The Zozosuit: A Fashion Revolution

It’s not often that something entirely new happens in the fashion industry – something revolutionary.  The Japanese Zozosuit is just that – a revolution in one of the biggest bugbears consumers have when buying clothing – the fit.  Fit is such a confusing word.  Does it mean skin tight?  Does it mean just the right measurements in the right places?  For the team a Zozosuit it is an altogether more sophisticated notion, condensed into a straightforward suit and a series of photographs that result in individual shoppers globally obtaining custom fit clothing.

The cynic in me wonders immediately how the photos will be taken, how the user will interpret how the suit will be worn and the angle and lighting required for the photos, but this is all dismissed when I see that the Zozosuit App talks the wearer through the process from beginning to end – starting with a tutorial on how to smooth out the suit and ensure it is being worn properly, right through to the slow turn required for the app to acquire the 12 photos that result in the 360 degree ‘body scan’ containing all the measurements needed to create custom made or custom fit clothing (I will explain the difference later in the piece).

https://youtu.be/32rbuLFbVWk

When I tried the suit myself it took me a couple of minutes to run through the tutorial, place the phone correctly on a table on the stand provided (it seems our floor is a little uneven) and stand the correct distance from the phone to have my whole body in the field of view for the 12 photos.  The app told me to move “to the front a bit, back a bit, turn to 1 o’clock” so it was simple enough to follow, and startlingly accurate.  After obtaining my Zozosuit measurements I manually measured my bust, waist, hip and thigh and found that all were within 1cm of the Zozosuit measurements – in the case of the bust, waist and thigh they were identical.  I promptly sent my measurements to the team at Start Today, the ecommerce fashion brand behind the suit, and will report back on how the product fits.

The custom made and custom fit proposition by Start Today is startlingly sophisticated for a company making wardrobe basics at the same sort of price-point as Uniqlo.  This is the first mass customized product available at a high-street price point and available within weeks, sometimes days.  Tech manager Masa Ito confirms that “this is what comes after fast fashion”.  He believes their business model will reshape the industry.

To say this is a fashion company is only half the story.  “We’re as much a fashion company as we are a tech company” explained Masa.  “We have 220 programmers working in-house” on the proprietary pattern-cutting server and software that handles all the incoming 360 degree ‘body scans’ and measurements from customers in 72 countries and interprets them into a bespoke pattern.  Bolted onto this are AI algorithms that mean that with every customer transaction this proprietary system gets smarter – it knows what customers want, both broadly and on an individual level.  This is the holy grail of individual customer service on a global scale, online – such a beautiful paradox of personalization from afar via digital, rather than physical, means.

Discussing the customer experience from beginning to end with Masa I learn that once the customer completes their scan they can shop from the online store, and for each item they wish to purchase their measurements determine a ‘best fit’ which they can then choose to tweak in increments of 2 or 3 cm up or down, depending on their preference for how baggy or slim, or how long or short their garments are.  Cue a wave of Japanese ‘designophiles’ adding a foot to their jean hems and double-cuffing for their own take on how denim should be worn – making this cutomisation of wardrobe staples doubly attractive to a young, directional customer.  I can’t wait to put this to the test myself, being small waisted and rather round in the hip region, jeans shopping is a nightmare for me.  Well, no longer, hopefully.

**add self-styled jeans pics**

Once the products are in the customer’s online shopping bag there are two routes to manufacturing – custom fit (the t-shirt, shirt and jeans products, which are manufactured and in stock based in thousands of variations in measurements, derived from thousands of subjects in their body analysis data).  Custom fit products are available within two weeks.  The other product option is custom made, which is fully bespoke and is currently offered for their tailored suits.  The product offer will expand, though.

All three women above wear their custom fit Start Today straight leg jean

Start Today’s head office, design team and programmers are in Japan and the manufacturing is done in China with Industrial partners.  Digging a little deeper, I ask Masa about how the products are manufactured.  The factory is set up in ‘stations’ to manufacture the different products, which are still made by hand, however there is a huge push towards automation.  This is no surprise, as a business model like this does not survive with a slick tech front end and slow manual (and therefore expensive) backend.  The manufacturing process needs to be fast and accurate, and ideally local.  Once manufacturing is set up along these lines it can be located in the markets it is serving.  For cut and sew garments like jeans and t-shirts this seems a little way off, however for inherently automated systems like 3D knit there is already minimal manual input, so manufacturing of knitted sweaters and the like could feasibly be made local much sooner.

Both women above wear their custom fit skinny jeans.  The men wear (top) slim tapered jean, (above) straight leg jean

Start today are not only creating bespoke clothing, they operate an entirely bespoke design and manufacturing process.  Many fashion companies work with existing software and machinery in a standardised manner in factories manufacturing products for multiple brands.  Not so for Start Today.  They have created proprietary software and systems to drive their technical and manufacturing processes and are working with machine manufacturers to redesign and augment existing machines to function in streamlined and automated ways to support their mass customization.  Their factory setup is unique to them – they could not work in a standard factory that manufactures for other brands.  This is next generation manufacturing and nothing about this business model is ‘off the shelf’.

