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Kornit Digital: The evolving relationship between consumer, brand and supply chain

By Rachel Douglass


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Nike partners with EA Sports on Swoosh community designs. Credits: Nike.

Every morning it increasingly feels like we are waking up to a whole new world. This was especially true for Kornit Digital, an Israeli-American textile technology firm that has had its own world flipped upside down as one of its home countries quickly descends into a war zone. No matter, the mindset of the company was ‘business as usual’ – while remaining highly considerate of its impacted employees – a sentiment that was felt at a VIP event in its European headquarters in Düsseldorf, where industry experts, clients and students were invited to network and discuss solutions to develop the supply chain alongside the ever evolving world.

As a tech-led company – namely focused on the production and scaling of textile printing solutions – the event’s panel talks and presentations naturally evolved around such topics. This was already evidenced in the first talk of the day by key speaker Zoe Scaman, the founder of strategy innovation studio Bodacious, who elaborated on the ever-changing demands, needs and communications of consumers and brands in the not-so-near future.

Consumers as the creators

Scaman’s topic acted as a foretelling of what the overlying theme of each discussion was to delve into throughout the day: the evolving role of the consumer and how that will inevitably impact the supply chain. Such shifts, from Scaman’s perspective, were defined in three phases of user generated content (UGC) seen over the years. While the first referenced the way in which brands had previously acted at the forefront of control over communication and design to lead decision-making, the second – and the one in which we have been within for over 10 years – opens the borders of creation up.

Brands have heavily leaned into influencer culture over recent years, working alongside creators and taking on a curator role as the importance of incorporating outside perceptions gained value. This, in turn, leads into Scaman’s third phase, during which the rising dominance of community-building is to become more prevalent, supported largely by white-label platforms dedicated, such as Discord, and thus changing the way consumers expect to interact with brands.

For Scaman, through the third phase, that is slowly beginning to descend on the fashion world now, brands are moving towards the idea of the consumer as collaborators and creators themselves, pushing co-creation and interactive social media spaces that allow for these modes of design. This has further developed as an offset to the more impersonal platforms that were once leading the way – namely Facebook, where user rates have begun to fall in light of rising demand for a “cosy web”, as Scaman dubs it.

Shirt variations generated by CALA's AI (powered by DALL·E). Credits: Cala x Dalle-E.

Expanding on the digital aspect of this phase, Scahowman said: “When it comes to this new phase of UGC, self-expression and potentially where we're going next, you also have this rise of Web3 and ownership. If we've got more and more stuff being generated, we need to have a way of actually tracking who created that in the first place. Where that is leading to is this idea of reciprocal value creation. New economies are being born from these different [virtual] spaces and [customers] want to be a part of it. When we're thinking about giving people the ability to co-create with us as brands, we need to think about the mutual value generation that we are creating with them.”

The role of brands and designers

Naturally, this shift in behaviour directly feeds into fashion brands which are actively seeking to keep in touch with younger generations whose values revolve around these patterns. Scaman states that this lies in the foundations of brands transforming into tools that allow consumers to have input, therefore handing over control of creation in order to explore a freer approach to design and production.

This sense of democratised creation can already be seen in a number of projects initiated by various brands that put to use technologies like generative AI, exclusive platforms and tech-based loyalty schemes. Sports giant Nike, for example, is a leader in such concepts. From the launch of its interactive Nike Swoosh studio – a closed-community where members get the opportunity to design their own versions of iconic Nike sneakers – to the release of its ‘Cryptokicks’ with RTFKT – a shoe that can track the wearer’s brand loyalty – the company has already explored the possibilities of shared leadership deeply.

Adding to this, Scaman said: “We are going to become collaborators and emergent ecosystems. When we think about how brands are starting to shift, especially in the fashion world, they are now becoming more of a toolkit. They're handing over a level of control to consumers and saying you can create with us, you give us your ideas, here's the 3D files, you go and create something and see where that goes. What that's also leading to is this idea of being an emergent ecosystem. Rather than the brand controlling everything, instead they're saying we're open to seeing where our fans and where our consumers might take this next.”

While brands are only just beginning to onboard this refreshed take on creation, the mindset is already rife among young designers and creatives beginning their careers in the industry. A group of such individuals were given a platform during the VIP event, taking part in a panel discussion the day after showing a selection of their designs in front of attendees the evening prior. Those participating were named winners of Kornit’s 2023 Graduate Fashion Foundation earlier this year, and descended from various institutions across the UK where they were recognised for their use of print in their graduate collections.

Nike x RTFKT Cryptokicks, virtual shoe. Credits: Nike x RTFKT Cryptokicks.

Next to discussing the general difficulties faced when attempting to begin a career in fashion, the group also touched on the growing desire to move away from mass production. Panellist Natalie Evans said: “We can all agree that the design process, what fabrics we use and what processes we use is all important. Something that is also important if we’re designing sustainably, is actually thinking a little bit about the psychology of fashion. Here, it is about looking into that storytelling aspect, which I think is what customers are looking for now – moving away from mass produced and looking for something that has a little more meaning behind it. This could involve creating a graphic or design that is more personal, and therefore creates a bit more of an emotional interaction with the wearer. That is then going to increase the longevity of the product.”

How do supply chains need to adapt?

Where there are shifts in consumer demand, and in response to the workings of a brand, there also needs to be movement among the currently static supply chain, which in the present day is not entirely flexible towards fast changing mindsets, wide-spread personalisation and swift reactions.

During the third talk of the day, 'Collaborating to drive change', the panel discussed the rise of social media users as creators, not just consumers. Platforms like TikTok have amplified this trend, and certain fashion companies like Shein have rapidly responded to these social media trends, adjusting their offerings quickly to cater to current demand.

This shift has challenged traditional approaches to planning collections, conducting research, and managing supply chains. It emphasizes the advantages of suppliers and factories that are flexible and capable of producing niche products to meet fast-paced market demands.

Speaking on how this could continue to develop, Scott Walton, head of global business development brands at Kornit Digital, noted that, as already evidenced by Shein’s expansive growth, digitalisation of the back end of manufacturing is imperative to keep up. “A part of the issue is that it is so fragmented,” Walton added. “All of these manufacturing companies need to come together with technology companies to build those components of that ecosystem to bring that [part of the supply chain] together, and the demand goes with that.”

To conclude, and to underscore the importance of change and adaptation, Scaman’s final remarks come into play: “People are no longer going to sit there and be happy to just consume whatever it is that we give to them. They want to be part of the process and it's about participation. It's about reciprocity and ownership. They're building those sticky economies that they can be a part of. Fashion has always been about culture. We make it, we disseminate it, we destroy it, we rebuild it. But culture is changing. And where we're going now is this idea that we have to share it, we have to co-create it, we have to open it up. We have to become kaleidoscopic and we have to invite people in. They have the tools to be able to do this. So if we don't, they're going to do it anyway, but we're going to be left behind.”

Kornit Digital
Supply Chain