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

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

TECHtoberfest

Plenty of people like beer and plenty of people like tech. It was only a matter of time before the two came together in the form of TECHtoberfest. Held in hipster land’s London Fields Brewery, TECHtoberfest combines the tradition of German Oktoberfest with the next generation of startups and the future of tech. Led by Robert Fenton of HipHacHus, which aims to inspire, educate and support tech startups through a number of events in London, TECHtoberfest had two rooms jammed with tech and entertainment.  The ‘fest was a social gathering with onsite brewed beer and local tech companies demoing their newest apps, games and devices. With a distinctly local vibe it was friendly and inclusive, even if being one of the few girls there meant I had to muscle in to try out the gadgets, apps and games being demoed. I did at times feel invisible and I definitely had to work harder to get to the founders than the boys did. Whatever. I loved it. The tech on show was inspiring, ingenious and fun.

TECHtoberfest Press release_Page_1

Standouts included Derrick the Death Fin – a cardboard video game; Amplified Robot’s VR film of a surgical procedure at St Bart’s Hospital, London; Moteefe’s customised clothing website and Unit9 showcasing VR video and Yifei Chai’s UK government-funded, ground-breaking VR sensory experience.

Derrick the Death Fin is the creation of graffiti artist/vandal extraordinaire Ronzo. Ronzo created a video game of cardboard fish travelling around the globe with the aim of sharing environmental messages about saving our planet. He was inspired by the stop motion Wallace and Gromit animations and created Derrick the Death Fin in the same way – making and moving the characters and sets by hand and suspending them with transparent fishing line from DIY rigs. It’s a cute and heart-warming labour of love showcasing the artist’s creative vision and love of craft, even in the final rendered CGI game is resolutely tech. The craft feeling remains in the blocky fold and cut created graphics and the digital cardboard number counter. Derrick the Death Fin website has a host of goodies including downloadable fold and cut characters so you can re-create the cast.

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Amplified Robot are an agency based in Berwick Street, London. I watched a laparoscopy procedure at St Barts Hospital created from a 6 camera Gopro rig worn by one of the surgical team. Using a Samsung Wifi VR headset (with smartphone inserted to play the video) I was transported to the familiar hospital operating theatre environment, having left my career as an NHS radiographer only three weeks ago. Unfortunately the video isn’t on their website but you can see what the BL Surgical team are up to here.

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https://vimeo.com/130458258

Moteefe aim to help online influencers monetise their following on social media. For those with a large or growing fanbase online, monetising their popularity and engagement with their audience can be difficult. Moteefe facilitate the creation of merchandise allowing influencers to turn their popularity into profits. By designing printed t-shirts using Moteefe, English Author and Journalist Danny Bent sold a stack of t-shirts to fans to help promote his recent Ultimate Hell Week on BBC, thereby gaining traction on social media when fans shared pictures of themselves in the t-shirts, generating more engagement and increased followers, significantly growing his online audience. Nifty in terms of capitalising on popularity, but definitely more to do with the marketing message than the clothing products themselves.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kbv9QncAu0E

Unit9, a digital agency located in Hoxton, East London, recently created a video for Fashion Revolution Day in conjunction with BBDO Germany to raise awareness of the consequences of fast, disposable fashion and give shoppers a chance to see the effect cheap fast clothing has on humanity. An interactive digital vending machine experience, it led to 90% of users opting to donate 2euros to the Fashion Revolution Day cause and make a stand against the disaster at Rana Plaza, rather than consume and destruct.

Yifei Chai of Unit9 also presented a fascinating, philosophical and conceptual device for his Pretender Project, which is the first tech interface “empathy tool” designed to engage all five senses so that during VR experiences, for example, when we see a virtual object we can actually feel that object by way of resistance applied through a sensory suit that tracks body movement to understand where and when your body makes “contact” with the virtual object.  The sensory suit also allows one wearer to control the movement of another wearer. I experience this with Yifei, who wore a transmitting (controller) sleeve while I wore a receptor (avatar) sleeve. Yifei moved his hand, transmitting electrical impulses to my sleeve and causing my hand to mimic the movement of Yifei’s. It was pretty mind-blowing. I felt my hand wasn’t my own while reacting to the stimulus. The technology Yifei has developed has far reaching possibilities. He tells me the full sensory suit could be used to download and experience a dancer’s training, or Tiger Woods’ golf swing, for example. It could also be programmed with muscle stimulation training regimes for injury rehabilitation.

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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=manbPYfXkzE

The device I demo with Yifei is over a year old and the second prototype has already been built. I accept an invitation from Yifei to visit his office/lab/haven of amazingness in Hoxton to try it out, along with a bunch of VR experiences that he and his colleague Yannis at Unit9 have developed. Stay tuned for a follow-up blog post.

On the entertainment side of things there’s a DJ on rotation with a traditional Bavarian band drenched in techno lighting who took to the stage to cover 90’s rock hits. I capture a couple of snaps of Bavarian Stylers at the bar and grab my swag on the way out. Prost!

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Header image: Derrick the Deathfin by Ronzo

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