Techstyler X BOTTLETOP: Sustainable Materials for Design

Much is said about ‘sustainable materials’ in apparel and product design, but what makes a material sustainable? How can brands adopt sustainable materials without compromising on aesthetics and function? Why is adopting sustainable materials crucial to both the future of the design industries and commercial success of brands?  These questions formed the basis of the first in a series of panel discussions led by Techstyler in partnership with Bottletop, hosted at their flagship store in London’s Regent street. 

An inherently sustainable brand, Bottletop not only repurposes the tabs on aluminium cans to create its products, but uses only reclaimed and recycled materials in its flagship store interior, making it a fitting home for this speaker series unpacking a range of themes on fashion innovation, beginning with sustainable materials for design.  

Speaking to an audience spanning multiple industries, including fashion, furniture and interior design, the panel addressed common misconceptions around sustainable materials and highlighted opportunities for designers and businesses in adopting sustainable materials and practices.

Key takeaways from the event included insights from Oya Barlas Bingul on Lenzing’s Circular fibre, ‘Refibra’, which is created from 50% cotton off-cuts (pre-consumer waste) and 50% Tencel, creating a 100% virgin fibre that can be recycled in a circular manner using Lenzing’s closed loop process, which does not use harmful solvents and creates no toxic byproducts. 

Qiulae Wong enlightened the audience on brand opportunities and adoption of sustainable practices and materials.  She explained that sustainability efforts are unique to each brand and depend on the products being created, so there is no blueprint for becoming a ‘sustainable’ brand.  In doing so, she highlighted that the desire to become ‘sustainable’ but the confusing nature of ‘sustainability’ (does it mean using organic materials, or is it related to carbon footprint generated by the supply chain, for example) means many brands feel overwhelmed and don’t know where to start. 

To this end, Common Objective, where Qiulae is the Production and Marketing Manager, helps brands to assess their business on all levels and identify realistic changes they can make to become more sustainable.  This may mean a brand switching the raw materials of their best selling product to the most sustainable materials available, thereby maximising the positive impact in a targeted and manageable way.

Ronan Hayes is the Co-founder of Reflow, which creates sustainable materials for 3D printing from local waste streams, namely PET plastic bottles.  Ronan shared insights on how 3D printing was initially enthusiastically adopted by engineers and is now in widespread use by artists and designers.  As a result, there is now an appetite not just for the original PLA and ABS plastic filaments, but malleable filaments that 3D print soft, moveable objects.  These new filaments are being used to 3D print clothing and Ronan sees opportunities opening up to feed a wider range of polymer waste materials into the filament making process.  Interestingly, he also explained that Reflow are being approached by global brands to create 3D printing filaments from the brands’ single-use plastic waste and then utilise this filament within the business in place of other materials, thereby contributing towards the overall sustainability of the brand.

In defining sustainability, the panel discussed how everything we do as designers and brands creating products utilises resources (electricity, water, raw materials like cotton etc.) and therefore has an impact.  Being sustainable means minimising that impact and extending the life of materials and products or, better still, recycling them.  But how do brands quantify and qualify their sustainability?  How can sustainability be measured?  How can consumers understand which brands are more sustainable than others?

During the Q&A a question was posed by an audience member who had seen Primark on a ‘top sustainable brands’ list as one of the most sustainable brands in the UK.  A Google search didn’t unearth said list, but it did demonstrate very clearly that there is no benchmark or framework for declaring a brand as ‘sustainable’.  Sustainability is broadly used as a marketing and storytelling tool by brands spanning small artisan labels who cite ethical processes as their key pillar of sustainability, to high street giants who create one-off products or small ranges of products with enhanced sustainability credentials (made from recycled cotton, for example).  The reality that brands must start somewhere means it’s hard to criticise any efforts being made, however the greater effort would ideally come from the brands having the most negative environmental and social impact.

In terms of measuring a brand’s sustainability, unfortunately, as yet, there is no industry standard.  This is not to say there are not tools available  that assess sustainability of fashion companies. The Higg Index is one such tool.  It is, however, completely voluntary, self-reported and unverified externally, making it inherently subjective and therefore difficult to apply to the industry as a whole.  

For more insights on sustainable materials for design, listen to the full panel discussion and Q&A on our podcast.

The next panel discussion in this series, ‘Biomaterials and Biodesign – The Next Generation of Sustainable Materials’ takes place on October 8th at the Bottletop Store.  Tickets available here.

Fashion Tech Goes Mainstream in Munich

Next week sees Fashion Tech take a step closer to the mainstream with the ‘Wardrobe of the Future’ showcase at the Munich Fabric Start trade show, in collaboration with FashNerd.

Top, Orange Fiber X Salvatore Ferragamo.  Above, Nadi X 

The showcase features a number of existing products, including the citrus waste recycler Orange Fiber’s collaboration with Salvatore Ferragamo, which proved the quality and appeal of their waste to cellulose textile.  Alongside this is Nadi X by Wearable X, the yoga legging that uses sensors and an App to guide your alignment during poses.

Flair Atelier’s mass customisation

Other brands in the showcase include Flair Atelier, which offers shoppers ‘base designs’ that they can customise within a set of design parameters on their website.  With mass customisation a key opportunity for product and brand differentiation, this business model looks to a changing consumer landscape, breaking the usual retail mould.  Their website states that they “create a unique digital pattern with your name on it and send it to our tailors in Italy”, suggesting the use of Gerber or Lectra digital pattern cutting software, which no doubt helps them achieve the 2 week order to delivery time.  It would be interesting to know if there is any other technology employed in the manufacturing process that would allow this business to scale and truly achieve mass customisation, or whether the remainder of the process is essentially manual, as per tradition. 

