How Fashion Graduate Mathilde Rougier Is Using AI and AR To Eliminate Fashion Textile Waste

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Mathilde Rougier is a recent graduate of Central Saint Martins, where she studied on the womenswear pathway. For her final collection, she wanted to create new designs from old garments and samples of fabric she had acquired from past internships. This circular approach to fashion – where textile resources remain in repeated use rather than going to a landfill or being incinerated – is one that the industry as a whole must move towards, considering the amount of textile waste it produces. Like Mathilde, many students from Techstyler’s Digi Fashion Class of 2020 showcase have incorporated sustainable/waste-reducing practices into their collection, showing an acute awareness of the climate emergency and the incredibly wasteful and pollutive industry they will inherit. It’s a dilemma many fashion students have tried to come to terms with: loving fashion creation but also knowing that the world does not need more clothes. To overcome this problem, Mathilde decided to adopt innovative techniques.

She took photos of the old garments she wanted to use, and these became the basis of the augmented designs in her final collection, which is a tessellation of leftover textiles and existing garments, re-imagined virtually. Although she was interested in 3D design before and planned to use it in her final collection to some extent, Mathilde is one of the many fashion design graduates for whom digital fashion took on a much larger role in their projects due to COVID-19.

 

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It must have been bittersweet to have your last year cut short; how did you feel?

At the beginning, when lockdown was announced, I had a couple weeks of uncertainty. I didn’t know what to expect or how long lockdown would actually be. So for that period I was a bit of an emotional mess. Then I became very determined to make the situation better for UAL students: with petitions, meetings with university staff, demanding to cut the cost of tuition… This eventually fizzled out because we were getting nowhere. Finally, after that, I began to feel more acceptance. I came to realise that I have the opportunity to really throw myself into something which I had wanted to explore before. I was in a good position as the main equipment I needed was a computer. I already had the squares of second-hand materials (from sample books I had collected over internships to avoid textile waste) I was going to use to map the pixels of the digital garment. The only machinery I needed was a heat press for the recycled plastic I was using.

How did you overcome the obstacles of designing in lockdown? Was it difficult to stay motivated and in touch with your creativity?

Actually, I thought it was quite exciting in a sense. I was more productive. It may have been the sense that it was all in my hands, no-one was going to push me. The only real problem at the beginning of lockdown was shipping all my stuff back to France, since I was going to spend lockdown with my family. I needed to ship all my squares, all my materials. I couldn’t replace them because the goal was for them to be recycled materials in order to minimise waste.

What led you to choose digital fashion design over traditional methods? Was it an unexpected solution to the limitations of COVID-19 or had you been interested in 3D design before?

I was interested in it before, but it took on a larger role because of the physical limitations of COVID. Digital fashion had already been part of the plan, but not to that extent. What I do is augmented reality, so a middle ground between physical and entirely digital fashion (with 3D avatars). I still want to dress people but want the option to do so without producing waste. You can update your designs constantly without waste.

 

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What was the inspiration behind your collection?

It didn’t actually come from an aesthetic inspiration, more a problem-solving approach. My approach was technical: I wanted to address the issue of sustainability. I used different tech systems (whether that’s pixelation*, convolutional neural network**, etc.) to solve problems to do with sustainability.

* The images of the old garments were pixelated in photoshop or sections of the garment were 3D scanned. This allowed Mathilde to translate the real-life textiles into a virtual medium for use as the basis of new 3D designs (i.e. the old garments would be the foundation for the Augmented Reality digital layer of Mathilde’s designs.)

** A convolutional neural network is a type of deep neural network that analyses images to determine and categorise their visual characteristics, in effect recognising details of the garment – such as edges or hard components like buttons – and allowing the designer to adjust the pixel patterns within these garment details. The significance of being able to adjust the pixel patterns is two-fold: first, ensuring that everything looks as intended and to make the transition from physical to digital more seamless, and second, it gives the designer the option to infinitely rearrange and “play with” the building blocks of their design.

 

 

 

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What software did you use in creating your designs? Were there any challenges?

I used a convolutional neural network (AI), Spark AR and Blender (3D animation software). I learnt how to 3D model during the project, so it took some time before I was comfortable. It was a challenge to try and get the AR right and plane-track* the clothes. The thing with 3D design is that you need to make sure the design looks good from different angles. This means blocking out the body and using occluders** to make sure that patterns on the back didn’t show up from the front and vice versa. It took a lot of adjustment to make sure it worked.

*Mathilde used plane-tracking on second hand garments to add an Augmented Reality digital layer on top, using software such as Spark AR and Blender. Plane-tracking involves taking a photo of a recognisable high contrast area of the garment, which is the bit that acts as a trigger that causes Augmented Reality interaction.

