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.

The Dawning of a New Age of Augmented Reality-Led Fashion

If the title of this article has conjured up images of LED light-embedded bags and swathes of technophiles in VR headsets, prepare yourself for an altogether more sophisticated and integrated use of tech hardware and augmented reality where the result isn’t ‘in yer face geekery’, but more tech-enabled emotional brand experiences.  Leading this charge across fashion design and brand experiences is the London College of Fashion-based Fashion Innovation Agency, whose 5th birthday last week acted as a summary of five years of giant leaps in tech and bold experimentation that began with a smart phone dress (seems rudimentary now, right?!) and most recently a live CGI fashion show.  How and why such big leaps, and why does it matter?  Is the fashion industry really ready and open to placing a digital layer over the physical world?  Yes, and here’s why…

Top: Nokia smartphone skirt in collaboration with Fyodor Golan – Image: BT.com  Middle and above: Steven Tai x ILMxLab at London Fashion Week – Images: Techstyler

Backed by recent calamitous downturns by House of Fraser and Topshop, it seems fashion retailers have lost sway with consumers, who are increasingly shopping online, led by Instagram connected e-commerce, that allows single swipe shopping, delivery within hours and outstanding customer service.  Why go to a store?  Stores are impersonal and finding the right style in the right size can be slow and frustrating due to outdated and inaccurate inventory systems.  Zara is a regular disappointment in this area, boasting stock at specified stores when checking Zara.com, which isn’t actually in stock when visiting the store.  On a recent trip to Zara the staff admitted to me that their inventory is wildly inaccurate and the online stock check is not up-to-date.  Wasted trips equal dissatisfied customers and further back the case for shopping online instead.

“Retail on the high street is incredibly boring” were the frank words of Matthew Drinkwater, Head of the FIA during a panel discussion at their 5th birthday event recently.  As the matchmaker and orchestrator of five years of projects spanning the aforementioned smartphone skirt, the Sabinna X Pictofit Hololens mixed reality shopping experience and Steven Tai’s Live CGI presentation transporting the audience to Macau, the FIA are well versed in breaking new ground and facilitating fashion and technology collaborations for the benefit of both industries.

Images: SABINNA x Pictofit

The outcomes and learnings ultimately filter down to London College of Fashion students, arming them with next-generation tech skills in their fashion toolkit, helping them push the boundaries of fashion design and retail and shape the future of the industry.

LCF students have plenty of ideas on how to improve the retail shopping experience.  Most of these hinge on bridging the physical and digital realms, essentially draping a digital layer over physical stores to enhance and personalise them for individual customers.  The fruits of these ideas were presented at the Future of Fashion Incubator launch event, part of an ongoing partnership between Microsoft and the FIA.  LCF students teamed up with Microsoft experts to experiment with new technologies including Hololens, IoT and AI.  The students were mentored by the Microsoft team in their chosen technology in order transform their ambitious ideas into (often mixed) reality, harnessing what Maruschka Loubser, Senior Global Marketing Manager at Microsoft called the ‘inspirational and exciting’ vision of the students.  Their mission was to unlock the students’ innovation and here are the results…

One team of students created Hololux, a shopping platform experienced via the untethered Hololens Mixed Reality headset which presents 3D renders of products in online stores, bridging the 2D e-commerce experience with the 3D physical instore shopping experience.  Hololens headsets can be networked so that groups of people can shop together regardless of their individual locations.  Want your friend abroad’s opinion on an outfit?  Simply link up and shop together.  The team identified airport lounges as an ideal location for this experience, where travellers may want to experience luxury shopping while waiting for their plane, but at the same time avoid the chaos of the crowded and busy airport.  Totally imaginable.

Hololux in creation – behind the scenes  – Image: Microsoft

Augmenta also made use of the mixed reality Hololens, but this time for visual merchandising using holograms to simulate interior store layouts.  Their platform allows visual merchandisers to map the interior space with digital objects (furniture, fittings and clothing) via hand gestures and voice input quickly, cheaply and with less waste.  Colleagues can co-create by networking their Hololens headsets, again, regardless of location.  The team also identified an opportunity to enhance the platform with AI to provide integrated heat mapping to show the flow of people through the store and further refine and target the visual merchandising based on that.  Augmenta present at the Future of Fashion event – Image: Microsoft

Team DiDi created a garment label that allows lifecycle tracking and transparency.  By using RFID and NFC technology the label can be scanned to access details of the materials and manufacturing of the garment, providing a more current and broader version of the FIA’s previous collaboration with Martine Jarlgaard.  What’s exciting about DiDi’s concept is their consideration of brand storytelling as part of their platform, which is tailored to help brands celebrate their back-story and share it with their consumers, really making it part of the overall brand experience rather than a cumbersome ethics and supply chain document delivered up via the CSR section of their website, as with many brands currently.