Thesis Couture heels

Thesis Couture have used technology, broadly speaking, for R&D to design a sole for high heels that redistribute weight more effectively than standard heels, thereby reducing pain under the ball of the foot and shifting some of the weight back to the heel.  Tackling the problem of foot pain by “using structural design and advanced materials” to replace the metal shank and cardboard in standard heels makes Thesis Couture’s development a smart leap in the engineering of a product that has barely changed for a hundred years. 

 

Top, Lorna & Bel.  Above, Emel + Aris 

Lorna & Bel will also feature in the ‘Wardrobe of the Future’, with their bags with built-in phone chargers.  London-based brand Emel + Aris, will also be presenting their heated coats. 

PerFlex 3D printed composite bra.

On the speculative side, the PerFlex project bra is a ‘proof of concept’ that harnesses the customisable sizing and 3D printing of plastics by PerFlex, in collaboration with Brigitte Koch of the Technical University of Eindhoven.

The PerFlex website provides consumers with the option to combine parametric patterns made by designers with their body data to get a personalised 3D printed product at the same unit cost as a mass produced item – truly achieving mass customisation.  This application of 3D printing combined with traditional textiles could be a game-changer. 

The significance of this fashion tech showcase is the placement of products that have arguably been viewed as ‘futuristic’ amongst mainstream textiles at a trade show, throwing them into the commercial spotlight.  

Target Open House Garage

Along with the recent launch of Target’s Open House Garage – a testing ground for new fashion tech products that are not yet ready for widespread industry roll-out – it seems like commercial retailers and the industry at large are showing increasing interest in fashion tech products and innovations and their potential to woo consumers.  

The Wardrobe of the Future runs from 4th-6th September 2018 at Munich Fabric Start’s KEYHOUSE.

Header Image: PerFlex

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Pioneering Collaboration Transforms Garments and Fashion Waste into Recyclable Materials

You would be hard-pressed to find a more frequently used buzz word in fashion than ‘sustainability’, right now.  Following its use, the obvious question is often, “but what do you mean by sustainable”.  Both a problem and a solution, sustainability runs a broad gamut including textile and garment manufacturing practices, to chemistry and materials science, then finally product sales, consumption and usage patterns.  Digging deeper, what underlies this urgent and growing focus on sustainability in the global fashion industry is the fact that is it the second most polluting industry in the world after oil and gas, but you probably know that by now.  Why does that suddenly matter to many fashion brands and companies?  Why are brands adopting “sustainability”.  Broadly speaking, it is because of threats to profit margins (caused by increasing cost of natural resources and materials which are in sharp decline) and potential backlash from consumers who are beginning to understand the fashion industry’s wasteful methods are damaging the planet and its people.

To understand the environmental implications of the current methods used in the fashion industry it is helpful to understand the volume of resources (including energy and water) we use to make our clothes and how much use we get out of those clothes.  Remembering that the planet’s resources are finite – we don’t have an endless supply of fossil fuels to burn to create electrical energy to power manufacturing and we don’t have endless access to clean water for growing cotton and dyeing processes), it follows that a circular way of manufacturing makes more sense than a linear one.   

To differentiate between circular and linear using the example of jeans – If it takes up to 10,000 litres of water to make a pair of jeans and we wear them for a matter of months then throw them in the bin, never to be used again, this linear process depletes resources catastrophically.  However, if those jeans could be turned into new materials (rather than thrown in the bin) that are themselves recyclable, then the resources used to manufacture those jeans provide products for a long and circular life – a perpetual one that is energy efficient and reduces the burden of future manufacturing and reduces the depletion of natural resources significantly.

This circularity was at the heart of the thinking behind the latest EU-funded project by the teams at BRIA and SABINNA, who created a fashion capsule collection of cotton and viscose garments which were then transformed into new, 100% recyclable and biodegradable materials that could be used for packaging and shop interiors.  The materials are circular in that they can then be recycled a large number of times in order to keep the core fibres of the materials ‘alive’ and in use – thereby avoiding landfill. 

BRIA x SABINNA garments, processes and new materials transformed into packaging

New materials in development in lab

New materials as garment swing tags

The processes BRIA x SABINNA used are based on simple organic chemistry – dissolving and reforming the cellulose molecules in the clothing into new 100% cellulose-based materials that were compressed into flexible sheets, in some cases like paper or a film, and in other cases like a thicker MDF-type ‘wood’ material.  The processes vary depending on the new material being created, and the initial experiments were done on a small scale in a London-lab as ‘proof-of-concept’ that it is possible to turn any clothes made of cotton or viscose into new materials using minimal chemicals (and sometimes no chemicals at all) in ways that are sustainable in terms of the amount of natural resources (energy and water) needed to perform the recycling process and also in terms of the material outcome.

BRIA x Sabinna viscose knitted jumper, cotton shirt and denim jeans – later transformed into new materials

Laminate-effect textured card created from BRIA x SABINNA viscose knitted jumper above

Processing of denim into new packaging materials

If we look at other narratives around sustainability in fashion that call for up-cycling and wearing clothes for longer, or buying less, we see a shift of responsibility for sustainability from the industry to the consumer.  Whilst this makes sense in terms of educating and informing consumers, it poses a huge problem in that it does not instigate change in the industry or challenge processes that are destroying the planet and harming people.  This is what is making the shift of focus to circularity and science and technology for the answers to our most burning questions and problems in the industry crucial.