It’s difficult to sum up just how transformative this business model and philosophy is.  It addresses so many pain points in traditional fashion supply chains and processes and removes sensitivities like body shape, size and race – it does away with all the labels.  In that way, it is entirely liberating and inclusive, blowing traditional fashion retailers out of the water.  It questions fashion’s use of ‘model sizes’ – whatever they are – and a certain portrayal of what fashion is.  According to Start Today we are all fashion.  Individually and as a mass market.

Where next for Start Today?  They gave away 100,000 Zozosuits in July this year with the launch of their ecommerce store to 72 countries.  The measurement data being fed in from the Zozosuit in all the markets around the world is helping Start Today perfect their algorithms and patterns and offer ever better fitting products.  Knitwear launches in a few weeks to add to the custom fit offer and I am delighted to be receiving one of their first knits to test.  Knowing my knitwear background, I warned I would notice even a single dropped stitch, so I’m a tough customer.  What was incredible refreshing was that the Start Today team begged me to feed back to them on all the products and the process of taking my Zozosuit measurements.  A fashion company wanting my personal opinion in order to change their processes?  Can that really work?  When you have complete control over the individual consumer’s clothing offer, fit and service, yes it can.  This is the key.  Traditional fashion brands and retailers can’t reasonably act on such feedback because of the archaic, complex supply chain and the lack of control over product ‘sizing’.  Their best intentions will always fall short in a consumer landscape where we demand products quickly and cheaply that are perfect for us.

Speaking on the founding principles of the company Masa said that the company was determined to address something that was being ignored by their competitors.  Plainly speaking, he said they could not compete on design – there are incredible brands out their winning in this area.  They could not compete on retail stores – there are wonderful shopping experiences already existing.  But what no brand has ever addressed is how horrible it is to spend your life buying clothing off the shelf that is ill-fitting or having to get it altered – making the customer feel self-conscious and short-changed.  Considering the desperate lack of provision for people who fit into what is often termed ‘petite, or ‘plus-size’ or ‘big and tall’ it is incredibly refreshing to realise that the Zozosuit means these categories and labels need never exist again.  Zozo fits you perfectly, whatever dimensions you are.

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

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

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

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

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

Images: SAM Labs

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

Portfolio images: Adriana Goldenberg –  Bottom image: Techstyler

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

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

Lookbook images:  Adriana Goldenberg

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

Follow Techstyler on Twitter and Instagram

Ravensbourne Students X VF Corporation Collaboration – A Show of Fashion Integrity

Who doesn’t want to be spoilt?  Drawing on inspiration from Traveller culture and a fascination with DIY objects and applications, the Spoilt team crafted an illustrated story of colourful and textured characters.  The collection included a pink paint print oversized duvet coat and and over dyed geometric printed puffa jacket.  The accessories included lace-up denim cuffs embellished with dangling multi-coloured acrylic nails.  Total embellishment abandon and a whole lot of fun.

screen-shot-2016-12-18-at-13-03-55screen-shot-2016-12-18-at-13-02-25screen-shot-2016-12-18-at-13-02-01dsc04317The Spoilt team:  Including Jodi Feddon (far right) illustrator and designer

Spoilt were one of a number of teams of Ravensbourne students working on a live brief for VF Corporation, owner of a number of lifestyle brands including Lee, Vans and Wrangler.  The teams, comprising of BA (Hons) Fashion, BA (Hons) Fashion Buying and Brand Management and BA (Hons) Fashion Accessory Design and Prototyping students working in collaboration, were charged with interpreting a design brief set around the concept of the Lee ‘BODY OPTIX’ range which “combines visual science and design to enhance certain body shapes”.  

In pulling together this article, I researched the BODY OPTIX range on the Lee website and was horrified to find this borderline racist, body shaming language used:

“Scientifically designed by vision scientists and Denim designers, BODY OPTIXTMcombines the power of VISUAL SCIENCE and design to create jeans that flatters, enhances and shapes the Asian body. The application of geodesic shaping and precise laser anatomy warping gives you perkier backside and strikingly long legs, granting you a more feminine figure that is ideally proportional and attractive.”

This branding language, product and imagery (which I will not include here, but is on their website) merits a far deeper discussion around western influence on fashion and feminism, but in the scope of this article, I really want to keep the focus on what the Ravensbourne students created and how they succeeded in reinterpreting the brief towards utilising graphics, embellishments and downright visual distractions (acrylic nail fringing) whilst developing the textural interest and surface effects of the denim to elevate the humble jean –  none of which were fitted or body contoured.  In fact many were oversized and unisex.  The Ravensbourne students showed incredible creativity and design integrity, which makes the Lee branding and campaign seem even more dated and uninspired.

