Photorealistic 3D Avatar Scanning From Your Mobile Phone For Virtual Try-on At Home

For those of us keeping abreast of fashion-tech innovations and mobile-first solutions, it can feel as though there is a new 3D scanning, avatar-creation or augmented reality (AR) virtual ‘try-on’ solution launched every week.  It’s true that virtual try-on tools have been picking up speed in direct correlation with a surge in mobile-first and social media-led e-commerce sales.  Historically, this has perhaps been more successful in beauty, where makeup is mapped onto the face ‘virtually’, compared to fashion, where ‘wearing’ the garment virtually has presented huge challenges – the obvious ones being the fit of the garment, the feeling of the material and the quality of the AR output.  However, it would be a trap to fall into the mindset that scanning ourselves and wearing virtual clothes before purchasing is a gimmick.  The reason?  Because the youngest generation of consumers – the famed ‘Gen Z’ – are so ‘at one’ with technology that they exist in digital realms as avatars in gaming communities in numbers never seen before.  Brands are latching onto this and developing various AR solutions.  For many Gen Z’ers, viewing an avatar of themselves to try on clothes is a natural extension of their online behaviour.  Make no mistake, this is where fashion consumption is heading, but what has been missing until now?  Why aren’t we all scanning ourselves to create our own avatar to try on clothing virtually?

A second driver to consider is usability. Anyone who tried the ZOZO suit would know that for all of its clever (and accurate, in my case) 12-stage ‘clock-face’ photography process, the requirement of a special cardboard stand for the phone that had to be set a specific distance from the user and carefully angled in order to capture the photos accurately meant that it definitely wasn’t ‘foolproof’. Whilst it was a great leap forward in terms of giving consumers control over the fit regardless of ‘size’, it did not offer the measurement accuracy of Reactive Reality’s Pictofit 3D technology solution – or AR try-on. It has to be said that to try on the clothes virtually, it is necessary to do the 40-second video of the user, and the brand you want to try on virtually has to have been rendered in Pictofit 3D – so this collaboration should be considered a ‘proof-of-concept’.

For those of us keeping abreast of fashion-tech innovations and mobile-first solutions, it can feel as though there is a new 3D scanning, avatar-creation or augmented reality (AR) virtual ‘try-on’ solution launched every week.  It’s true that virtual try-on tools have been picking up speed in direct correlation with a surge in mobile-first and social media-led e-commerce sales.  Historically, this has perhaps been more successful in beauty, where makeup is mapped onto the face ‘virtually’, compared to fashion, where ‘wearing’ the garment virtually has presented huge challenges – the obvious ones being the fit of the garment, the feeling of the material and the quality of the AR output.  However, it would be a trap to fall into the mindset that scanning ourselves and wearing virtual clothes before purchasing is a gimmick.  The reason?  Because the youngest generation of consumers – the famed ‘Gen Z’ – are so ‘at one’ with technology that they exist in digital realms as avatars in gaming communities in numbers never seen before.  Brands are latching onto this and developing various AR solutions.  For many Gen Z’ers, viewing an avatar of themselves to try on clothes is a natural extension of their online behaviour.  Make no mistake, this is where fashion consumption is heading, but what has been missing until now?  Why aren’t we all scanning ourselves to create our own avatar to try on clothing virtually?

Getting down to the practicalities of use, the 3D avatar is a great tool for determining measurements and whether garments will fit, so do we need the AR try-on? Our behaviour suggests we do, and so does the strain on the planet due to garment returns and unsustainable consumption. We are not just shopping online more, we are shopping on mobile more, driven by the pull and shopability of mobile platforms like Instagram. It’s probably impossible to overestimate the importance and symbiosis of mobile retail and user-generated content, and Reactive Reality’s Pictofit 3D solution has the potential to nail this, with exceptional render quality of the garment and highly realistic user avatars – giving rise to try-on that you might actually want to screengrab and share.

Photorealistic 3D Avatar Scanning

On a sustainability level, garment return rates are soaring because of ill-fitting clothing and the difficulty of determining fit from standard e-commerce tools. If you’ve grappled with a tape measure and an online retailer size chart recently you’ll know what I mean. Additional to fit is the concept of style – which is how you want to wear your clothes. ‘Fit’ means baggy to some people and second-skin to others. It certainly looks like the only viable solution for considering both fit and style is trying on the clothing – either digitally or physically. If getting to the physical version is impractical, or not in line with consumption patterns, Pictofit 3D offers a total solution.

Of course technology like this lives and breathes when fashion brands engage with it, hence Reactive Reality’s recent partnership with Charli Cohen, facilitated and driven by the Fashion Innovation Agency at London College of Fashion. The FIA is an enterprise-facing innovation team driving the union of cutting-edge technology companies with fashion brands and designers. But why Charli Cohen? The FIA explained that as a “digital-first” brand, Charli Cohen relies heavily on e-commerce, which for the reasons explained above, needs to provide greater digital attention to detail and fabric quality to satisfy modern online customers. The FIA explained that Reactive Reality’s technology bypasses the need to sell in a physical store where you can touch/interact with the garment because their AR clothing is exceptionally realistic. Cohen was keen to work with the FIA and Reactive Reality to allow her online customers to get the closest thing to a physical experience of her products, digitally.   Matthew Drinkwater, Head of the Fashion Innovation agency said “the rapid digitisation of both product and people offers extraordinary possibilities for the fashion industry. From virtual product and virtual try-on to future bespoke experiences, we are creating entirely new ways for consumers to engage.”

As I alluded to at the beginning of this piece, augmented reality has been a buzzword for some time, but it has been hampered by teething problems and an uncompromising fashion audience. It has taken brave, pioneering designers, including Sabinna and Fyodor Golan, to make the first steps towards getting the AR experience to where it needs to be for the fashion crowd and consumers. Charli Cohen, CEO of her eponymous brand said “we have long seen AR as a really exciting way to create an immersive experience for our customers, but it has lacked much practicality beyond a fun novelty. This technology from Reactive Reality, however, is incredibly practical and helps to emulate an important aspect of the physical in-store experience for digital, in a truly immersive and interactive way.”