Development of new material from denim

In my design and innovation role at BRIA, I was a member of the team that conducted this project with the support of EU-funding from WEAR Sustain.  The project was instigated following a trip to Copenhagen Fashion Summit in 2017, during which my conversations with Marie-Clarie Daveu of Kering, Anna Gedda of H&M and Mira Duma of Future Tech Lab instigated a quest to understand just how big a challenge making sustainable products is for fashion brands, from the initial design process through to the end-of-life of the garment.  Could brands, small and large alike, design and produce collections in a circular manner?  What would it cost?  Would the designs be compromised?  What would the restrictions be?  During a conversation with Vanessa Friedman she told me she thought sustainability was inherent in good fashion design, rather than an ‘add-on’.  But how is it inherent?  Does choosing organic cotton make a garment ‘sustainable’.  Not if we consider circularity as the ultimate solution to the depletion and pollution caused by the fashion industry.  So it has to go further.  It has to be part of the way the collection is conceived, the materials are made, the construction methods used and the strategy for the ‘end-of-life’ of the garment – where does the garment go when it is no longer used?  These were the questions we at BRIA sought to answer along with our collaborator SABINNA. 

The result proves that any designer using 100% cotton and viscose is creating garments that are forever recyclable – any designer can use our processes to recycle their garments.  It also proves that cotton and viscose clothing can even be recovered from landfill and processed using our method in order to keep the fibres in the circular system.  One of the most exciting elements for us was to achieve new materials with garments including hand-knits, denim jeans and multi-yarn jacquard knits – showing that the thickness and form of the textile yields to the process equally well.  The chemistry checks-out, giving clean and biodegradable results every time.

BRIA x SABINNA jeans 

New materials created from 100% cotton jeans above

Bowl from recycled viscose process and swing tag and box from recycled denim process

The next step is to explore brand partnerships to allow companies to clean up their own supply chains – jeans offcuts used to make the shelving and flooring in-store?  There is no reason why not.  Branded silky cellophane-like film packaging made from recycled high-end viscose dresses?  Hell yeah!

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Discussing the Tensions Between Fashion, Technology and Sustainability with Vanessa Friedman

Before meeting Vanessa Friedman, I considered the perspective she could lend on the tension between designers’ ability to create freely and the need to choose sustainable materials.  Is there a conflict?  Does working with sustainable fabrics limit designers?  What new technologies excite her?  What does she think of ‘wearables’?  I posed these questions and more to her, considering her answers in the context of the the wider fashion industry.

When discussing whether she perceives sustainability being at odds with unlimited creativity in fashion design, Vanessa told me “Fashion has always had that tension – sometimes it’s about pricing, sometimes its more practical restrictions, like the need for two armholes and a place for your head… that creates discipline for designers and I don’t think there is anything wrong with that.  Sustainability is part of the challenge of design”.  She believes that when you are making something that is functional, which fashion is, you have to wrestle with the egregiousness of the product you are making.  Her standpoint is one of sustainable materials posing a challenge, rather than being a problem.

Vanessa cites the possibility that aesthetics may be shaped by the advance of new materials, smart textiles and new fibre composites – cellulosic and animal fibre blends, for example – as a huge opportunity.  If such advances could result in less seams required and ultra light materials, like those used by Moncler who are “making warm coats that can by smushed into a tiny ball for carry on”, then all these advances are exciting.  “Designers should embrace these challenges and opportunities as a chance for them to think differently – It should be something they look forward to”.

I am curious to know whether (and when) Vanessa sees a future where the discussion on sustainability becomes a part of the high profile seasonal fashion discourse during fashion month, taking place in New York, Paris, London and Milan, where she sits front row in her capacity as the Fashion Director and Chief Fashion Critic of The New York Times.  “In my dream world, you don’t need a Copenhagen Fashion Summit that’s all about sustainability – this is not a discourse that is combined with a mainstream event because it is a mainstream event and it is part of best practice – period”.  Her take on the sustainability message is “we can talk about it or not talk about it.  You don’t want to be an eco brand, you just want to be a brand that happens to be sustainable.  It shouldn’t be the thing that sets you apart, it should be the thing that makes you part of the general conversation”. 

It’s Vanessa’s opinion that using sustainability as a sales tool and part of the brand message, has an upside and a downside.  The upside is the point of differentiation which can attract consumers, while the downside is that it puts the brand in a different niche for other consumers.  She reflects on Vogue’s former “eco or green design section of the magazine where they would feature a different designer every month… You don’t want to be there – you want to be with Gucci, you want to be with Vuitton”.  Reflecting on her comment, it seems to me that sustainability shouldn’t be a consolation or an optional brand choice – it should be quietly integrated into all fashion brands. 

Moving onto the subject of textiles and manufacturing, I asked Vanessa if she has seen any ‘game-changing’ developments emerging.  She highlights 3D printing and manufacturing to order, thereby eliminating stock and production processes (that have long and complicated supply chains) as the most exciting.  “If you can produce a garment in a very short amount of time to order for someone, you will change everything”.  Vanessa is thinking of the likes of 3D printed shoes and advances in digital knitting.  It is her opinion that the biggest change for fashion as a result of advances in technology is going to be in the production process, rather than “the accessory that tests your heart rate… To me, the really exciting opportunity is in how you manufacture”.  Evidence in the form of the Adidas Speedfactory and the mass customisation by NIKEiD support her comments, as do the advances in digital knitting that have led to a complete transformation of the entire footwear industry through the creation of Flyknit and Adidas Ultra Boost, amongst many other digitally knitted products with simplified supply chains, local manufacturing and short lead times.