Foe took a darker stance than Spoilt, looking to Japanese Samurai and armoury to incorporate rivets and other hardware to hinge together accessories and clothing.  In their brand literature they state that Foe aims to attract a different type of consumer to the VF corporation by taking the female physique and using different silhouettes and style to bring diversity to the company.

dsc04337dsc04341dsc04339dsc04342The Foe Team:  Zahra Khan, Katy Andoh, Polly Tamalia and Mary-Louise Fischer

Oneness lashed at their denim with latex and paint and created clothing and accessories with a craft/skate/patchwork theme.  

dsc04320 dsc04322 dsc04325 dsc04327Bag (and hand) by Toya Mehmet accessories design student

Deflect played with organdie and denim, creating illusionary false and hidden pockets with contrasting bleached denim. 

dsc04285 dsc04287dsc04302Team Deflect are: Ciara Kelly and Holly Lovey (Fashion Buying and Branding), Denisa Mehmeti and Kyra Chang (Fashion Design) and Anna Sabe (Fashion Accessory Design) 

Uniq 2 was represented firstly by a Korean duo who described soju (a kind of ‘Korean Sake’) as a cultural slang term meaning the desire to go wild and rebel as the starting point for the collection.  The design picked up on the current Korean trend for wearing oversized wind-proof protective layers and used the silhouette and seaming details of a traditional denim jacket in the windproof material, adding their own logo branding – quite a literal and believable interpretation not far removed from the way designs are translated quickly on the high street, albeit with less fun and flavour.

dsc04354 dsc04357

Gyal Dem looked to Grime, the music sub-genre drawing on multiple influences including drum and bass and UK Garage, made famous by Wiley and Dizzee Rascal, for stylistic and brand references, adopting a unisex sportswear aesthetic to appeal to their target audience.  A specific target market and design point-of-view led to on-point branding and a strong website including the brand story, look book and a behind the scenes look at how the products were designed and made.  

dsc04268dsc04271dsc04276The Gyal Dem team are:  Celine Polidori and Alexia Amaning (Fashion Design), Raji Bagary, Laura Holloway and Katie Vincent (Fashion Buying and Brand Management)

Analogy created the first luxury brand to utilise biodegradable materials throughout the collection.  They used Algix, an algae and PLA composite 3D printing filament that biodegrades after 50 years, replacing the 100% PLA and ABS alternatives which biodegrade after several hundred years, not unlike the pleather and plastic-based fabrics made as leather alternatives, raising questions over the true sustainability and environmental impact of these alternative materials.  Analogy are posing interesting questions by using this composite filament and replaced a full collection of sample garments with a mixture of life-size printed garment cut-outs alongside denim samples.  Their resin and denim swatches and experimentation with subtracting warp threads leaving weft ‘floats’ as a denim detail added interest to the denim.  With impressive branding and use of Algix sourced (and physically collected) from the US, these students could pass for a professional outfit, pardon the pun.

dsc04260dsc04245dsc04246 dsc04257dsc04249The Analogy team: India Martin (Accessories Design), Eleanor Maylin (Fashion Design) and Elle Morlang and Nicole Keitch (Fashion Buying and Branding)

SoNNE presented an altogether different proposition to all the other teams, using subtle variations in sublimation print to create painterly designs on denim canvases, exploring the colours and textures conjured up by varying their printing technique.  The colours brought a sophisticated palette and softened the denim foundation, until they were subverted again into big, bold, unisex boiler suits.  I’ve got my eye on one and am ready place an order.  I’m not alone, so it looks like fashion design students Isabel Hibbert and Grace Flood have a busy Christmas ahead.

dsc04347 dsc04348 dsc04349 dsc04351

The exhibition serves as a reminder of the diversity and cultural richness design, buying and branding students in London have.  They are tapping a broad range of cultures, languages, subcultures, art movements and belief systems.  Sadly I couldn’t cover the work of all of the teams in this article, but the integrity and creativity of the students featured spanned the other teams too, leaving no doubt in my mind that the ‘Rave’ students have enriched and enlightened the VF Corporation teams they worked with on this collaboration.

Header Image featuring swatches by Oneness

 Follow Techstyler on TwitterInstagram and Snapchat

Majestic Jerseys and a Virtual Trip to Petco Park, San Diego – Welcome to the MLB Pop-up Store

This morning, I went to a Major League Baseball (MLB) match – in Covent Garden.  Such is the brilliance of VR.  I’ve never been to a baseball match before, but store manager Luke confirms the authenticity of the atmosphere re-created in the film in between my ‘wows’ of approval as I was immersed into the spirit and atmosphere of a match at Petco Park, San Diego.  The store feels like a cool fan hangout with memorabilia and merchandise intermixed.  The jerseys have an oversized, unisex styling appeal and I threw on a few styles whilst wandering around the shop floor, trying to work out which graphics, colour and embroidery I liked most.

dsc03178dsc03154dsc03172

Wanting to dig a little deeper into the sport and technical aspects of the clothing, I asked about the differences between the commercially available jerseys and the ones the baseball players wear.  Luke explains that the professional jerseys are a denser, more durable textile, developed to withstand a battering on the baseball field.  I immediately want one.  The professional jerseys are made by Majestic in a factory in Pennsylvania, featured in the film below, to individual player specifications.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m8xQkFw_2X4

I spoke to Rob Grow, Director of Product, based in Easton, Pennsylvania, to delve a little deeper into the design and functionality of the on-field jerseys.  What unravelled was a fascinating explanation of the development of a Flex Base system which took over four years of research, design and development to move away from a warp knit to a double knit textile that can withstand 162 plus games per season and that is light, breathable, has stretch and is light and colourfast.  The jerseys incorporate breathable mesh side-panels and an airbelt for reduce bulk and heat below the belt line.  The pant (trouser) waistband incorporates silicon grippers and an inner leg cooling zone.  Add to this the preference of each player in terms of fit and the result is a tailored, custom-fit uniform matching function and style.  For all the tradition of the final look, the final garments are packed with technical development to enhance the function and look.  Majestic are currently developing sensor-embedded apparel for athlete monitoring and performance analysis.  Rob is clear that wearable tech is a huge growth area that’s “really taking off”.


dsc04136

Rob describes an approach to design and development akin to that of a fashion atelier.  All 1800 MLB players are measured by team members from Majestic during spring training to determine the individual specifications of each player’s uniform.  The players all have preference over fit and length, so no two uniforms are identical.  There is an in-house flat-pattern cutter who has been drafting the patterns for all players by hand for many years, and one-on-one meetings are held with the players to ensure they are involved in the process.   The construction uses cut and sew methods and is carried out in the manufacturing facility in Pennsylvania.