With the current version of Pictofit 3D still in development, it is not yet ready for consumers but is of huge interest to brands looking to expand into offering virtual try-on.  The brands have been put off in the past by substandard imagery and usability, often referred to as “uncanny valley” gaming-like imagery. When I spoke to Arjun Thomke, Director of Business Development at Reactive Reality about the adoption of their technology by fashion brands, he said there are “two big drivers – reducing return rate by offering the correct fit at first purchase. The second piece is user engagement and sales conversions.” Expanding on this, he explained that in an increasingly brand agnostic world, why would consumers choose one brand over the other? How can brands draw consumers in so that they become more involved with the products, thereby increasing dwell time and, as a result, an increase in sales.” He says he has sales figures to back this up, but can’t share them as they are under an NDA.

When I asked about their nearest competitors, Thomke listed Zeekit and Metail, who provide fashion try-on, 8i who provide photorealistic avatars and ZOZO suit (no longer available to consumers), Body Labs and others with respect to creating precise body measurements.  It appears that there are no competitors providing all three solutions together.  Thomke said he has received the feedback that their competitors “never give a live demo [in the first pitch]- they show slides.” Highlighting the jewel in their tech crown, he explained that the fast algorithmic calculations of their solution provide photo-realistic 3D models in around 37 minutes with regular wifi access – no competitor can match the speed or detailed image output.  In a follow-up email after our conversation, Thomke added “our artificial intelligence algorithms will bring this down to a matter of a few minutes in the coming months”. 

“Reactive Reality’s technology enables users to try-on different accessories (e.g. purses, shoes), which gives retailers + brands the opportunity to cross-sell products. Again, other solutions do not generate 3D models of all your products. We go even further than generating the 3D models; users can virtually open a purse and place objects (e.g. mobile phone) inside to see if they will fit.”

So which fashion companies are adopting this technology? Many are choosing to partner with Reactive Reality to test all the elements of their offer and run initial pilots. The brands Reactive Reality are working with span luxury and fast fashion – he can’t say who they are, due to NDAs. He did elaborate to say of the 3D avatar and garment capture process that these fashion companies already have the studio set up to take photographs of models and products, so this technology solution simply allows them to better leverage this facility by creating photorealistic 3D assets – without the need for 3D digital design or CAD software.

We are in contact with a major retailer that invested significant resources into a ‘computer-game like’ avatar solution, and recently shut it down.  Customers reacted poorly to seeing an ‘unrealistic’ 3D avatar.”

Thomke says they are “constantly in touch with larger players in the valley.” The avatar creation of their platform has a powerful potential in gaming, teleconferencing and social media. He astutely points out that the “biggest problem in AR and VR is content – where is it? Most AR and VR experiences are PR related, rather than improving the consumer shopping experience.”  Pictofit 3D seeks to change that.

Photorealistic 3D Avatar Scanning

Which brands are on their ‘most wanted client’ list? “By region, Japan has a huge interest and is very tech-savvy – they are very mobile-driven”. He says they are “aggressively pushing these types of solutions.”

Broadly speaking, he said “some fashion companies are developing a 3D strategy and AR and VR are still extremely new areas for fashion. The luxury customer and high-street customer will be very different so we work with the brands to present a unique experience.” Differentiating between the market segments, he said “luxury is very interested [in the technology] because of the realism [and detail in garment stitching and fabrics]. Fast fashion is interested in scalability.”

The current business model is a fixed fee for pilot projects but subscription-based for integrated solutions, where Reactive Reality charge a fee per monthly active users. Last year Reactive Reality partnered with YOOX Net A Porter to offer at 2.5D frontal try-on with a parallax effect using the retailer’s existing images, but their new 3D tool is a huge leap beyond that. The recent implementation of AR solutions at ASOS, Nike, Zara, Gap (the list goes on) suggests that once Pictofit 3D is rolled out by brands it may be the first window into your truly personalised virtual shopping future.

Bangladesh ‘Fashionology’ Summit Report Reveals Fast Fashion, Sustainability and Technology Challenges

In my capacity as founder of Techstyler I am focused firmly on the need to share meaningful sustainability and fashion-tech information to both fashion businesses and consumers. In addition, I have founded a materials innovation agency, so I understand the challenges faced by both creators/business owners and consumers.

In the following report I summarised a day of discussions at the Bangladesh ‘Fashionology’ Summit held in the capital, Dhaka, between retail and brand giants including H&M and M&S and some of the world’s biggest garment manufacturers – Pacific Jeans, Pioneer Denim and Viyellatex included. In the mix were also startups, including Infinited Fiber and Shimmy Technologies, who recognise that if their sustainability and supply chain solutions are adopted in Bangladesh they will have a critical impact and achieve global scale improvements. Bangladesh is the second largest garment manufacturer in the world after China, but it faces unprecedented challenges and risks, despite it’s successes to date (bringing around 50 million people out of extreme poverty through work and improving life expectancy) and terrible tragedies (including the Rana Plaza building collapse).

Here are key takeaways from the summit, along with my research and opinion-based recommendations for how the RMG industry in Bangladesh could proceed toward the fourth industrial revolution and achieve digital transformation, fair and decent work, sustainable production and protection of the environment – with continued profits. For more information or to share your thoughts, please email Techstylermail (at) gmail dot com.

Brooke Roberts-Islam – Founder, Techstyler; Director, BRIA

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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.

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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Ground-Breaking Augmented Fashion Experience by Steven Tai and ILMxLAB at London Fashion Week

It’s no mean feat creating a truly unique Fashion Week experience.  The traditional catwalk and presentation formats are tried (or perhaps tired) and tested and provide what could be considered limited scope for in-depth storytelling and effectively conveying a brand’s message in our tech-engaged world.  Considering the concept of engagement – capturing the attention of an audience and involving them in an experience and “moving” them – how does the traditional fashion show stack up?  Limply, it would seem.  The irresistible pull of digital content and taking part in online conversations on Instagram and other platforms pulls people in the front row of shows into the digital world, as if the physical one around them doesn’t exist.