Image:  Adidas Ultraboost

When I asked Vanessa which designers or brands that she feels are doing exciting things fusing tech and fashion she is of the leaning that there is a giant gap in this area.  She defines it as “A problem that no-one has quite figured out, between technology companies that can make gadgets, and they are trying to make them ‘fashiony’ – and fashion companies that make fashion and are trying to make them ‘techy’.  You need a third point of the triangle, which is someone who is going to figure out how to meaningfully combine the two”.  Enter a number of innovative cross-disciplinary labs and incubators emerging for the express purpose of making this happen, including Plug and Play and Mira Duma’s Fashion Tech Lab

On the subject of ‘wearables’, Vanessa pulls no punches: “I think ‘wearables’ is the most ridiculous word I have ever heard – everything is a ‘wearable’ – my jacket is a ‘wearable’ and it has no tech in it at all.  I don’t think ‘wearables’ has figured out what it is yet.  It’s a catch all word for techy gadgets you wear, but that’s not really a sector”.  To a degree, we may be talking semantics here, but based on the abandoned Fitbit and Google Glass, amongst others, it’s true that the gaping divide between where tech provides clever capabilities and fashion provides aesthetics and desirability to create life-enhancing products, remains wide.

Image top:  Google Glass       Image bottom: Fitbit

Reflecting further on the state of wearables, Vanessa reminisces about the iPhone and iPod “changing the way that everybody interacted with music”.  She says that in contrast, “there has been nothing like that with fashion – no wearable has achieved that”.  Considering the outcome of our discussion and my questions about sustainability playing a bigger role in fashion, it seems that to Vanessa’s mind, there is a tension between fashion and tech, but not between fashion design and sustainability.

As I wrap up this article, an invitation to the launch of Nadi X by Wearable X – the first Wearable yoga pant to ‘communicate with the user to ‘aid alignment’, hits my inbox.  Perhaps our ‘Wearable’ future is about to take a new life-enhancing turn towards the perfect fusion?  Stay tuned for the verdict.

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Ravensbourne Incubation – A New Age of Fashion and Technology Dawns

Our wearable tech, fashion tech (including smart textiles, wearables and soft robotics) and smart cities future is something I spend a great deal of time thinking about.  How will fashion designers influence the wearable tech sector?  How will they transition from traditional practice to technology-driven practice?  How will fashion design students enter into fashion tech without the facilitation of dual science/tech and fashion training? Do fashion designers (apart from my peers and I) have a belief and genuine interest in this field?  How do we close the gap between fashion and technology?  How will we begin the speak the same ‘language’?

The questions above were answered at least in part by Farid Akmal when I interviewed him at the Ravensbourne Incubation space at the end of last year.  The first ever graduate of the MA Wearable Futures course at Ravensbourne he explained to me his involvement in devising the first ‘wearable tech’ unit to be taught as part of the Ravensbourne Foundation course commencing in January this year.  The significance of this can’t be underestimated.  To introduce a core six weeks of training spanning basic circuitry and electronics, integration of electronics into textiles, sensors and their use in capturing data and actuators as a tool for expressing this data is a leap not only in the skill-set being disseminated, but in opening up future pathways in training across disciplines and cultivating designers (accessories, fashion and product) who seamlessly integrate electronics and textiles to shape our fashion tech future.

Images from a Farid Kamal’s Couturier’s and the Art of Survival – A Technologist’s Guide

I posed to Farid that his students will have one key advantage over us (designers currently working in this space), and that is their ‘naive’ blank slate and lack of assumptions over fashion and what it means to be a fashion designer.  When we studied fashion we were trained to admire and seek to understand the work of other designers and shape ourselves as designers, accordingly.  A healthy respect for the practice and aesthetic of fashion designers underpinned our contextual fashion studies.  But if we don’t look beyond what has been done before and introduce truly new practices, where can fashion go? 

                                                  Images from a Farid Kamal’s Couturier’s and the Art of Survival – A Technologist’s Guide

One of the projects the foundation students will undertake as part of this new wearable tech unit is sourcing charity shop garments and embedding them with technology to enhance their design and functionality.  Whilst Farid (and I) are reticent about LED lights on clothing, for example, the students don’t hold the preconceptions we do given our prior fashion training and may develop a beautifully refined and symbiotic use of them in clothing – who knows? Farid’s initial feedback from the students is overwhelmingly encouraging with many of them expressing a desire to know how fashion tech garments work and how to make their own ‘wearables” – some inspired by costumes they’d seen at Burning Man.  Whilst this sounds a little ‘costumey’ rather than fashion-led, it’s important to recognise these things are subjective and take time to evolve.

Following the launch of this unit the aim is to extend this core ‘wearables’ training to a short course for students and staff at Ravensbourne, which is an exciting and visionary step in furthering the field of fashion tech and its applications across industries.

Carl Bresnahan is as inspiring as he is energetic.  Also an incubee at Ravensbourne, he introduces me to a world of haptic holograms and the future of holographic purchasing. His company Intaglow was borne out of a live brief for Paul Smith during which he created a holographic window display that transformed the Paul Smith store windows into a digital event space.

A graduate of Chelsea College of Arts and Central Saint Martins, armed with graphic design and communication credentials he teamed up with Product design graduate Harry Hope-Morley and they now create bespoke hardware, software and digital design for their clients, who range from Swarovski to Zaha Hadid.

Intaglow at Wired2016

A chance meeting with Ultrahaptics at Wired2016 posed the idea of enabling their holographic creations with haptic feedback to enable a fuller user experience by integrating touch with holographic visuals and sound.  Carl sees what he and the team at Intaglow do as storytelling, both as a form of entertainment and a way of engaging consumers.  They are resolutely focussed on the aesthetics and the experience they deliver and pride themselves on their ability to create bespoke products exactly according to their vision for their clients.  The collaborative nature of their work is evident in that they create a number of stories to present to brands to consider and refine.  They have up to ten designers and developers on hand to realise ambitious projects on lead times as short as four weeks.  Enough text.  Here are some of the results.