AI and neural networks are exciting technical tools which allow the training of a piece of software to recognise images and objects, based on processing a huge number of images and developing a visual ‘memory’ based on them.  This is a powerful tool for visually identifying consumers wearing certain brands, styles and silhouettes – for example shoppers in a mall walking past a camera connected to this software, which can then be used to target appropriate advertising to the passing consumer.  This is the principle of Smart Signs, created by another of the LCF team.  This tool also allows trend analysis of passers by, which the creators say could help retailers create more targeted clothing for local markets and reduce mass production waste of low-demand styles.  They say the next step is facial recognition for personalisation of the Smart Signs experience.  You may find it comforting to know that this platform is much like our human brain in that is ‘sees’ passers by, identifies their style and then dumps that data – meaning personal data is not stored.

Smart Signs demo at the Future of Fashion event – Image: Microsoft

‘Janet’ is a smart-phone-based instore shopping buddy that scans your outfit while you are trying it on in the changing room and suggests alternative styles and other garments to style with it.  It can also tell you where to get a similar style for a better price, or your size in an alternative location.  I love Janet’s everyday name, and I guess that suggests the team wants you to think of her as a really helpful and insightful shopping friend – she’s not judging, just helping.  I can imagine Janet being very helpful in a multi-brand or department store, but in a single brand store I guess Janet won’t be so welcome as she’s likely to recommend rival brands for the benefit of the consumer’s choice.

Casting my mind back to the FIA 5th Anniversary event and panel discussion, I remember the input of Mohen Leo of ILMxLab, the team which created the Live CGI for Steven Tai’s London Fashion Week presentation.  “You can achieve ‘stickiness’ in retail by adding a digital layer, providing a different experience each time”, he said.  Clearly this gives shoppers a reason to visit a physical store.  “Shopping is only about emotions and emotional connection”, said Matthew Drinkwater.  He then went on to say that technology affords an opportunity to enhance this connection and emotion.

   Images:  FIA 

For those attending Fashion Week, the all too familiar break-neck speed of the shows and presentations often leaves the audience with a feeling of visual overload.  Each show blends into the next, as there is rarely an experiential layer  – just the immediate visual presentation of the clothes.  This used to be enough, but not anymore.  The success of Steven Tai’s Live CGI show was its engaging combination of digital and physical worlds, that transported the audience to Macau in an ever-changing landscape which drew the audience into its subtle evolution as the models meandered around the stage alongside a digital counterpart.  To quote Vicki Dobbs-Beck of ILMxLab this was “storyliving, not just storytelling”.  In this recent BBC article, the House of Fraser team commented to say it “urgently needs to adapt” to “fundamental changes” in the retail industry.  An emotional and engaging experience is what retailers and brands need to offer, and the tools with which to do this lie in augmented reality and artificial intelligence.

For a snapshot explanation of the difference between VR, AR and MR, click here  Header Image: Microsoft Follow Techstyler on Instagram and Twitter

Sabinna Experiments With Mixed Reality Shopping for Fashion

For Sabinna Rachimova, her ‘brand DNA’ is, actually, familial.  It transcends ethos and aesthetics and runs deep into the past, through two generations of her family.  Her grandmother, a maths and physics professor in her native Russia, who during communist times made clothing on the side for neighbours and friends for extra income, inspired her to pursue a career in art and craft.

Sabinna’s parents were professional athletes, her mother a field hockey player and her father a footballer, which meant the family travelled regularly and she grew up in Russia, Spain and Austria, where her family finally settled.  Describing this experience as unsettling, she created her own fictional world of play to distract herself from being the new kid and not speaking the local language, at least initially.  Craft became Sabinna’s passion, so where communication with others lacked, she filled her time with what interested her – art, craft and languages.

Family photos, Sabinna’s studio, East London

Sabinna’s parents insisted she attend a languages and maths-focused high school, so unable to pursue creative subjects, she completed her studies under duress and then went on to enrol in a Slavic languages degree after a rejection from the University of Applied Arts Vienna, where she had hoped to study fashion design.  Struggling to find a route into a design degree, she sent her CV to every fashion designer in Vienna, asking for a part-time job and hoping to step inside what she described at the time as the ‘secret world of fashion’.