In this hybrid physical and digital world, what does the fashion show of our (immediate) future look like?  Steven Tai and his collaborators for AW18 say it looks like this: a physical showcase of the collection on live models who intermingle with an augmented digital avatar being generated in real time using CGI, who is also wearing the collection.  It’s a true blurring of physical and digital worlds – a mixed reality.  But why is this important?  Why explore the bringing together of digital and physical realms?

We live in a world where we create constant digital representations of ourselves and share them with the world.  We augment ourselves with filters and we animate our faces to imagine ourselves as different characters – not unlike the way that Steven Tai’s collaborators ILMxLab, a division of Lucas film, tells stories by creating characters in contextual places using CGI.  What does this creation of digital characters in a physical world look like, and how can that be harnessed to present fashion?  What would that look and feel like?

In the case of the Steven Tai presentation, it involved an actor in a “mocap” (or motion capture) suit which tracked her movements while walking and posing in order to render her body movements in real time as an avatar on the stage screen, immediately behind the physical models.  Her avatar therefore appeared as though she was interacting with the live models on the stage, although she was physically not present.  Different garments were rendered onto her body in real time, creating a carousel of changing outfits as she moved through the space, around the physical models.  The presentation proposed the concept of layering a digital world over a physical one, which strikes me as a social commentary on how we live increasingly through our social media personas and online interactions and how we wish to augment how we are perceived in the digital, and perhaps soon physical, world.

Actor in mocap suit creating the digital avatar seen in the video below amongst the physical models

During the presentation, in order for the actor’s avatar to “wear” the Steven Tai garments they had to be digitised in advance and then rendered in real time on her moving avatar body, to demonstrate the realistic and accurate drape and movement of the fabric.  The process of designing and creating the collection was an interesting one from the point of view of designer Steven Tai.  His appetite for technology and experimentation demonstrates a rare trust and brave approach to fashion design, where his desire to use certain textiles and create certain silhouettes gave way to the technological limitations, allowing the rendering and appearance of the garments digitally to inform their creation physically.  It’s tricky to convey just how at odds this is with the way fashion designers have been trained.  I say this as a graduate of London College of Fashion and Central Saint Martins, where the teaching emphasises a dogged belief and dedication to achieving your creative and aesthetic goals and striving for your ideals.  Experimenting with new technologies and telling a fashion story that incorporates these new enablers requires a far more dynamic and collaborative attitude.  One that Steven clearly has and that has allowed him an unusual freedom to express himself through the use of the technology.

Another key reason to utilise the LiveCGX technology within the presentation was its capability to create an entire world within the digital and physical space.  Through the imagery on the screen behind the stage, we were transported to Steven’s native Macau by way of a CGI urban landscape, blending a street scene, complete with awnings, flowing gently in the digital breeze, flanked in jungle-like surroundings with softly falling leaves.  Macau was a pivotal inspiration for the collection, which as Matthew Drinkwater of the Fashion Innovation Agency – orchestrators of the collaboration – pointed out after the show, meant that the audience could experience Steven’s inspiration and see how it translated into the collection before them, rather than read about it on a press release.

steventai AW18 collection 

The presentation felt like an invitation to consider the future of fashion.  A chance to ask how fashion should be consumed and sold – and perhaps more importantly, worn.  Will we extend our augmented selves from mobile devices to our physical space through glasses that effectively overlay a digital layer onto our physical world?  Will we chose to change our clothing (or rather how others wearing augmentation glasses perceive our clothing) throughout the day at will?  If so, what is the role of the designer, and indeed of physical clothes?  How would we consume such fashion?  Would we buy renders of clothing?  What impact could that have on the wider industry and what are the potential environmental benefits of reduced physical garment production?  These are all interesting philosophical questions that steer us toward re-imagining the future of fashion.

It is worth noting that the Fashion Innovation Agency, based at London College of Fashion, disseminate the outcomes and discoveries of the experimental fashion presentations they facilitate to cohorts of fashion students whose concept of what fashion can and should be is still in the making.  These students are the future of the industry, so departing university with an affinity for, and understanding of, emerging technologies, suggests that their use will gain prevalence and move towards widespread industry uptake in coming years.

Mohen Leo and Vicki Dobbs-Beck of ILMxLAB, Steven Tai and Matthew Drinkwater of FIA

The question I arrive at after seeing the clear benefits of this mode of storytelling and audience engagement is, “How does this contribute to fashion business commercially?”  Can this content be used for online sales?  It’s likely true that such technologies and methods of presentation will take off when clear financial benefits for brands are proven.  Steven Tai hypothesises that he can reach a global audience by allowing viewers to attend his shows simply by wearing a VR or Mixed reality headset and entering his fashion presentation remotely.  Similarly, their avatars could ‘try on’ the collection using the same the technology and purchase through e-commerce.  Nay-sayers might comment that people would never purchase something they haven’t physically seen or tried on, but then isn’t that exactly what cynics said of Natalie Massenet’s bold concept for a web-based clothing store, which became the industry-changing e-commerce retailer ‘Net-a-porter’?

The team behind the show: steventai, London College of Fashion’s Fashion Innovation Agency, ILMxLAB and The GREAT Britain Campaign

Sabinna’s Pioneering “See Now Buy Now” Via Instagram Stories at Fashion Week

Fashion month has rolled around again, as it does every February/September, and once again I am contemplating the upcoming shows and presentations and how brands will navigate the month of Insta-frenzied reporting of the latest shows, street style and celebrity spotting.