Top: Intaglow for Zaha Hadid, Above: Intaglow for Swarovski, Images: Carl Bresnahan

Our discussion segues into fashion tech and wearables, of which Carl is a big fan, and we muse over projects we are currently working on and potential future collaborations.  Carl benefits hugely from an infectious and open-minded design approach and confesses to loving the process of coming up with ideas and telling beautiful, holographic stories.  The future looks seriously luminous.

Further to my earlier explorations of the Hololens by Microsoft, DoubleMe, also incubees at Ravensboure alongside Karim and Carl, are pushing hard to explore fashion applications with their astonishingly good image capture technology ‘Holoportal’ combining camera capture and their proprietary algorithm devised by founder Albert Kim, that can create 3D renders for avatars, holograms or use with any other 3D design software in record time.  This gives DoubleMe the ability to capture 3D content from subjects in the Holoportal (I gave it a go – see below) and then process it with said algorithm before uploading it to the web or sharing it to any design platform or Hololens in seconds.  Here I’m holographically dancing (low resolution to allow quick image processing).

The Holoportal for 3D image capture at Ravensbourne 

The DoubleMe team are currently developing a 4K version which will render the kind of degree of detail that could benefit the fashion industry. 

But what are the applications of this technology?  Where can we expect it to be used?  We saw the early explorations of a foray into fashion presentations via Martine Jarlgaard’s SS17 collection at London Fashion Week last September.

Martine Jargaard London SS17 Mixed reality fashion show, London Fashion Week

Beyond this, Albert Kim, Founder and James E. Marks, Head of Sales, are creating holographic guided tour content that can be projected into museum and gallery spaces.  They hope that fashion design students at Ravensbourne will experiment with the technology to use it for styling and photoshoots which they can then share digitally in 3D.  They also see it as a potential sales tool for the fashion industry. 

As I wrapped these interviews I headed back east for the Ravensbourne X VF exhibition, which I have featured on the blog here.  Stay tuned for more news of fashion tech developments at Ravensbourne and beyond by subscribing to Techstyler.fashion

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Our Tech Future According to Wired 2016

Continuing on from my previous article, a major theme of WIRED 2016 was humanitarianism and the refugee crisis.

Roya Mahboob is an Afghani tech entrepreneur who had her eyes opened on a trip to an internet cafe in Herat.  She talked passionately about how the internet offered her a life outside of domesticity via a tech career.  She became the first tech CEO in Afghanistan, hiring female employees (many of whom worked from home) and spoke of the challenges in firstly obtaining clients (due to a lack of confidence in the abilities of women in her country, who are largely deemed fit only for domestic life), and once she did obtain clients, a battle to be paid because her work was not valued as she is a woman.  Tension arose and she and her family received death threats from the Taliban due to her breakout career and creation of local centres to teach girls computing.  She was then forced to leave Kabul, where she had moved to from Herat.  She found an Italian/American investor (via LinkedIn) and is now based in the US and declares herself a “global digital citizen”, sharing a door to the world to women and girls in Afghanistan.  For more information about Roya’s work follow her on Twitter and see the Digital Citizen Fund.

dsc03409dsc03404Roya Mahboob

Regina Catrambone, along with her family, founded the first search and rescue boat for those fleeing danger and persecution to make the journey to southern Italy from neighbouring countries.  So devastated was she that hundreds of children and adults were being left to die on this treacherous passage that she co-founded MOAS – Migrant Offshore Aid Station.   Since 2014 MOAS has saved more than 30,000 people, the youngest being four days old.  Regina says “you cannot stop the might and the will of those looking for a chance to live.  It is impossible.  You can’t stop them.  You have to help them”.  Her speech was incredibly moving and showed how harnessing compassion and empathy can create powerful solutions and implore governments and other agencies to help solve the refugee crisis.

dsc03393Regina Catrambone

Brooklyn-based Jessica O. Matthews presented an ingenious creation – a football that stores energy from kinetic movement which then provides electricity for devices and appliances.  A game changing (I couldn’t help the pun) and simple piece of technology, it allows kids in off-grid areas to kick around a football during the day and then read books at night, continuing their studies and affording them a better chance in life.  Jessica is extending her invention to other objects such as suitcases with wheels, into which you can plug your mobile phone to charge whilst on the go.  See Uncharted Play for more information.

dsc03522Jessica O. Matthews

Psychiatrist and Aviator, Bertrand Piccard, piloted the Solar Impulse aircraft and declared that the “old world and new world are a state of mind”.  Elaborating on this, he gave a thought provoking talk that explained how a boat building company, Alinghi, created an aircraft and how the coming together of teams from diverse disciplines allowed them solve problems never before tackled.  “If you want to innovate you have to get out of the system.  What you know is a handicap”, says Bertrand.  He and his team completed an around the world journey, travelling 40,000 km without fuel, proving that the capabilities of solar power are beyond our current usage.  He provided inspiration, and a challenge, to those dismissing renewable energies and highlighted the current work of Elon Musk in bringing solar power into the transportation industry on a commercial level.

dsc03458Bertrand Piccard

Wired has come to a close, leaving an echo that says I can’t keep doing things the same way.  Knowing what I now know, and looking at how I have done things in the past, it’s time to adjust and apply new ways of thinking and creating.  The talks catalyse new trains of thought and ignite the will to try new technologies, or apply existing ones in new ways.  

Wired joins some of the biggest global moving dots with speakers from all over the world giving us a picture of where we are right now in terms of advancing new medical technologies, solving environmental issues, achieving universally acceptable levels of education, battling the refugee crisis, reaching space commercially, using AI to diagnose diseases, fighting hate, racial discrimination and sexism, and connecting people using VR to solve social issues – and it provides the inspiration to contribute to solving these problems.

I’m going to stop talking and start doing.  The effects of the above paragraph will be revealed over the coming weeks and months on these pages, my Huffington Post blog and in a soon to be launched new venture.