Schella Kann took her on and with a tough love approach, telling her to forget about the rejection from the University of Applied Arts Vienna and to look further afield to pursue her dreams.  By putting together a portfolio based on the way her maths and physics professor grandmother had taught her to present ideas, she applied and was accepted onto a foundation course at Central Saint Martins in London.  Not bad for someone who pulled together a portfolio in twenty four hours, assisted by her boyfriend and now long term partner, David, and sent it simply addressed to the ‘fashion’ department with a request to join a fashion course, of no particular specification.

Following completion of her foundation course, Sabinna went on to study Fashion Marketing and Design at CSM and interned in the knitwear department at Dior, which she describes as ‘the best and worst’ (experience).  She describes spending up to two days pondering yarn colours alongside the knitwear team, and working with Italian factories who would bring cases full of ideas into the ready-to-wear team’s studio for the knitwear team to use as inspiration from which to develop the seasonal designs.  Sabinna describes gaining an insight into the technical aspects of knitwear development and production with the scale of a luxury fashion house and this knowledge has clearly stood her in good stead for developing her own fashion business.

Describing herself as “terrible at maths but very good with numbers”, she explains to me how her business, which she launched eighteen months ago, works on a day-to-day basis, with the SABINNA team, consisting of herself and her partner David, co-founders and leading the design and IT and e-commerce respectively; Zula, Sabinna’s mum, who is head of knitwear, which is made in Vienna, Austria;  Scarlett, a long-term friend of Sabinna and pattern cutter, who develops the designs alongside Sabinna and is based in Hastings;  David’s sister Simone, who is in charge of taxes; Julia, who is based in Vienna and does research and marketing; and Asya, who creates the crochet pieces and assists Sabinna in London.

Sabinna’s studio 

All of Sabinna’s fabrics are from Europe and all the ready-to-wear, custom made pieces for private clients, crochet pieces and bags are made in the UK.  All of the knitwear is made in Austria.

Zula’s knitwear design notes, inspiration and hand-knitted jumper at Sabinna’s studio, East London

Having seen behind the scenes at Sabinna’s studio, I am eager to delve a little deeper into this season’s collection, show and mixed-reality presentation.  Having attended Sabinna’s catwalk show and seen the collection up close, I’m curious to know what prompted Sabinna to delve into using the Hololens and working with a mixed reality platform to present her collection virtually after having just presented it in catwalk reality.  When I ask how the fashion-tech collaboration came about, we spent some time talking about notions of innovation in fashion and the idea of ‘newness’.

Sabinna’s studio 

Fashion is highly resistant to change.  I have mentioned this paradox a number of times in my articles.  Sabinna puts it clearly, “the main problem with fashion is that it doesn’t communicate well with the outside world… Social media has divided fashion along commercial lines”.  She feels there is too much made of creative/experimental fashion versus commercial fashion, especially in London, and that designers are often placed in one box or the other.  Describing her collections as very wearable and leaning towards the commercial side, she sees the opportunity for innovation and creativity in presentation and storytelling, with Microsoft Hololens and collaborator Pictofit being the perfect collaborators for this, facilitated by the FIA and Fashion Scout.

SABINNA SS17, I Still Love You  – Photos and Styling:  Toni Caroline

Sabinna follows what’s widely termed as the ‘see now, buy now’ business model, which means her collections are produced in advance of her show and ready to buy immediately after they are presented, allowing her to capitalise on the buzz of London Fashion Week and engage her clients in a complete presentation and shopping experience.

SABINNA SS17 show, Fashion Scout, London Fashion Week

Setting the tone for seasons to come, where Sabinna plans to continue experimenting with technology to create new experiences rather than attempting to constantly re-invent her products, Sabinna chose to create the world’s first mixed-reality shopping event at the Freemason’s Hall as part of Fashion scout during London Fashion Week, following her catwalk show.


Behind the scenes at SABINNA SS17 show, Fashion Scout, London Fashion Week

Why mixed reality shopping?  With her collection available, she thought it would make sense to give the customer a creative tool to explore styling different pieces of the collection virtually before purchasing.

Top: Image capture by Pictofit in Austria, Bottom:  Sabinna’s mixed-reality shopping experience at Fashion Scout, LFW – Photos by Emmi Hyyppä and Sabinna

There was also an app available to download, allowing shoppers to use the Pictofit virtual fitting room and, instead of looking at virtual mannequins, try on the SABINNA collection, entitled I Still Love You, on images of themselves.  The clothes adapt to the user’s body shape in real time.