Emails start hitting my inbox about upcoming shows and presentations, lookbook shoots where you can get behind the scenes access to and teasers of digital experiences that are set to break the traditional fashion presentation mould.  There was a time when if you were a fashion designer, you had to have the means and industry contacts to have a traditional catwalk show, and the tens or hundreds of thousands of pounds to finance it, or else present your collection behind closed doors in a showroom to industry insiders.  No longer.  With each season comes a new array of approaches to presenting and selling fashion, and these new ideas and business models are emerging from, well, emerging designers.  Those nimble and small enough to adapt quickly and harness the power of technology are bringing together the presentation and immediate sale of their collection during the buzz of fashion month.  

Sabinna s006 collection (AW18) is being presented digitally and sold immediately via Instastories during fashion month

What am I excited about as London Fashion Week approaches?  What’s new?  What will I remember from it as March rolls around?  Some stand-out looks, sure, but fashion month is so noisy, with hundreds of shows, thousands of brands and millions of Insta-likes.  How do designers differentiate themselves and make themselves heard, let alone remembered, once the product they sweated so hard to create and invested so much in, personally and financially, is available to buy (six months later)?  This is the burning question – the answer to which stands between surviving and shutting up shop.  You only need to look at the roster of emerging fashion talent that has been financially supported, promoted and awarded by the British Fashion Council over the past two decades under the NEWGEN scheme to see that only a handful of the hundreds supported are still in business today.  Fashion is broken, but frustratingly, it still works (sort of). 

I have spent the past hour talking to designer Sabinna Rachimova of womenswear fashion label Sabinna about her radical new approach to presenting and selling her fashion collections during New York and London Fashion Week.  The London-based designer has tried the traditional options – catwalks, presentations – and a less traditional VR see now/buy now fashion presentation in conjunction with the Fashion Innovation Agency and Pictofit – which won her and the team a Decoded Fashion Futures ‘Beyond the Runway’ Award, acknowledging their initiative to think outside the confines of the traditional catwalk format.  But how does an emerging designer, three years and in the business – at that critical point where many designers can no longer sustain their business and close down – achieve commercial success following the traditional business model?  Well, it appears they don’t. 

Reflecting on my own experience of running my label and presenting at London Fashion Week and selling at Paris Fashion Week I know the tens (or hundreds) of thousands of pounds of financial risk attached to following the traditional business model that most young designers follow.   Like Sabinna, I chose non-traditional methods, but Sabinna has developed a completely unique approach this season, by launching a presentation and sales campaign on Instagram for the duration of New York and London Fashion Week.   On the face of it, it sounds an obvious thing to do, but Sabinna has opted to work with 14 “influencers”, spanning the US and UK, and created 24 “looks” in her collection this season, giving all 14 the choice of look to reflect their personal style.  Sabinna has struck a deal to pay each of them for delivering one post to their feed and one Instagram story on their designated day, in their chosen “look”.  The styling and photography lies with the influencer and is a key element of them presenting the outfit in a way that resonates with their followers and presents Sabinna’s collection in a way that makes it easy to relate to and to imagine wearing.  These are real girls of all shapes and sizes – so the context is commercial.  Which is handy, because the looks are instantly shoppable, direct from their Insta-stories.  Herein lies the clever aspect of this strategy. 

Fashion Influencers @camillasentuti, @_jemmawade and @mimosasmanhattan

Sabinna can see the engagement generated from each influencer, view feedback from their followers, collect data on which outfits and garments generated the most interest and a range of other indicators that add up to powerful insights from which she can shape her future collections.  Of course this strategy requires investment upfront in production so that there is stock available to buy immediately, but Sabinna explains that this is simply redirected from budget otherwise spent on a traditional presentation format, which has no guarantee of generating sales and provides very little tangible feedback.  As the campaign continues throughout New York Fashion Week Sabinna alerts me to a similar strategy being adopted by New York -based brand Mansur Gavriel, who are selling their previous collection (just delivered in store) via Insta Stories, whilst launching their new collection at NY Fashion Week – capitalising on the collective “Insta-buzz”.  Their savvy approach to Instagram curation and marketing is well reported and has led to in-excess of 500,00o followers. 

Fashion Influencers @asliceopi, @saratoufali and @malloryonthemoon

It is absolutely true that everyone at Fashion Week is living their experience through Instagram, even if they are sitting in the front row.  Sabinna is smart enough to know that you can’t get people to put their phones away and stop staring at their screens, so why not present your collection directly, and make it instantly shoppable, on Instagram?  You could scarcely find a bigger fashion-obsessed and hungry audience, and the power of working with influencers in two of the largest markets – the US and UK – makes total sense.   

Emerging designers have traditionally struggled to expand their businesses on a global scale, but it’s easy to see that changing with e-commerce linked to social media.  The best bit?  It doesn’t cost a thing.  To use Insta-stories with the swipe-up function, taking the swiper straight to the brand’s e-commerce site, is free – you just need 10,000 followers to access this function.  And capturing and analysing the data generated?  That’s free too, with the help of Google Analytics. 

The key point to Sabinna’s adoption of this strategy is the vastly increased likelihood of her achieving profitability with this direct-to-consumer approach, both in terms of saving on inflated presentation costs and selling to customers without losing the retail margin of wholesaling.   Instead of following the traditional business and presentation model, where her success would rely on her PR agency and her contacts being able to bring the ‘right people’ to her show or presentation and create the right buzz, her success lies firmly within her own hands and is limited only by her creativity and commercial strategy.

What of the notion of exclusivity?  How do industry insiders – usually the first to see and critique the new season’s collections – view these non-traditional strategies that bypass them and deliver straight to the consumer?  Will they partake?  Early indications are that engaging press and buyers in this democratic manner is tough.  Those familiar with the Bloggers vs Vogue Editors furore, which I was also asked to wade into here , will know that the fashion industry is reluctant to embrace bloggers and influencers, despite the fact that their relevance to consumers and power to sell product is undeniable and trumps that of the established glossy editors – circulation figures prove this. 