What will you do today?

Watch snippets and read summaries of all the speakers at Wired here

Headline image:  COLLAPSE PROJECT  Photo: Techstyler

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Wired 2016 Presents What’s New in AI, VR and Tech Activism

Despite an absence of fashion tech at Wired 2016, the annual conference (too dull a word for the excitement served up) demonstrates fashions in tech, of a sort.

It’s that time of the year pre-christmas when many a head is full of ideas, swarming with information from dozens of conferences, meet-ups, launches, talks and exhibitions when it’s time to cut through the noise and find out what to focus on – some of which you may have heard of and some you definitely won’t have.  Welcome to Wired 2016.

Those with true passion for innovation know that the most exciting ideas and creations arise from special situations involving special people.  Whether they be from tech, medicine, art, music, engineering or social sciences.  Ideally, they’ll be a mix of these fields.  I look forward to seeing fashion added to this mix as the fashion tech sector grows on the back of the launch of Plexal and other cross-disciplinary hubs.

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Before the talks kicked-off I browsed the demo area and was struck by the COLLAPSE SCULPTURES (above) by ScanLAB Projects, who gave a fascinating talk at Wired 2015, and are a team specialising in large-scale 3D scanning in architecture and the creative industries.  COLLAPSE is a collaboration between ScanLAB projects, dance company New Movement Collective and composer/cellist Oliver Coates.   This series of sculptures features digitally fabricated fragments of dancer’ limbs which are suspended, lingering where their performer once created them.  Traces of movement are solidified and stand as physical echoes.

From art to tech, standout talks at Wired 2016 included Hike, the Indian messaging app that works offline (useful in a country where connectivity is patchy and data is bought in packages) and transcends the dozens of languages and avoids complex keyboards by using digital stickers as tools of communication.  50% of households in India share smart phones, so the privacy app allowing hiding of selected conversations is a hit with young family members.

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Mustafa Suleyman co-founded DeepMind, now owned by Google, and is forging ahead with the application of AI to solve some of the worlds biggest problems.  The use of AI diagnosis in medical imaging can speed up treatment times for cancer and improve patient prognosis.  DeepMind are attempting to solve the problem of most NHS data currently being written on paper, and therefore largely inaccessible.  Mustafa says “In life, data is pushed to us.  In the NHS it’s passive”.

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Syrian human-rights activist Abdulaziz Alhamza is the co-founder of RBSS – Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently – a defiant broadcasting platform that exposes the devastation and brutality caused by ISIS in his home town.  RBSS covertly captures images and videos, sharing them on social media and acting as a news source for news organisations.

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Philip Rosedale is CEO and co-founder of High Fidelity – a shared VR experience that has global users sharing experiences by meeting in VR “locations” around the virtual world.  It’s like creating your own avatar, hanging out with other avatars and socialising with them, like you might do in real life.

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Adding to the Indian flavour running through the two days of Wired, Gingger Shankar told a beautiful story of her experience in the musical family made famous by Ravi Shankar and the plight of her mother who broke out of domesticity to sing on a global stage.  The gems of Wired are in the unexpected, and I captured her playing the ten-string double violin and sharing with us her five octave voice.  Enjoy, and stand by for part two of my coverage of Wired 2016.

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Ashish Responds to Anti-Immigrant Sentiment by Celebrating his Indian Heritage at London Fashion Week

If fashion is a language, Ashish’s Spring Summer 17 collection at London Fashion Week spoke of multi-cultural defiance in reaction to the post-Brexit toxic anti-immigrant sentiment and violence reverberating throughout Britain and more broadly, much of the western world.  In this collection Ashish celebrated his Indian heritage and proudly declared immigrant status in Great Britain.

#LondonIsOpen was the closing mood, following a luscious procession of adorned Hindu-god-like models, men and women, swept along by an elegantly ambiguous sexuality, at least in this western context.

It was a celebration of craft and colour and a reminder that fashion is most powerful when it has something to say.  In the spirit of that, I’ll let Ashish’s SS17 collection do the talking.

Show credits:

Makeup: Isamaya Ffrench at Streeters with Maybelline

Hair:  Ali Pirzadeh and team at CLM Hair & Makeup (hair products by Toni and Guy)

Manicurist:  Michelle Humphrey and team at LMC for Nailsinc London

Set Design:  Thomas Petherick at CLM

Music:  Baluji Shrivastav OBE

Casting:  Troy Fearn and Mischa Notcutt at TM Casting

Animal Handler:  Andrew Stephenson at Zoolab

Press:  Village

“Special Thanks to my mum”

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Fashion Tech and Speculative Wearables in Imminent Space Travel

A recent visit to Ravensbourne has catalysed a shift in my opinion of ‘fashion tech’ as a discipline and led to an animated discussion around the reasons for the aesthetic gulf between fashion design and technology.  The reason for my visit was the European Space Agency initiative, ‘Couture in Orbit’ – a fashion show at the Science Museum in May, featuring the work of five fashion colleges in Europe: ESMOD Paris, ESMOD Berlin, Fashion Design Akademiet Copenhagen, Politecnico di Milano and Ravensbourne London, which set about planting creative seeds for what will become a necessity – fashion in space.  The colleges worked to a brief set by the ESA to present ideas and prototypes for fashion and accessories in the coming age of space travel.  In response to a number of nasty and aggressive comments on their YouTube page in response to a video of this initiative, the ESA wrote this:

Couture in Orbit is a student outreach project. The students are using materials and technology in their designs that are a spin-off from the space industry. Each school had a theme linked to an astronaut’s mission, such as environment, health, sustainability, and their final designs had to have practical benefits for life on Earth. No funds were exchanged and material and technical support was provided by Tech startups.