With a huge ambition for trying new technologies and exploring the potential of virtual and augmented reality, Sabinna passionately emphasises that designers need to experiment with new technologies in order to discover newness.  Sometimes something new is right in front of you, but you don’t see it because you are striving to re-invent something that may not need re-inventing, she says.  Newness can come in the form of simply working with a new piece of technology, while sticking to the same core aesthetics, materials and designs in terms of product.  For her, technology is the catalyst and an exciting tool for telling new stories in fashion, she states, mentioning the huge leaps in the technology’s image capture and render quality in just the six months since Martine Jarlgaard’s mixed reality fashion presentation at London Fashion Week in September 2016. Let’s see what next season brings.

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Martine Jarlgaard’s Mixed Reality Show at London Fashion Week – A World First

Often looking inward (and perhaps gazing too much at it’s own toned, teenage-model navel),  fashion, for all the illusion of creativity and dynamism that it exudes to a captive public audience, is, in reality, largely conservative.  “I don’t see much innovation in fashion” says Martine Jarlgaard, ex-Vivienne Westwood Red Label Head Designer who has also designed for All Saints and Diesel.  It’s a broad professional backdrop from which she launched her brand Martine Jarlgaard London in 2014, and is presenting for the first time in an immersive ‘mixed reality’ experience on the official schedule at London Fashion Week in September 2016.

“I wanted to wait until I had a significant reason to present” said Martine, following a long discussion about the current state of the fashion industry and concerns about the environmental impact of mass production and waste in the garment manufacturing industry.  These are concerns that have been simmering for some time and a handful of emerging designers are tackling these issues head on.  Martine is one.  She is “disappointed with fashion” and feels a universal transparent system that untangles and delineates the supply chain and sourcing of materials is needed so that it is possible for brands and consumers to understand the impact of the materials being chosen and make informed decisions.  Many designers, for example, are not aware that some fabrics are created using devastatingly toxic chemicals that pollute and endanger workers and local populations.  Currently, this is not transparent.  She says it’s time for the fashion industry to be re-envisioned and re-defined and find the investment to create alternatives to the current polluting and wasteful processes. 

martine_jarlgaard_london_x_alcantara_x_njal_2016_07_04_0AlcantaraMaterialMartine Jarlgaard London AW15

As this article goes to print I read a piece by Richie Siegel about the expected future domination of Amazon Fashion, despite its current lack of curation and aesthetic appeal to fashion shoppers – a problem now being addressed.  Amazon’s pricing model is not based on large margins and sales discounting to shift stock like traditional fashion retailers.  Its margins are small, prices are keen and products are produced to fill gaps in the market – an already more ‘sustainable’ and pragmatic model – where a t-shirt costing £5 to produce is sold to consumers at around £6.50, in contrast to a traditional retailer who would squeeze suppliers down to a price of closer to £2 in order to sell to the consumer at £6.50.  Since Amazon would potentially sell tens of thousands of units (based on it’s market penetration and 65 million worldwide subscribers) it follows that if the products created by Amazon were sustainably and ethically produced it could trigger a big shift in the current polluting, inefficient, land-fill creating fast fashion sector.  Granted, this still may result in a lot of product eventually finding its way to land-fill, but the business model and the motivations are promising, especially if cleaner production methods are employed, and the customer is at the centre of this model.  For more information about calculating the cost of fast fashion, see my previous article Fashion Data: Calculating the cost of the fashion machine.

Martine is a curious and impassioned designer with a rich educational background (she gained a BA/MA at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts in Copenhagen and did a stint at Rhode Island School of Design where she studied sculpture, artistic anatomy and anthropology amongst other broader fine art and design subjects, and has always worked in a cross-disciplinary manner.  She feels that the solutions and impetus for the change needed in the fashion industry to achieve a level of responsible, sustainable manufacturing will come from outside the industry and that technology will most likely find the solution.  Amazon is a technology company, and as mentioned above, looks set to disrupt fast fashion and provide some solutions to production excess and bloated inventories.    

Martine and I discuss current examples of big brands tackling sustainability and I mention the Nike Flyknit trainers, manufactured using a single knitting process creating the upper with minimal wastage – no leather tanning and sewing of component layers is required – and it can be manufactured anywhere in the world as it is machine driven.  This knitted upper began as a running shoe style and has now been used in a vast array of styles including the classic Air Force One and Nike Air Max.  Hershel have just released their ‘ApexKnit’ range of backpacks using the same knit technology and other product lines will surely follow.  Digital knitting provides a solution that creates superior design, comfort, wearability and sustainability.  Maybe that’s the key.  The sustainability looks like a bonus here, as the design and product performance is enhanced AND the product is sustainable.  It is also cheaper and easier to develop and iterate, therefore creating a far superior solution to the old leather, fabric and foam uppers made of many components requiring man power for stitching and assembly. 