Fashion Influencers Diipa Khosla and Dalal AlDoub and Blogger/Brand Ambassador Susie Lau

So does the fact that industry insiders are not giving focus to collections presented in this non-traditional matter even matter?  Materially, probably not.  But psychologically, probably.  Fashion Week has always been about who’s hot and who’s not – who is the next big thing – who is the one to watch?  Who is considered credible?  Who is intensely talented and creative and exciting?  Who is everyone talking about?  If by everyone you mean the consumer beyond the industry confines, it’s whoever wins the social media engagement race.  And that race is happening on Instagram.  

I am looking forward to the upcoming Steven Tai presentation which promises to deliver an immersive fashion showcase with LiveCGX Technology, in conjunction with ILMxLAB and the Fashion Innovation Agency, on 18th February.  Stand by for news of how that is set to shape fashion presentations and the use of new technology as a presentation and sales tool.

Bottletop’s Flagship Store – A Symbiosis of Sustainability and Tech

I know I’m not alone when I say it takes more to get me into a retail store these days than ever before.  Shopping online is the ultimate convenience, so stores have to go bold and offer something really special to get shoppers through the door.  Enter Bottletop, the sustainable luxury accessories brand with a newly launched flagship store on Regent Street sporting a KUKA robot in the window along with films telling the story of their responsibly sourced and produced products projected onto the store walls.  When it comes to fashion brands, this isn’t your average sustainability story.  Let me take a leap back and explain exactly what makes Bottletop a sustainable luxury brand and how their ethos extend from the product, to the store and then the engagement of cutting-edge robot technology in the form the KUKA LBR collaborative robot.

Render of final store – Image:  Bottletop

The Bottletop Fashion Company journey began in 2012 with co-founder Oliver Wayman’s mum picking up an up-cycled ring-pull and crochet bag in Salvador, Brazil – a neat way to fuse readily available waste and the craft of crochet, making a light and strong bag – and led to a partnership with artisans in Brazil that has grown into an atelier producing the brand’s signature products and developing new materials for future product lines.  Bottletop bags are made from discarded ring-pulls sourced in Brazil, along with locally sourced yarns for crochet and responsibly produced Brazilian leathers that are certified ‘Amazon Zero Deforestation‘, guaranteeing zero impact on protected forests from cattle farming and grazing.  Underpinning Bottletop’s fashion brand is the Bottletop Foundation, founded in 2002 by Oliver’s co-founder, Cameron Saul, which raises funds for social enterprise initiatives across Africa, Brazil and the UK.

So what spurred a sustainable fashion duo to delve into the world of robotics and 3D printed interiors for the launch of their flagship store in December this year?  At least in part, for reasons mentioned in my opening paragraph – retail needs to offer customers an experience and tell a story – but also because they wanted to do something different and juxtapose the hand-made natural elements of their products with a very high tech interior, according to Oliver.  “Using natural, sustainable materials would have been an obvious thing to do” he explained, but they wanted to be more ambitious than that, and offer their customers something unexpected.  A brain-storming session between Oliver and a friend Paolo Zilli at Zaha Hadid led to a discussion with KRA– USE ARCHITECTS, who were already exploring robotic manufacturing, and inspired the Bottletop team to delve into this brave new robo-tech retail world.  The team of collaborators then grew to include AI-build who are 3D printing interior surfaces designed by KRA– USE ARCHITECTS and Reflow who created the 3D printing filament from 100% recycled plastic.  The primary purpose of Oliver and Cameron’s tech-led shop fit and KUKA installation is to use technology as a storytelling tool and to foster an understanding amongst consumers about the place that new technologies have in our world and within their business – in this case facilitating the use of a new and exciting recycled plastic material in their store design and build.

A 3D printed wall panel shaped to hold bag handles for display

The instore storytelling of the Bottletop brand begins from the window display, featuring signature Paco Rabanne-esque ring-pull ‘‘bellani’ bags and the enamelled ‘Mistura’ clutches developed in collaboration with Narcisco Rodriguez, amongst which moves a KUKA robot 3D printing bag charms from 100% recycled plastic.  This recycled PET plastic was created from plastic bottles rescued from the ocean and processed into a thin printable plastic tube – a 3D printing filament.  The concept is akin to Parley for the Oceans collaboration with Adidas, which used plastic yarn in trainers and clothing, but instead of spinning the recovered plastic bottles into a yarn, Bottletop collaborators Reflow have processed the plastic into a continuous plastic filament, which the KUKA robot heats and extrudes through a 3D printing ‘gripper’ attachment fixed to the end of the robot arm that prints the bag charms by depositing successive layers of molten plastic – known as additive manufacturing.

In store, working alongside the robot was Daghan Cam of AI Build, who explained that in contrast to usual 3D printing filaments made from non-recycled plastic (including PLA), the recycled plastic filament is trickier to work with and has slightly different structural properties;  And here lies the commonality between Bottletop’s sustainable hybrid ring-pull/crochet/leather materials and this new recycled filament  – the experimentation to develop these new materials is a long and complex process, requiring considerable R&D and bags (pardon the pun) of passion and perseverance.  Oliver and Cameron have it in droves and as they talk me through the store’s 100% recycled rubber flooring and show me samples of the interior walls currently being printed at AI Build, to the products themselves, their dedication to both sustainable hand craft and cutting-edge technology, symbiotically, is inspiring. See how the product is made here.

It was a fitting choice to select a KUKA LBR robot to 3D print the bag charms in the shop window.  Working harmoniously alongside humans in a collaborative manner is the exact purpose of the KUKA LBR, with its inbuilt sensors to stop on contact, preventing it from causing injury to humans and with the absence of trap hazards for human hands, allowing easy and safe collaboration.  We undoubtedly have a growing dependence on technology and robots (although they are usually behind the scenes, carrying out repetitive manufacturing tasks unbeknown to most consumers), so seeing the KUKA LBR used as a creative tool to produce 100% recycled (and recyclable) products was a lovely example of cutting-edge tech enabling sustainable manufacturing.