We talk about the stylistic choices of players and fans and I am surprised to hear that players and fans alike admit to preferring competitors jerseys.  The level of detail they go into about colour and detailing is somewhat of a surprise and definitely supports the idea that jerseys are as much a fashion choice as a sportswear choice.

Majestic is using techniques including sublimation print to create fashion-led versions of the on-field jerseys that appeal to a younger consumer and create collections especially for retailers with this in mind.  It also uses sublimation print on the new Diamondbacks on-field jersey.

pdsp-23834688dt

pdsp1-24139601_alternate3_v750

screen-shot-2016-11-21-at-21-01-51

Browsing around the shop I consider the varying trim and embroidery details on the jerseys and the stylised curved neck and hemlines which put this merchandise into the styling stakes for baseball and mere fashion fans alike.   I plump for a Miami jersey with “Techstyler 3” and take a late night warmup swing on my roof, just for fun.


dsc03159dsc04064

Taking advantage of the growing consumer appetite for customisation and instant consumer gratification , the MLB pop-up offers name and number personalisation in store, in around 10 mins.  They’ve also got a MLB snapchat cap filter, which I styled jauntily (thanks to Photoshop).

mbl

MLB is set to go global with expansion to Europe and an already thriving league in Japan.  I’ll be match-ready when it comes to London.  Majestic MLB jerseys – more than a uniform indeed.

Follow Techstyler on Twitter and Instagram

London College of Fashion and Kering – Fashion Sustainability and Education in Focus

Professor Frances Corner, Head of London College of Fashion opened the 3rd annual Kering Talk with the comment that when LCF moves to the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in 2020, all the faculties and facilities will be under one roof, giving the students and teaching staff “literally the space to think”.  There was a lot of thinking going on last night at this LCFxKering event and Professor Dilys Williams, Director of the Centre for Sustainable Fashion at LCF, bookended Frances Corner’s comment when she later closed the event by saying she likes to think of fashion by flipping a Zadie Smith’s quote to arrive at “what is the point of making beautiful clothes if they don’t make you think?” 

LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 14: Frances Corner (L), Head of London College of Fashion, and Dilys Williams, Director of Centre for Sustainable Fashion at London College of Fashion, attend the 2016 Kering Talk at the London College of Fashion on November 14, 2016 in London, England. Pic Credit: Dave Benett
Frances Corner (L) and Dilys Williams – Photo: Dave Benett

To that end, this Kering talk was a platform to showcase the sustainable principles and practice of Stella McCartney, the designer and the brand.  Not the only designer and brand focussing on sustainability, but certainly the most well known, Stella attended the talk to perform a Q&A with a fashion journalist.  It was enlightening in so much as Stella candidly described the fashion industry as a whole as “old fashioned”, “getting away with murder” and in dire need of a new approach to materials and production methods.


dsc03917

I was hoping to ask Stella about her desire or success to date in introducing sustainable practices and materials into her Adidas collaboration, but alas, question time was short.  She did mention that Adidas made her the first ever pair of vegetarian leather Stan Smiths and she then pleaded with them to make all of their Stan Smiths with this material and see if anyone notices the difference.  Consumers might not, but given that the vegetarian version costs up to 70% more to produce than animal leathers, and Stan Smiths are sold at an accessible price point rather than the luxury price points of Stella’s brand, the financial team at Adidas definitely would.  That’s not to say this shouldn’t happen, it’s just clear that for mainstream sports and leisure wear brands there is less pricing leeway than for luxury brands.  

On to the presentation of the 2016 Kering Awards for Sustainable Fashion, which followed Stella’s Q&A.  Awards were issued on behalf of Stella McCartney and Brioni, both members of the Kering stable, to a number of LCF students who had designed and created products, materials and digital platforms in line with the brands’ sustainability initiatives.  

dsc03932

LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 14: (L to R) Dilys Williams, Director of Centre for Sustainable Fashion at London College of Fashion, award winners Elise Comrie and Agraj Jain, and Beatrice Lazat, Human Resources Director at Kering,attend the 2016 Kering Talk at the London College of Fashion on November 14, 2016 in London, England. Pic Credit: Dave Benett
Dilys Williams, Elise Comrie, Agraj Jain, and Beatrice Lazat – Photo: Dave Benett
LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 14: Stella McCartney (2R) poses with award winners Iciar Bravo, Anna Pasalic, and Irene-Marie Seeling at the 2016 Kering Talk at the London College of Fashion on November 14, 2016 in London, England. Pic Credit: Dave Benett
Iciar Bravo, Anna Pasalic, Stella McCartney and Irene-Marie Seeling – Photo: Dave Benett