af1m1 nike-flyknit-air-max-blue-lagoon-bright-crimson-01 Herschel-Supply-ApexKnit-CollectionTop: Nike Air Force One  –  Middle: Nike Air Max  – Above:  Herschel ApexKnit backpack

Martine mentions being inspired by Nike’s presentation at the Copenhagen Fashion Summit in which they explained the commercial and sustainable success of FlyKnit, achieved through technology and innovation.  Martine later clarifies that Nike displayed a rare level of honesty at the summit, expressing frustration with the slow pace of change towards sustainability in the fashion industry.  She happens to be wearing a pair of flyknit trainers during our interview, along with a gorgeous pinky, fleshy shimmering silk peaked slash neck blouse from her AW15 collection.

01 Martine Jarlgaard London AW15Martine Jarlgaard London AW15

We discuss luxury fashion in this context and when Martine mentions the apparent lack of desire for true innovation in this sector our discussion leads to a lack of cross-disciplinary teams in luxury fashion and a persistent uniformity and conservatism.  Where a team’s perspective is limited, perhaps the resulting creative expression through product is too.  It’s difficult to find varied perspectives on solutions to creative problems if every team member has a similar professional experience and background, which tends to be the case in the luxury fashion sector. 

Since launching her brand, Martine has used a combination of sustainable, recycled and surplus fabrics from luxury mills in Italy.  Her design philosophy is to create garments with a lifespan beyond one season, that are made to the highest quality, with a minimal aesthetic and an element of the unexpected.  She explores the tension between minimal and maximal so that her pieces have a personality and cites sculptural three dimensional creation of the garments as a driver for the silhouettes. 

b. Martine Jarlgaard London Drift Ice AW16 c. Martine Jarlgaard London Drift Ice AW16 d. Martine Jarlgaard London Drift Ice AW16Martine Jarlgaard London AW16

Martine’s SS17 collection will launch at London Fashion Week on September 17th with a mixed reality experience using Hololens, in collaboration with DoubleMe, who provide a novel 3D capture system, HoloPortal, that converts 2D videos into dynamic 3D models in real-time and supported by the Fashion Innovation AgencyHololens is a headset that projects a hologram in front of the wearer and allows them to interact with it by walking around it and moving nearer or farther, giving a truly immersive and personal experience dictated by the wearer. Martine’s collection will be presented via Hololens, meaning technically, it could be viewed by anyone in any location who possesses the headset, and physically in an accompanying garment presentation at the W Hotel London, marking the first ever holographic 3D mixed reality fashion ‘show’ for want of a more appropriate word.  So why this rather than a fashion show?  The fashion show format has barely changed since its inception in the early 1900’s and does not allow any kind of personal experience with the clothes – it is passive – as is much of the interaction in the way fashion is presented.  There is a lack of true engagement when sat at a distance viewing clothes zoom past on a runway and in a matter of minutes, the whole experience is over.  The format of a fashion show is also restrictive in that there is an intense build-up and planning and a huge team required to deliver a show to very tight deadlines within a remit that can curb the creativity of the designers and restrict the selection of garments shown, as outlined in a recent interview with London-based designers Fyodor Golan.  

Volvo-Cars-Microsoft-HoloLens-experience_01Microsoft Hololens – experimenting with car models in mixed reality

Martine found complete synergy with Hololens because it allows her to work across disciplines with their digital team and create a 3D experience befitting her sculptural design approach.  Here, the presentation format is symbiotic with her design approach and affords her the opportunity to showcase that and tell a story which can then be navigated from the viewer’s perspective, making another leap forward in our journey to the experiential as a form of fashion presentation.  Crucially, her buyers are “super-excited” about the presentation format.  Fashion is changing, albeit slowly, and it feels like Martine is at the foot of what will ultimately be the crest of an experiential fashion wave.  She plans to work with this technology for coming seasons, declaring that this is in no way a one-off, but rather the beginning of an exciting journey to differentiating her brand in an intelligent and meaningful way and raising awareness of her successful creation of sustainable luxury fashion.   

dune-london-diipa-khosla-15Online Influencer Diipa Khosla in Martine Jarlgaard London  at London Fashion Week

For details of Martine’s previous collaboration with Alcantara SpA click here 

Follow Martine on Twitter and Instagram

For information on first forays into fashion design using Hololens, click here

For a run down of fashion’s exploration of VR to date, read Emma Hope Allwood’s piece on Dazed Digital

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