 

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** Occluders are objects which impede the amount of light that reaches the eye. In this context, an occluder would block a pattern on one side of the garment from bleeding into the other side. Mathilde had to put explicit instructions into the software to ensure that everything was visualised in the correct location and orientation, according to Mathilde’s design.

 

This is an example of what could happen if occluders are not used: you can see the details of one side of the 3D object bleeding into the other.
This is an example of what could happen if occluders are not used: you can see the details of one side of the 3D object bleeding into the other.

 

What is your plan after graduation? How do you feel about going into the industry during this uncertain time?

I don’t really know yet. At the moment I’ve had lots of freelance jobs which I don’t think I would have gotten 6 months ago. All of a sudden people are interested in digital fashion, there’s a lot of hype. COVID accelerated things because everyone was in front of their screens. But people have been experiencing fashion digitally for a long time without really realising it: e.g. all the people that watch shows online rather than being there in real life. Fashion enthusiasts have been consuming fashion from their screens for ages, but now, since everyone was in lockdown, industry professionals and the fashion system have had to adapt a bit more. I’m going onto MA Accessories at the Institut Français de la Mode in Paris so I’ll carry on freelancing on the side, but I’m lucky to not have to think about a full-time career yet.

How do you want to see the fashion industry change? Is it already changing or is this evolution merely superficial (for example in terms of sustainability)?

Fashion needs to move towards a circular model of production, i.e. stopping with the production of new textiles and making use of existing garments and materials. In terms of sustainability I think we’re still quite far behind. Sustainability is such a large word, there are so many ways to go about making the industry more sustainable. In a sense it’s a good thing as there are many small ways to help, but the risk is focussing too much on the small things rather than the big problem at hand. We see a lot of greenwashing and superficial fixes to a problem that is fundamentally wrong. I’m curious to see more systemic change.

 

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Is 3D fashion design the future?

It’s quite revolutionary waste-wise for smaller brands since the proportion of sampling to product output is bigger than for large companies, meaning it would be extremely worthwhile to move to virtual sampling. With this, you reduce waste at the design and sampling stage and can make many alterations on a toile.

What about digital fashion from end-to-end (meaning no physical product is made)?

This would work for brands doing digital showcases. I have a preference for augmented reality (meaning real people wearing digital clothes rather than a 3D avatar). I still want to dress real people, but people have increasingly developed a digital aspect to their personality. For example, influencers on Instagram that wear a whole new outfit for every new post: augmented reality could solve the overconsumption issue caused by this. The medium is digital so why not the clothes? It can be integrated into the way we live our lives already.

 

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Lastly, what do you think digital fashion means for sustainability?

It allows design without physical production, therefore less waste. Though you can’t totally ignore the carbon footprint of technology, the electrical energy used in powering a computer would be less than trying to recycle all the waste material and mixed fibres at recycling plants. Digital fashion at least streamlines the waste and carbon footprint caused by the industry. Also, there’s visibly “tech-y” fashion (virtual fashion) which will certainly affect the zeitgeist and our opinions on owning physical clothes, but I think the core change in terms of sustainability will be about incorporating technologies into making physical products. You might look at a T-shirt and not think there’s anything particularly innovative or futuristic about it, but the truth is it was made using digital processes that aid sustainability.

 

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With the goal of a more sustainable fashion industry in mind, Mathilde wanted to address both our physical and digital identities. This is due to our digital identities playing an increasingly bigger role in our lives, and these digital identities (or rather the social media sites where they live) being ruled by algorithms that constantly call for new content. She remedies this in the physical realm through the fabric squares she used for her designs which can constantly be repositioned, creating new designs without creating more waste. This translates to the digital realm too, where her Augmented Reality virtual outer shells (each of which correspond to a different garment) can continuously be updated. 

Mathilde enjoys being able to design without creating any physical waste and strongly believes the waste issue in fashion is one that needs to be addressed by the industry. However, she doesn’t want this to come at the cost of design, whether that’s aesthetically or in terms of speed. This is what her collection tried to remedy, showing that zero-waste, repurposing and recycling techniques do not have to produce the “crafty” results they are often associated with. Like much of fashion’s “new guard”, Mathilde is an advocate for the circular mindset where things can constantly be re-designed, allowing for full creative expression by the designer and satisfying the fashion crowd’s love for newness without creating more textile waste and contributing to the devastating climate impact that comes along with fashion production and consumption. In this way, the designer can fully explore the best of fashion – unbridled creativity – whilst avoiding its destructive impact.

 

By Anastasia Vartanian

Ravensbourne Incubation – A New Age of Fashion and Technology Dawns

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Intaglow at Wired2016

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

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

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

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

The Holoportal for 3D image capture at Ravensbourne 

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

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

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

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

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

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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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