KUKA LBR with Daghan from AI Build

The store interiors will be installed over the coming weeks, acting as a live installation, punctuated by the official launch last week at the Regent Street Store.  Attended by Mira Duma of Future Tech Lab FTL, Livia Firth of EcoAge and Professors Sandy Black and Dilys Williams of the Centre for Sustainable Fashion at London College of Fashion amongst other instrumental fashion and sustainability pioneers, the launch demonstrated how fusing fashion, technology and sustainability requires a commercial, creative and academic effort.  It was an interesting and enlightening night, with Oliver and Cameron proudly declaring Bottletop the first sustainable luxury brand on Regent Street.

party shots Image top: Left – Oliver Wayman, Right – Cameron Saul.  Above, the Bottletop Store launch party

Oliver and Cameron are excited about building the interior walls as a live installation that shoppers can see evolve, and I went behind the scenes to see some of the 100 wall panels being 3D printed by the KUKA KR90 6 axis arms at AI Build in East London.  The panels each take 7 hours to print and are individually sanded along the edges before being joined to create a unified wall panel for the store.  700 kg of 100% recycled plastic are going into the printing of the interiors at what Oli confirmed was the equivalent of around 60,000 recycled plastic bottles.  I also saw a demo of the 3D printed ceiling structure which is embedded with reclaimed cans in the store and captured in the shots below.

Behind the scenes at AI Build

The interior installation in store is expected to continue into mid-January, so be sure to pop in and see it evolve, alongside the KUKA LBR busily 3D printing  bag charms in the store window.

Header image and all images not otherwise credited: Techstyler

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Aubrey Wang’s Fashion Feeding Machine – Next Level Fashion Tech

Aubrey (Xintong) Wang earned the nickname ‘Aubruino’ (a play on Arduino) from her tutor Zowie Broach early on in the first year of her MA fashion degree at the Royal College of Art.  A BA fashion graduate from a degree in South Korea, now nearing completion of her MA, Aubrey is a designer cut from an entirely different cloth, or 3D printed from another filament, to use a more fitting analogy.  A designer of heaving techno-fashion leanings and a longing for a more symbiotic relationship between these two disciplines, Aubrey spent her first MA year collaborating with Information Experience Design and Service Design students, exploring biolace, chairs that are impossible to sit on and a hamster to human communication device.  Aubrey designs not for a fashion show, but for a future world where a philosophy that primarily asks ‘why?’ leads design inquisition.  She favours critical design reasoning and methodology, leading her to read Speculative Everything and explore the work of Anthony Dunne.

Flicking through her sketch books reveals x-rays and MRI scans (attention well piqued!) and orthopaedic devices for correcting posture.  These are intermixed with images of 80’s and 90’s sci-fi fashion editorials and still life representations by artist Mariko Mori which portray a kind of ‘sci-fi normal’ – the extraordinary in an everyday setting.  That’s where Aubrey’s design thinking lives.  She casts aside the idea of very sleek modern gadgets in favour of ephemeral and spirited 80’s and 90’s sci-fi inspired design.  Where is the personality in an iWatch, after all?

Three artworks – Mariko MoriTerry Gilliam’s Brazil Ridley Scott’s Bladerunner

Her design thinking is about individual needs in an increasingly tech-enabled world, with a dose of surrealism thrown in to underscore the absurdity of how technology may take over our lives to the point where we wear a helmet that feeds us so that our hands remain free to clutch a smart ‘phone and ‘stay connected’.  Leading her process is the creation of the object, and it’s the fashion that follows.  What results is an unfolding story, and in the case of her final collection, a series of helmets culminating in a ‘feeding machine’ and augmented clothing that has been pattern cut to correct the slump in posture caused by hunching over a smart ‘phone.  Her toile developments and fittings recreated this exact slumped scenario.

Sketches and Toiles

Following the RCA graduate show held a week before our interview, to which Aubrey’s collection had a great response, a buyer asked for the clothes minus the augmentation – just made really simply, because the buyer liked the fabric but the design was ‘not commercial enough’.  Cue an open reflection where Aubrey explains that she feels it would be a shame to make a ‘commercial version’ and loose the purpose and story of her collection, and that there is a space for her to explore story telling and commerciality through her plan to launch a studio that fuses her design thinking with real life briefs from brands, for example the Nina Ricci perfume project she completed during her MA at the RCA.

Work in progress

Fashion isn’t enough, it seems, and Aubrey is clear in her mandate for maintaining her collaborate style of work.  She believes that collaboration is the only way to achieve the fashion revolution that is required, and by many accounts, inevitable, in our impending fashion tech future.  Aubrey thinks science, technology and fashion should work closer together, and that there should be a specific MA programme for fashion tech to avoid the limitations in this area of fashion designers today.

Aubrey Wang, RCA MA Fashion Show

Reflecting on my interview with Aubrey and Zahra ‘Sooty’ Hosseini (to follow soon) I’d describe the RCA graduates that I have met as having a potent individualism.  It’s their understanding of themselves and their studious conviction that makes for such powerful storytelling in their work.  Aubrey explains her view of the future as a very long road, along which her work will grow and when she is older she will shoot all of it – everything she has created will be interlinked and part of a continuum, creating a film that ‘makes sense’. Her work is ever evolving and she is learning and growing with it.  She is incredibly calm and happy in the knowledge that she is nowhere near the finished article.  With such an open mind and challenging concepts I can’t wait to see how Aubrey’s journey unfolds.

The Gourd Film stills and trailer by Aubruino Studio 

At the end of the interview, Aubrey and I chatted about our feelings on sustainability, challenges in fusing science and fashion and finding opportunities for creating and presenting this ‘hybrid’ work.  In terms of fashion, she declares catwalk as ‘dead’ and pointless – a platform unfit for her work.  So what is the right platform?  We discuss the current gaping hole that fashion tech will eventually fill, both in terms of more suitable products and more dynamic and engaging presentation of work.  We talk about alternative formats including installation and film, lamenting the restrictive nature of the current fashion week formats and our frustration on the lack of vision of those setting said formats.

