How fashion brands are experimenting with Google technology

With its openness to license out its software to fashion brands and the wealth of partnerships that have sprung up around Google’s voice assistant and smartwatch platforms, fashion brands looking to improve their tech offerings have much more room to experiment through Google than other brands with voice assistants or smartwatches.

Earlier this month, British fast-fashion powerhouse Asos debuted the launch of its voice shopping assistant, Enki, through Google Assistant, Google’s answer to Siri. This provided an opportunity for Asos to bring its voice assistant, which it had debuted through Facebook as a chatbot last year, to more customers.

“We were super interested in Google Assistant as a place to build an experience,” said Jason Gregory, senior product manager at Asos. “Google has a great relationship with so many fashion brands, but we had only collaborated with them to an extent. They guided us and gave us some technical help in setting this up.”

Earlier this year, H&M also debuted a shopping assistant along with a personal stylist program through Google Assistant, taking advantage of Google’s augmented reality and voice capabilities.

By contrast, Apple’s Siri does not seem to have any direct integrations with fashion brands. Apple did not respond to a request for comment on whether any such partnerships exist.

Amazon’s Alexa, the other major voice assistant platform out there, uses a similar open structure to Google’s. Through the creation of Alexa Skills, any brand can theoretically be integrated into Alexa. A quick perusal of the Alexa Skill section on Amazon’s site reveals dozens of luxury and mass fashion brands, retailers and resale platforms like Poshmark with their own skills.

Brands like Diesel are also incorporating Google Assistant into some of their products — the Diesel Full Guard 2.5 smart watch released earlier this summer.  Smartwatches are another area where fashion brands have benefited from Google’s open approach to partnerships.

While Apple may be the most well-known name in smartwatches, the Apple Watch is inaccessible for most fashion brands outside of the few joint Apple Watch models that Apple produces with only a few select brands, including Nike and Hermès. On the other hand, Google’s Wear OS operating system is used frequently by brands from Kate Spade to Michael Kors to Louis Vuitton in the creation of their smart watches.

“It has been fantastic to see major players in the fashion and luxury industry bring their own expertise, design ethos and features to the Android Wear ecosystem,” a Google spokesperson told Glossy last year. “After our strong success with Tag Heuer’s smartwatch, it came naturally for us to want to work with more brands within the group.”

The smartwatch market is appealing for brands, expected to reach nearly $33 billion by 2020. But for brands wanting to get into smartwatches, partnering with Apple seems far-fetched. The majority of Apple’s fashion partnerships related to the Apple Watch take the form of watch bands created by brands like Coach and Kate Spade.

Instead, Google’s more open system allows fashion brands with little experience in technology to create smartwatches without having to invent an entirely new operating system to power them. Rather than pouring resources into an aspect of the smartwatch where they have little experience, brands can instead focus on the fashion aspect of a smart watch.

“Where brands have failed in the past is they have made something, and the technology aspect wasn’t as good or it hasn’t been as practical or as seamless as the original,” said Erica Russo, vp and fashion director for accessories and beauty at Bloomingdale’s.

Google has an obvious interest in these sorts of brand partnerships: data. Google actively courts fashion brands because the data provided by brands to Google is valuable for the company’s advertising revenue. Apple, by virtue of not having to rely on advertising, can focus on hardware instead.

In contrast to Apple’s tight constraints on fashion partnerships, Google’s open approach to working with fashion brands, giving them the tools and platform to create the products they want, is one that was laid out by the company’s head of fashion and luxury, Corey Moran, to Women’s Wear Daily last year.

“The way we position it here at Google is that it’s sort of like the publisher of a magazine or the GM of an online brand,” Moran told WWD. “We want to be the first phone call a brand makes when they are faced with either a challenge or an opportunity.”

Get news and analysis about fashion, beauty and culture delivered to your inbox every morning.