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Yes, the designs could be seen as somewhat ‘amateurish’ and ‘costumey’ in their concept and presentation and describing them as ‘couture’ and ‘fashion’ is not strictly accurate, however the idea here is key.  Fashion’s robust approach to design and creation of cohesive, refined collections does not allow for this kind of playful theatrics, but if fashion and tech are to advance there has to be some latitude where the end result is concerned. It makes no sense to judge this by the same standards as a show at London Fashion Week, for example, which exists for an entirely different purpose and is part of a totally different creative and commercial conversation.  The YouTube comments demonstrate an attitude that demeans the validity and power of fashion that I have seen previously hinder cooperation between fashion, science and tech sectors, but we will forge forward regardless.

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‘Couture in Orbit’ designs

‘It is inevitable’, said Ravensbourne students Farid Bin Karim and Sam Martin-Harper of the fusion of fashion and technology in clothing to come.  Their view was the same of space travel – we know for certain there will be inhabitation of other planets and commercial journeys to space, so we need to design clothing fit for space life.  The brief provided to the students by the ESA included an array of materials for them to use in their garments and accessories, including Sympatex, woven fabrics by Bionic Yarn and 37.5.  Being presented with a fixed set of materials is challenging from a design perspective, as fashion design often begins with selection of a fabrics to complement an aesthetic or theme held by the designer.  Removing this from the designer’s creative point of view throws up further challenges and provides experimental opportunities.  Karim leads me into a discussion about Design Fiction, a framework based on critical design which is the foundation of his speculative design approach on the Wearables MA course at Ravensbourne.  The modelling of future scenarios using design fiction provides a robust outline for predicting what fashion design could be in an age of commercial space travel, for example.  Karim selects three modes of technology – one that exists but he can’t access, one that exists that he can access and one that we can reasonably deduce will exist in the future – with which to begin to form a fashion tech product design scenario.  This Design Fiction framework and critical design, attributed to Julian Bleecker and Dunne and Raby respectively, and adopted widely in London as a modelling tool, begins to give me insight into how design for a future that we can’t yet imagine is conceivable and believable.

Farid explains that his self-closing helmet and kilt are inspired by sojourners travelling to space and creating their own exoplanet.  His concept hinged on the sojourners creating protective barriers around themselves that responded to atmospheric changes to give visual notifications allowing them to react and adapt.  His self-closing helmet is powered by muscle wires and his kilt, printed in collaboration with print designer and MA fashion student Laura Perry, has heat responsive ink which disappears at certain temperatures – a useful visual notification when things are hotting up.  Farid also used a UV responsive pigment – another useful visual alert.  Karim’s work is inspired by an array of creatives including artist Lucy McRae, writer HG Wells and movement artist and coder Nicola Plant.

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Farid Bin Karim’s self-closing helmet and reactive ink kilt, in collaboration with Laura Perry

Sam Martin-Harper presented an altogether more nostalgic proposition in which she expressed her belief (and hope) that we will always remain rooted to earth.  Her love of biology and particular interest in the techniques for growing plants on the International Space Station, including the work of astronaut Tim Peake, drove her to create a 3D printed neck piece containing plant life.  Admitting this is a conceptual piece, Sam explained how she used inspiration from the ingenious folding joint sections of space suits to inform the shapes and details of her design.  Sam is completing her BA and is still exploring career options.  One thing is for sure, she cannot see a future of fashion without the integration of tech.

IMG_1283DSC01973Sam Martin-Harper’s 3D printed plant-filled neckpiece at ‘Couture in Orbit”

A discussion on the future work of Farid centres on his passion for data as a tool for creating responsive and adaptive design.  He has been learning coding and electronics as part of his Wearables MA and sees future fashion as an extension of the individual – as ‘body centric’.  On graduation, Karim is hoping to work with a multi-disciplinary research facility to conduct collaborative research and design.  When I ask if he would consider a traditional design job (he is a fashion graduate, after all) he reflects on how he has had to unlearn and relearn aspects of his design approach through his Wearable MA training in order to realise his part industrial, part fashion creations.  It’s clear he’s happier in unchartered territory.

The discussion turned to couture and obsolescence.  Karim is curious about the possible inclusion of technology in couture techniques in order to aid their survival, but this is completely at odds with the fact that couture means made by hand.  This meaning of couture would therefore need to change for this to happen.  I ponder a possible alternative in the form of technologies so specialised, rare and unique that they create a techno-couture instead.  Here we begin to think about fashion and design being driven by technology, rather than the other way around.

In these discussions, as Alexa Pollmann, Course Leader of the MA Wearable Futures course, points out, it is important to consider the designs of Sam, Farid and the other students from Ravensbourne as proposals and prototypes – not final ‘fashion products’ per se.  Ask any fashion designer working in the industry today their opinion of fashion tech and they will overwhelmingly tell you that it is gimmicky, ugly and not desirable.  Herein lies the chasm between tech and fashion.  Looks really count, and so does magic.  Fashion designers bring an ephemeral quality to their creations, says Alexa.  Fashion designers dream up and articulate experiences better than any other design discipline.  They create magic in a way that is often so difficult to define it just feels ‘right’.  Fashion is entirely subjective and indisputably powerful.  For these reasons, Clive Van Heerden, co-founder of vHM Design Futures studio in London, which develops materials and technologies for a host of Wearable Electronic business propositions in the areas of electronic apparel, conductive textiles, physical gaming, medical monitoring and entertainment, insists on having a fashion designer in his creative team on all projects.