  Aubrey Wang Lookbook

It strikes me as a paradox that the RCA graduates I have met are fiercely individual yet so readily looking to collaborate.  Fashion is often secretive, protective and insular.  I’ve always believed that if you have a unique point of view (surely crucial in the overly noisy and crowded fashion arena) then why the need to be protective and secretive?  Aubrey and her peers apparently don’t seem to suffer from this insular mentality, advertising the fact that they are working alongside other creatives to test and enrich their practice and designs, celebrating the fusion of disciplines and sharing the credit for the work, which has not traditionally been the way of fashion designers.  A new dawn of hybrid creativity and collaborative individualism appears upon to be upon us and set to shape our fashion tech future.

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Achieving Sustainability Requires a Paradigm Shift, Says Kering’s Marie-Claire Daveu

As the driver of Kering’s global sustainability strategy, Marie-Claire Daveu is the company’s spokesperson on what amounts to a mammoth mandate to effect global change management across supply chains and drive education of students and designers to mindfully choose sustainable materials when making creative decisions.  Following the Copenhagen Fashion Summit, I spoke to her about how Kering is identifying, adopting and funding sustainable fashion solutions to mitigate environmental and ethical disasters within the industry.

The subject of sustainability in fashion is complex in that to understand its meaning and implications, designers must understand the technicalities of raw materials and the processes that grow and cultivate them – for example the links between climate change and cattle farming – in order to fully understand the role and importance of sustainable materials.  In luxury fashion, designers make the ultimate decisions about materials usage, so communicating the mechanics of sustainability to them is key.  During an enlightening and in-depth conversation with Marie-Claire Daveu, the complexity of the task became clear, as did the multi-pronged approach that Kering is taking to diagnose, develop and fund sustainable materials solutions.  It also became clear that in order to communicate this topic, Daveu’s engineering credentials (declaring herself an unlikely fashion person) are essential in making the connections between the mechanics and technicalities of the supply chain and the aesthetic and sensibilities of the design teams.

There were several key takeaways from the discussion with Daveu, during which she and I bonded over mutual previous careers in engineering and science respectively, before undertaking careers in the fashion industry.  Perhaps most potent was her assertion that a “with incremental progress you will not change a paradigm” and that disruption through innovation is needed in order to achieve transformation of supply chains to circular systems.  Specifically, she declared that incremental improvements (like using recycled textiles in capsule collections or isolated products, for example) were not sufficient.  Kering is firmly focused on finding disruptive technologies, and to do that they need to identify startups creating game-changing solutions.  Enter their Fashion For Good initiative in partnership with Plug and Play and the C&A Foundation, based in Amsterdam, Netherlands.

Plug and Play incubates ideation and growth-stage startups in various industries – previous success stories include Dropbox and Paypal – to research, develop and test potential sustainable solutions for the fashion industry.  In partnering with C&A, Kering is demonstrating its belief that in terms of raw materials, a collaborative effort is required to create an industry-wide shift to more sustainable textiles.  Fashion brands spanning the high street and luxury sectors use cotton, for example, so a collaborative approach between brands increases buying power and provides the scale and volume to support the cost and change management required to transform materials supply chains into circular ones.

The key aim for Kering is to introduce sustainable materials and processes within the supply chain.  Marie-Claire Daveu is clear in her assertion that designers cannot add sustainability at the design stage – it has to be inherent in the raw materials and textiles.  She mentions current Fashion For Good incubee startups Pili-Bio, which uses micro-organisms to embed dye into materials in place of toxic and water-intensive dyeing processes, and Amadou mushroom leather, already product-tested by Irene-Marie Seelig and covered here in depth on the blog last year, when she was a recipient of the Kering Award for Sustainability.

Marie-Claire Daveu at the Kering Award for Sustainability, London College of Fashion – Image: Dave Bennett

Amadou is a potentially viable alternative to animal leathers and Daveu mentioned its promising development a number of times throughout our conversation, along with external innovators Bolt Threads, who have created a synthetic spider silk that she confirms is already a material being explored within the Kering group brands.  Given that Stella McCartney does not use animal skins, developments like Amadou mushroom leather have a clear opportunity to fulfil the brand ethos while maintaining the required levels of luxury and quality.

Irene-Marie Seelig’s Amadou mushroom leather shoe – Image:  Irene-Marie Seelig

Underlining Kering’s Sustainability drive are three pillars:  Care (reduce environmental impact by 40% and greenhouse gas by 50%); Collaborate (working with companies within the supply chain and other brands) and Create (launch disruptive innovations and link sustainability to a circular economy).  Innovation is the point pushed most heavily during our discussion, and it’s clear that the game-changing sustainable solutions will come from outside the brands themselves – most likely from startups (which Kering are investing in) and manufacturers within the supply chain.  Daveu explained that Kering are working very hard with NGOs in Mongolia, for example, to establish sustainable cashmere farming which respects biodiversity and supports animal welfare.  The foundation of this is transparency and traceability, as it is with all sustainable materials development.  Kering have also established programmes with suppliers in Italy and China to have a clear diagnosis of the usage of energy, water and other natural resources in order to analyse their consumption and begin to develop sustainable alternatives.  It’s when considering the complexity of changing entire factory manufacturing and processing systems in order to reduce natural resource consumption that the magnitude of this task to achieve sustainability becomes clear – we are not simply talking about choosing organic cotton in favour regular cotton – this is a deep, expensive and technical change needed to drastically reduce the demands the fashion industry is placing on the planet, across the entire industry. 

Sustainability in Motion – Kering.com

In addition to looking outside of their company for innovation, Kering has developed an in-house materials innovation lab based in Milan, headed up by Cecilia Takayama, who spoke at the Copenhagen Fashion Summit as part of the panel discussion on circular design.  Kering’s lab has been particularly successful in creating sustainable materials for its Gucci and Bottega Veneta brands, and Daveu reveals that they now want to apply this same focus to creating materials for their watch and jewellery brands.