It was difficult on the night to get to grips with the projects and research the students undertook as they were only explained in 30-second summaries during the talk.  I’ve dug a little deeper to get the inside track on the work of Innovation award winner Irene-Marie Seelig, who developed Amadou mushroom skin and proved its properties were workable in accessories, offering an alternative to animal suede and leather.

dsc03946

Irene’s journey began with a focus elsewhere, on health and the medicinal benefits of mushrooms in treating disease, which led her to research the usability of a particular Transylvanian mushroom material as a leather alternative, supported by Jess Lertvilai.  Her focus was to improve the textile’s aesthetic, durability, circular supply chain and business model.  

amadoumushroomskin_irenemarieseelig_1

The vegetarian mushroom leather textile is a 100 percent renewable, biodegradable and compostable material.  Products that are made with this material decompose at the end of their lifecycle and enrich soil, supporting plant growth and feeding back into the ecosystem.  

amadoumushroomskin_irenemarieseelig_7

Irene called upon the expertise of SATRA to test the material with a multitude of finishes and experimented with varying treatments and worked the leather into various thicknesses, eventually using the optimal material to create a prototype shoe in collaboration with LCF Footwear and materials PhD student, Liz Ciokajlo.  She is now looking to develop the Amadou mushroom skin further and work with NGO’s to create a reliable and sustainable supply chain for this material. 

dsc03955

The CSF website explains that the awards take place after the students receive three months of intensive mentoring from sustainability experts from Stella McCartney, CSF and LCF.  “Two prizes will be awarded for each brand: a monetary prize of ten thousand Euros to the project that displayed the most innovation and a three month internship with one of the brands to the student who demonstrated collaboration and rigorous research”. 

dsc03954

Professor Dilys Williams engaged the audience with her closing speech, urging the crowd to consider the role education has in creating a more sustainable, responsible fashion industry.  “Changing education is the biggest change we can make…practices will then change and so will our culture and society”.  

The finalists of the 2016 Kering Award for Sustainable Fashion were: Irene-Marie Seelig, Iciar Bravo Tomboly, and Ana Pasalic for Stella McCartney; and students Agraj Jain and Elise Comrie for Brioni.

For an overview of the finalists’ work see the CSF blog : http://sustainable-fashion.com/tag/kering-award-for-sustainable-fashion/

For more information about the work of Professor Dilys Williams and the CSF click here: http://sustainable-fashion.com/

Follow Techstyler on Twitter and Instagram

Fyodor Golan’s Pre-SS17 Collection Brings Grown-up fun and a catalyst for post-Brexit change

Fyodor Golan are somewhat of a paradox –  at once intellectual and playful, they traverse the fringe of a fashion industry in a state of flux.  Whilst contemplating the structure and aim of their fashion business, they are questioning the importance of individualism in a sea of rampantly ‘cohesive’ and highly refined fashion.  The designers open the interview with the revelation that they delayed their seasonal trip to their Paris showroom in order to vote in the referendum.  The fallout from the vote in favour of ‘Brexit’ has left them with a sense of resilience in the face of potential EU funding losses.  Many of the projects and initiatives they have undertaken whilst establishing and growing their business have been supported by EU funding and they predict a Darwinian ‘survival of the fittest’ situation will ensue amongst young independent fashion designers in London who are struggling to create seasonal collections and remain solvent.   

Where this dramatic and uncertain political climate could potentially trigger cautious conservatism, Fyodor and Golan are intellectually and pragmatically assessing all areas of their business and considering the needs of their customers and the best platforms with which to engage them.  They resolve to stay ‘individual’ and adopt an ever more digital and tech-driven approach to their seasonal collections.  Why do a show at London Fashion Week that draws vast energy and finance away from the business and requires the creation of some garments that they know will not be good sellers, but that are necessary in order to create requisite looks simply for the purposes of the show?  If the show is to the clear detriment of their product offering and bottom line, what is the point?  The vast press generated by a fashion show is well documented and, as any fashion designer involved in London, New York, Paris and Milan fashion weeks will tell you, the credibility gained from showing on-schedule during fashion week is immense and affirming – at least ostensibly.  But the rise of social media has taken fashion out of the hands of the few and placed it in the hands of the many global consumers.  Digital platforms have a life beyond a seven-odd minute fashion show during which time it is ‘impossible to see the clothes properly’ as noted by Fyodor.  In summary, fashion shows aren’t fit for purpose and the stigma attached to designers who decide to no longer ‘show’ is waning.

With new presentation platforms comes new opportunities for self-expression and consumer interaction.  Golan explains how insightful and inspiring the dialogue from client to designer is on Instagram.  Their clients post images of their self-styled ‘FG’ looks, thereby contextualising Fyodor and Golan’s seasonal work –  a dialogue that never occurred pre-social media when the only route to market was through wholesale accounts – meaning no direct contact between the designer and the consumer.  That’s all different now and brings me back to questioning the point of ‘cohesiveness’ of a fashion collection.

Screen Shot 2016-07-15 at 17.19.13Screen Shot 2016-07-15 at 17.22.26Screen Shot 2016-07-15 at 17.17.20

The generally accepted framework for the study and application of fashion design that I, and many other designers have experienced at London/UK-based fashion design institutions, hinges on a refined, highly focused – ‘cohesive’ – presentation of a design concept/concepts in order to ensure that a specifiable ‘aesthetic’ is presented.  This occurs to me to be a useful tool for categorisation and identification of a designer or brand for the purposes of critique, but may be at odds with the way fashion is best presented, experienced and consumed in a digital age.

