They were able to then take inspiration from popular trends like Americana to come up with new design concepts still in line with the Tommy brand and supported by consumer and trend data analytics. 

In addition to exploring how AI might impact decision making in fashion design, FIT and IBM explored how tools such as social media listening and voice recognition can create a more personalized shopping experience built around an interactive ‘smart’ supply chain strategy, optimizing waste and minimizing environmental impact for Tommy Hilfiger. By using AI, Hilfiger can maximize their revenue by identifying popular products quicker, deal with fewer returns, and increase website functionality and personalization for shoppers to ultimately gain higher customer satisfaction. And what brand doesn’t want that?

Tommy Hilfiger’s partnership with IBM and FIT showcases how not only AI but the capabilities of technology as a whole can inspire huge change in how fashion is produced and sold. The brand is taking steps into the future of fashion, where technology is as intertwined with the industry as the material being used to make the clothes themselves. As a member of the admittedly tech-obsessed Gen Z, I certainly predict other brands to follow the path Tommy is paving into the world of technology.
But AI is not the only technological venture Hilfiger explored in 2018. The brand also launched a new line of smart clothing, Tommy Jeans XPLORE, in which each garment comes with “smart chip technology,” tracking how often customers wear the clothes. The line includes both men and women's style hoodies ($99), jeans (about $99), T-shirts ($39), fanny packs ($89.50) and other selections, all with the embedded chips. The intent of this wearable technology is to create a rewards program for Hilfiger customers as the more often they wear the garments, the more points they get, which go towards all kinds of prizes and rewards. But that’s not all - according to Tommy Hilfiger, the clothes all contain a "smart tag" that connects to a mobile app via Bluetooth. The app encourages players to collect virtual hearts based on their real-world locations - Tommy’s spin on the viral game Pokemon Go, making clothing interactive and more fun for customers.

In a statement, the company said it hopes the chipped clothes and game will help create a "micro-community of brand ambassadors" for Tommy Hilfiger. This attempt to use technology to create a niche community of Tommy fans is, in essence, creating a dedicated group of walking billboards for the brand, making the connected clothing technology not just encouragement for major brand engagement and interaction beyond traditional touchpoints, but a key to open the door to new kinds of brand marketing. The wearable technology also allows Hilfiger to collect data and post-sale analytics on product usage that inform the future design process. Tommy jeans XPLORE proves the brand is keeping with the times as the growth of the global wearables market is projected to grow to 200 million shipments by 2022 from 125 million this year.

The concept of a rewards program isn’t new, but then again, is anything truly new anymore? It often feels like everything has been done before; but Tommy Hilfiger’s dedication to innovation with technology allows them to make old things new again, appealing to younger audiences and enabling them to stay in the now. The brand is heading into the future, planting themselves on the intersection of technology and fashion and paving the way for similar brands to do the same, proving that the classics can reimagine themselves and stay as popular as they were when first incepted. I guess the question is, will some remain left in Tommy’s dust?

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