Kering’s Cecilia Takayama on circular design – Image: Copenhagen Fashion Summit

Kering’s commitment to sustainability comes from the top – led by François Henri Pinault, who is active in the implementation of the sustainability strategy for each brand in the Kering stable.  He meets with executives and design teams across all brands to demonstrate the prioritisation of sustainability and the level of seriousness with which it is taken at Kering.  Marie-Claire Daveu also explained that formal KPI’s are in effect to ensure that sustainability remains a focus and targets are met.  

François-Henri Pinault receives the GCC Global Leaders of Change Awards 2015 at UN Climate Change Conference (COP21) – Image: Kering.com

Via Daveu, Kering’s message is that it wants to set the global standard in sustainable luxury by 2025, by delivering on targets within its three pillars.  Underlining their commitment, she said “the new generation will make the future”, and that Kering has a “360 degree approach” including sustainability education via university initiatives at London College of Fashion, Parsons, Central Saint Martins and Tsinghua, along with investments in startups and game-changing innovations.  This, combined with its EP&L and supply-chain efforts aimed at identifying and overhauling environmentally harmful processes, mean Kering are attacking sustainability challenges from all angles.  Keep an eye on Plug and Play Amsterdam and Kering’s Sustainability news to see how it all unfolds. 

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Click Your Heels To Start The Dishwasher – Smart Trainers vs Traditional Cordwainers

Surrounded by students crafting leather on lasts using traditional methods, Adriana Goldenberg stands alone as the only student on the BA (Hons) Cordwainers Footwear: Design and Product Innovation course grappling with textiles and tech to create smart trainers for her final year footwear collection.   “Why only one?” I wonder, in a world where knitted trainers (see ubiquitous examples below) are grabbing footwear market share as new textile technologies applied to footwear design are revolutionising the texture, fit and speed to market of this entire product category.  Isn’t textile-led trainer design the most exciting area in footwear design at the moment?  Adriana seems to think so.

Top to bottom: Nike Flyknit Air Force One, YEEZY BOOST 350, Adidas Ultra Boost, Adidas Stan Smith

Starting her concept not from a designer standpoint, but from a question about whether there might be a consumer appetite for a hybrid textile apparel/shoe product, she placed a paid Facebook Ad (for £38.61, to be exact) aimed at her demographic (25-37 year old females in the UK and the US), reaching over 400,000 people, from which she had 55 surveys completed.  Her survey was to determine her target market’s attitude towards leggings joined to trainers – a kind of unification of a two products in the hugely successful athleisure movement (sportswear as all day wear – think Lululemon and Nike Lab outside of the yoga studio and gym).  The results, despite being a small sample, pointed to a potential demand for the hybrid product.   

Adriana began exploring leggings with components attached to trainers via zips or laces, allowing them to be mixed and matched – adding customisation and personalisation to the mix.  Taking her concept one step further, she sought to offer product differentiation by making her trainers smart – adding value via programmed switches containing safety and lifestyle features.  Juggling a full time job at SAM Labs and full time study has paid off in a creative and cross-disciplinary sense, inspiring her to utilise SAM Lab switches (’50 pence size’ programmable blocks aimed at getting kids into coding) and rapid prototyping equipment at their co-working space – the Machines Room in East London, resulting in her shoe collection by SAM Labs. 

Images: SAM Labs

Focusing on combining the programmable SAM Labs blocks with her shoe designs, it’s interesting to discover that the tech drove the design process in this instance.  The first prototypes had the blocks sewn on to the textile upper, creating practical issues and a lack of design integration.  In contrast to pursuing this visible ‘stuck on’ fashion tech option, Adriana designed the prototype shoes around the tech, housing the blocks within the sole and using 3D printing in order to create cavities for them to slot into. 

Portfolio images: Adriana Goldenberg –  Bottom image: Techstyler

The SAM switches, or ‘blocks’, connect to a smart phone via Bluetooth and are easily programmable via drag and drop icons on the SAM mobile app, which essentially contain packages of java script pre-coded, so that you just drop the icons containing the code in a sequence to get the block to do what you want.  One of the coolest icons is IFTTT (which stands for “if this, then that”), which contains code that allows you to set your block up to do all sorts of things, like send you a notification when there is breaking news at NASA or get a daily meditation alert acting as both a reminder and light dimmer.  The SAM block can also be connected to the accelerometer and GPS functions in your phone to amp up the functionality.  Want to know more about setting up the SAM Lab blocks?  Here’s an overview of how Adriana did it:

Adriana has used the GPS connectivity in combination with safety information relating to geographic locations in London to programme the block to buzz and send vibrations through the sole of the trainer when the wearer is in a high crime area.  She has also programmed one of the blocks to dial emergency services when the block button is pressed.  The blocks can also be connected to other device software (a smart dishwasher) for example.  By smart I mean connected to the internet, which is increasingly common with smart homes and the growing Internet of Things network.  One of the more fun features is starting the dishwasher when the heels are clicked together three times, utilising the tilt sensor in the block.

Lookbook images:  Adriana Goldenberg

Wrapping up our chat, Adriana admits to feeling a little overwhelmed by the attention a small amount of promotion on her Instagram and Facebook page have generated.  She has had fifteen requests for her smart trainers already and has yet to complete her final major project – part of which is these Sam Labs shoe prototypes, due to be submitted next week to complete her BA degree requirements.  She is looking forward to taking stock and weighing up future opportunities.  Perhaps surprisingly, she isn't fixed on a future in footwear design due to the complexity of the design, development and manufacturing processes, however with textile techniques making this process far cleaner, quicker and more iteration friendly compared to leather techniques, the shoe game appears to be changing.  She is, however, fixed on a future working with fashion and technology and feels there are opportunities to blend fashion and tech in more meaningful ways, with a simple and seamless consumer focus rather than an all singing, all dancing tech 'geek-out' focus.  She mentions invisible tech in seamless smart materials where the tech does cool stuff to enhance the wearer's experience, without making them feel like they're wearing a gadget.  Adriana's smart trainers sure feel like a step in that direction.

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