Burberry-Prorsum-Spring-Summer-2013-DECORCohesive uniformity – Burberry Prorsum SS13

Sure, brands like Burberry are built on a largely singular aesthetic/design language and their merchandising depends on a sort of ‘cohesion’, but what of the explosion of Vetements against the backdrop of such ‘cohesiveness’ and singularly focused vision – and what of the conversation about this collaborative, multi-faceted and un-cohesive aesthetic that is starting on social media (of course)?  Will cohesiveness and a singular aesthetic vision be relevant to millennials and Generation Z’ers?   If they’re shopping online and creating individual looks according to their own vision, and Instagram and Snapchat are ultimately more influential and engaging and more readily consumed than fashion shows, what is the point of cohesiveness at the expense of alienating consumers?  And again, if fashion shows continue to lose favour as the predominant presentation format, individuality becomes an even more powerful element of fashion’s presentation.  Fyodor Golan question this uniformity and go on to state that they have never sought ‘cohesiveness’ in their collections, but rather the creation of clothing as a vehicle for self expression and fun for their broad customer base, whose age group spans four decades and is global.  It could be argued that cohesiveness can kill creativity by stamping out individual expression, spontaneity and the charm of the unexpected – a fate unlikely to befall Fyodor Golan.

20 14 8Vetements P/E 16

On the subject of individualism in an increasingly ‘global’ market the duo explain, ‘Our clients come to us to express a different side of themselves… they have serious, professional jobs and wear Fyodor Golan as a way of tapping into their personality and as a visual representation of that (fun) side of themselves’. 


Screen Shot 2016-07-15 at 17.17.41Screen Shot 2016-07-15 at 17.21.16Screen Shot 2016-07-15 at 17.15.52

Fyodor Golan’s creations are seriously fun.  Frothy?  Yes.  Flimsy?  Definitely not.  The products are underpinned by solid, quality-driven construction techniques employed since the launch of their label (which drew heavily on couture techniques initially) in 2011, and have evolved to express a sense of confidence through playfulness.

tumblr_mjul0m2iXs1s4mpljo3_1280Fyodor Golan SS2012

A further discussion that touches on current challenges in the area of fashion tech centres on product design versus fashion design.  Golan expresses the frustration at being restricted to short development times due to the seasonal nature of the fashion industry and longs to be able to explore design concepts in greater depth – as a product designer would, for example.  The approach through product design of creating a perfectly formed, functional and beautiful object is a luxury that just may be possible once Fyodor Golan have broken free of the restrictive cycle and demands that come with staging a fashion show each season.  Fyodor and Golan lament the unresolved design ideas that ping into their minds at that last evolutionary design stage – often the week before their London fashion week show – leaving them no time to see these ideas through to fruition because of limitations caused by show preparation and the restrictive need to create ‘looks’ for the show, rather than individually strong and exciting garments.  Due to the seasonal nature of fashion, the scope to pick up and continue such ideas in following seasons does not always present itself.  There is a serendipitous aspect to such ideas and sometimes, when the moment has passed, the opportunity and magic passes too. Essentially, dropping the traditional fashion show format allows the freedom and time to be more innovative.  It’s during this stage of the interview that Golan mentions the Makerversity, which is situated near their studio in Somerset House, which has clearly provided a point of reflection for the designers where the process of product design and development is concerned, versus that of fashion.

Screen Shot 2016-07-18 at 18.34.49 Screen Shot 2016-07-18 at 18.34.23Screen Shot 2016-07-18 at 18.33.54 Screen Shot 2016-07-18 at 18.34.05Fyodor Golan Pre-SS17

In their Pre-SS17 collection, Fyodor Golan have furthered explored a number of concepts initiated in their AW16 collection, including hybrid sportswear with strapping and bows that are silhouette-changing, rather than simply surface details.  This plays into their desire for individuality within the collection – so one garment has many guises depending on the wearer’s styling preferences.  The collection, entitled “Sakura Kawaii’ was inspired by Hatsune Miku – a hologram-generated pop star – resulting in a collection that expresses “romance through plastification”.  It’s surreal to see real live fans at the concert of a holographic pop star screaming and waving glow sticks, but it perfectly illustrates the blurring of lines between reality and artificiality that Fyodor Golan have distilled into this collection.

The animated look book is the perfect expression of this darkly psychedelic-samurai mood, in collaboration with digital artist and animator, Ignasi Monreal.   Part of the joy of Fyodor Golan’s look books is that they seek to excite the imagination, rather than simply sell, and it expresses an aesthetic that the designers describe as resolutely ‘digital’.

Fyodor Golan Pre-SS17

The digitally driven playfulness in the presentation of their Pre-SS17 collection causes me to speculate as to the format of their next fashion presentation for London Fashion Week in September.  ‘We’re still exploring options’ and ‘we’re looking at integrating the process of creation into the presentation’ were the official standpoints at the time of our interview – suffice to say it will be an exciting, experimental and likely experiential offering that will gloriously break with tradition in yet another refreshing Fyodor Golan chapter.  It’s an exciting time in an evolving industry where as many lessons come from Darwinian truth as they do from social media metrics.  If fashion’s future is about creative adaptation, dynamism, freedom of thought and individuality, Fyodor Golan are surging ahead.