DSC02070DSC02181Designs by students from Politecnico di Milano

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But why are fashion designers resistant to incorporating tech into their designs and what is slowing down the advancement of the fashion tech fusion?  One factor is that the development of tech-enabled/collaborative products takes considerable research and development, and therefore time.  It requires dedication to solving specific problems related to firstly a single concept or product, which is at odds with designing, sampling and creating whole fashion collections which are visually cohesive within a strict time frame (weeks or months at most), which then have a finite sales period before the next collection is created (making the current one obsolete, for want of a better word) and the cycle continues.  The traditional cycle of two main collections per year for high end fashion labels has switched to four in recent years, meaning there is even less time for research and development.  Knowing this, it is easy to see why the work of fashion designers is at odds with the research and development required to incorporate tech, and vice versa.  In a previous interview with designers Fyodor Golan, they pointed out that fashion tech collaborations often have a required fixed outcome within a tight time frame, limiting the amount of integration possible.  This goes some way to explaining why sometimes fashion tech looks more ‘stuck on’ than cohesively and meaningfully designed and produced.

Read more about the technologies involved in the Couture in Orbit project here

Header image: Farid Bin Karim’s self-closing helmet and adaptable ink kilt at ‘Couture in Orbit’

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Fashion Data: Calculating the Cost of the Fashion Machine

A sister exhibition to Fashion Hacked at the Het Nieuwe Instituut in Rotterdam, Fashion Data is a stark reality check about the consumption of clothing and its societal meaning both in the West and East, along with the environmental implications for the planet. 

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Fashion Data incorporates Fashion Machine: an installation by Conny Groenewegen in which she slashes and re-works a typical leftover product of the fast fashion/clothing industry, the fleece sweater.  Conny and her team of students cut up and ‘re-spun’ the fleeces onto giant spools and looped them onto huge looms’ to demonstrate the scale of waste and the banality of the fleece jumper, which is largely undesired as a second-hand product and regularly finds its way into mattresses at the end of its lifecycle, or worse still, landfill.  Conny makes thought-provoking statements about the role of designers in mass manufacturing for fast fashion, summed up in the set of stills below, followed by a film documenting the creation of the Fashion Machine installation. 

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To view Conny Groenewegen’s fashion and knitwear design process in depth, watch this video.

In the film, note the polyethylene (PET) water bottles in the background, from which fleece jumpers have historically been made.  The recycling of PET bottles into polyester fabric to create fleeces is fascinating.  See the full process here.

Balancing Conny’s visual representation of physical waste is Fashion Data – a series of black and white (visually and metaphorically) statistics that give a context to the current European habits of purchasing, wearing and disposing of clothing.  I’ll let the numbers do the talking.

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The exhibition was curated by fashion historian José Teunissen.  Her publication Fashion Data is available to read online and fleshes out the numbers stated above.  It’s essential reading and explains the historic foundation of Fast Fashion, its environmental impact and the emerging slow fashion movement.  It is also a useful visual summary of the Fashion Data exhibition that’s as good as viewing it first hand.  To paraphrase Teunissen, 30% of today’s clothing is sold at the recommended retail price, another 30% disappears in the sales and 40% remains unsold or doesn’t even reach the shops.  This is the deadstock I spoke of in my previous post Fashion Hacked.   Today’s overproduction of Fast Fashion produces an enormous amount of waste with negative social and environmental impacts.  There are solutions being developed to make materials production cleaner and more sustainable, but the business of, and appetite for, Fast Fashion remain strong.

Fashion Data also alerted me to the work of Dutch fashion brand Youasme (womens) Measyou (mens), which launched in 2010 as the world’s first crowdfunded fashion brand creating slow fashion collections of high quality made-to-last knitwear and accessories.

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Screen Shot 2016-04-04 at 10.00.23 Screen Shot 2016-04-04 at 10.00.44 Screen Shot 2016-04-04 at 10.01.04An understated androgynous collage – Youasme Measyou AW14 collection.  Images: Blommers/Schumm.  Styling: Maarten Spruyt

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On a stylistic level I was also struck by the natural ease of Youasme/Measyou’s androgyny – it feels tangible and forever.  This is in stark contrast with the overt androgyny expressed by some current fashion designers, including JW Anderson, whose work feels firmly ‘of the moment’ and deliberately provocative – more a scream of gender bending than a quiet dissolving of the aesthetic gender divide.  No doubt both have merit and power for different reasons but it strikes me that Youasme’s expression feels more real; more authentic.  Herein lies the ever fascinating aspect of fashion’s aesthetic debate – its subjectivity.

In addition to Youasme, a host of Dutch designers are utilising sustainable materials and practices, highlighted in conjunction with Fashion Data at Het Nieuwe Instituut’s Temporary Fashion Exhibition.  Here’s a roundup.

paulin1Pauline Van Dongen‘s washable, wearable solar panel knitted shirt.  Image: Liselotte Fleur

The parting insight delivered by Fashion Data comes in the form of award winning film Unravel by Meghna Gupta.  Shot in India, the film illustrates the end point of clothing from the West that is sent for recycling and reveals the gaping divide between East and West and the perceived value of clothing.

The film runs deep into value judgements about society as a whole.  It is shocking and revelatory.  Some Indian factory workers assume that clothes being bought from stores like Primark are very expensive, meaning that Western consumers are very wealthy and can afford to simply give away their clothes for recycling and buy new ones. They also draw the conclusion that Western women are more worthy and beautiful compared to Eastern women because of this excessive consumption.  One female factory worker ponders, while removing decorative crystals from underwear, what the wearer must have done to deserve such a fate – stones on her underwear?!  She concluded the woman must have been forced to wear it as some form of punishment for bad behaviour.  Her comment is a stark reminder of a practical and functional attitude towards clothing, and of patriarchal dominance. 

The full length film can be viewed here. It is a profound and perspective-inducing film that is equally compelling and educational.  Further clothing recycling information is available here.  For information about the sustainable fashion effort in the UK, click here

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