Header image:  Fyodor Golan

Fyodor Golan lookbook credits:  Mark Rabadan (Photography), Tati Cotliar (Stylist), Ignasi Monreal (Animation), Michelle Webb (Make up), Johanna Cree Brown (Hair)

Follow me:  Twitter @Thetechstyler  and  Instagram @techstyler

Fashion Tech and Speculative Wearables in Imminent Space Travel

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

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

https://youtu.be/4dETQQVrwoo

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

www.GIFCreator.me_7XyGhd

‘Couture in Orbit’ designs

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

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

DSC02293
DSC02298Heat applied by the palm of the hand causes the ink to temporarily disappear

DSC02300UV source applied to printed fabric

DSC02299Visual alert to excessive UV rays

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

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

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

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

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

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

DSC02070DSC02181Designs by students from Politecnico di Milano

DSC02158Designs by students from Ravensbourne

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

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

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

Follow me:  Twitter @Thetechstyler  and  Instagram @techstyler

The Athletic-Tech Garment Making the Virtual Real : Introducing Skinterface

We are fully versed in the realm of our physical world and increasingly dipping into the virtual world through virtual reality experiences, but what of the space in between?  What of the transition realm – a corridor, if you like, that lies next to the real world in which we transition through before arriving at a state of VR immersion?  Think about the experience of entering the virtual world and the need for all of our senses to be stimulated in order for the virtual experience to feel real.  Drill down even further to consider the organ through which we physically feel – the skin.  Herein lies the connection and transition area of real to virtual.


corridors

The Matrix corridor – a representation of the space between the real and virtual worlds

Skin is a powerful tool that allows us to communicate on a highly intricate level.  It also communicates who we our biologically and culturally, making it a potent social and physical organ.  What happens when a team of curious minds consider the meaning of skin and how skin can transition us from a physical to virtual experience?  Skinterface is born.

Skinterface is the work of RCA students Andre McQueen (Footwear designer and trend forecaster) , George Wright (Engineer), Ka Hei Suen (Kitchen Product Designer) and Charlotte Furet (Architect) who embarked on their MSc / MA Innovation Engineering Design course out of curiosity and a desire for collaboration outside of their immediate professional realms.  An admiration for each other’s individual project work led them to work together as a team of ‘sensory architects’.  The initial exploration for the Skinterface project was broad and posed months of questions about the sensory experience and perception of touch, but began with a very simple test.  The test was wearing a plastic bag on the hand and immersing it in water and noting the sensory experience.  Although the water doesn’t touch the skin it is still felt – the sensation of water on the hand is experienced.  This underpins the working nature of the very human and very wearable piece of tech that is Skinterface.

DSC01878DSC01897DSC01898

Mood board images and the initial plastic bag test

The first question posed at the beginning of project related not to creating a defined product, but how to create something that was very human, integrated with technology.  Touch is a powerful human tool and to relay this using technology seems a powerful new dimension in communication in a digital age.  Skinterface is a one way communication tool – the sensory experience is delivered according to the location of the skinterface garment within a 3D mapped space by tracking its coloured surface details and delivering the sensory experience accordingly.  An extension of this is a dual tool using the same tech, but allowing pressure on one part of the tool to effect the sensation delivered by the other. The implications of this are potentially to touch someone in another location, even in another country. 

IMG_5668 IMG_5702

Skinterface at Milan Design Week, 2016

The set of garments created by the team deliver sensory pressure by essentially using a speaker in reverse, so that sounds create a varying electromagnetic field, which in turn is calibrated to produce varying sensations on the skin.  These sensations are delivered via a coil and magnets encased in 3D printed caps, created at Imperial College London and adhered to the garments, which require close skin contact to accurately deliver the sensation.

DSC01874DSC01885DSC01881

Imagine the sound of a bird flying past you and the sensory experience induced by the change in air pressure caused by the bird’s movement – that’s what Skinterface delivers.  In a virtual world, the sound of all manner of objects can be programmed and delivered via the coil and magnet-driven modules that apply just the right amount of pressure to mimic that same sensory experience as though it had happened in the real world. This skin beyond skin is poetically demonstrated in the video below, from beginning to end.

When asked about the aesthetic component of the design, Andre cited the current athletic lifestyle (or athleisure) sportswear evolution and brainstorming about what clothing will look like 40 years from now.  Andre is a Cordwainers graduate who launched a streetwear fashion label then moved on to fashion forecasting, working extensively with global brands to evolve their trend-driven products.  His curiosity for exploring the technical side of fashion and design led him to the Innovation Engineering Design Masters at the RCA, but he still has a firm grip on where the fashion market is headed.

Screen Shot 2016-05-16 at 07.28.27 Screen Shot 2016-05-16 at 07.27.31 Screen Shot 2016-05-16 at 07.24.18Screen Shot 2016-05-16 at 07.32.27

A selection of Andre McQueen‘s design work

When I ask the team about their view of this exciting innovation could be used they mention the sex industry, gaming, entertainment and fashion.  The sex industry is an obvious one, as is gaming and entertainment, but fashion?  Andre sees an opportunity to translate the sensation of wearing a multitude of different fabrics into a sensory ‘digital library’ that can be felt by wearing Skinterface.  Wonder what your cotton trench coat would feel like in felted wool?  Skinterface can give you that sensation.  There is as much scope here for customer-led retail experiences as for fashion designers considering the weight and drape of various fabrics when designing garments.    

IMG_1752_Edit IMG_1780_Edit IMG_1851_Edit

A library of sounds could be created to induce all manner of sensory experiences through the Skinterface suit.  The team talks about a dream open source library of thousands of compositions, and even whole scores for feature films that could be felt while they are watched.  Theoretically, the score for each character could be written according to what they experience in the film and as a Skinterface-wearing viewer you could experience it too.  The thought of experiencing a film dozens times from a different character’s point of view is mind-blowing. 

I leave the team with just five weeks remaining before they complete their studies and exhibit the work arising from two intense years of exploration, research and experimentation.  On my way out of the Darwin Building at the RCA, Andre and I muse about a common paradox in fashion design – final design decisions are often made at the beginning of the design process, leaving little room for curiosity, exploration and design evolution.  Educational institutions including the RCA are a unique breeding ground for such curiosity and I look forward to seeing where this has taken the IED students, both physically and virtually.

The RCA MA/MSc Innovation Engineering Design exhibition is in June at the Royal College of Art

Follow me:  Twitter @Thetechstyler  and  Instagram @techstyler

Fashion Mannequins Transformed Through 3D Printing

To chat to Paul Sohi is to geek out over all things 3D printed.  He takes me on a journey from 3D printed mannequins (the subject of his PhD) to a new polycarbonate composite prosthetic leg he is developing with a team spanning half a dozen countries but centred at Autodesk in San Francisco, for an Olympic cyclist bound for Rio later this year.  It’s a helluva ride, so buckle up!

What initially prompted me to get in contact with Paul was a question I’ve been pondering whilst working at the fringe of fashion and technology for some time.  Why aren’t there robot models?  And why don’t I create the first robot modelling agency?  It makes sense for so many reasons, but more on that in a later post.

Paul’s research and development at the Royal College of Art in conjunction with the Makerversity at Somerset House centres on solving an immense problem in mannequin manufacturing.  Mannequins are currently sculpted by hand before being moulded and cast – a time consuming process which imposes mass standardisation.  As someone who has hired mannequins for London fashion week I can attest to the limited offer currently on the market. Consider a museum requiring a custom-sized mannequin to display historic clothing, and then consider a new technology allowing such a mannequin to be 3D printed in days rather than laboriously hand made in months.  Then consider that currently, the best way of creating mannequins to display such costumes is to 3D scan the clothing to determine the volume inside of them when worn on which to then base a mannequin shape – requiring reverse-engineering of the mannequin to mimic someone that did actually live and wear those clothes at a point in historical time.  It’s on consideration of these weird truths it’s possible to begin seeing the benefit of Paul’s creation of an algorithm designed to transform actual body (or garment) measurements into 3D printed mannequins, rather than relying on artistic creations inspired by – but anatomically untrue to – the human body.  The key here is that measurements entered into Paul’s program are manipulated and represented visually in line with actual metamorphic landmarks.  For example, height has an impact on body proportions.  It is incorrect to simply scale a mannequin up or down directly proportionately – there are intricacies in height ratios that Paul’s rigorous algorithm takes into account so that the mannequins he 3D prints are true to the human form, rather than a sculpted representation of an imagined ideal.  Shorter people’s legs are proportionately longer than their torso compared to taller people, for example, but you would not detect this by looking at them – both body proportions simply look ‘right’.  Herein lies the difficulty in artistically interpreting the human form where size and fit are concerned.  

IMG_1749DSC01633Paul’s 3D printed scale mannequins being printed in parts for later assembly

The motivation behind Paul’s PhD was to find out if he could create a 3D printed mannequin using mass customisation algorithms built upon an immense amount of research underpinned by the International Standards.  These standards provided all the necessary body measurements to create a digital mannequin which can then be 3D printed.  

DSC01628

DSC01631

An important point made by Paul during our conversation is that mass customisation via 3D printing is now possible on a production scale – it has evolved beyond prototyping.  This means that standardisation of mannequins is no longer necessary and the skilled work required for each fashion retail market does not have to be localised.  Since a ‘standard’ size small in Asia is nothing like a ‘standard’ size small in Europe, mass customisation shatters geographical boundaries and means standardisation – at best badly sized and limited in terms of body shape and at worst pushing damagingly unrealistic body ideals – is no longer necessary.  The mannequins Paul is developing can be tailored according to cultural specificity.  Regional cuisine radically effects body shape, size and proportion and genetics also has a considerable impact.  These factors can be taken into account in Paul’s algorithm.


IMG_0570
A complete 3D printed scale mannequin

From an aesthetic point of view, every fashion brand has its own ideal mannequin which in some cases may be seasonal.  These are made from master moulds and if done by hand using current methods, take months.   3D printing takes a fraction of the time, allowing greater flexibility and mannequin diversity.

Components of a scale model printing whilst Paul and I chatted at the Makerversity

Paul describes his work as creating avatars and body forms.  He is currently working with the Victoria & Albert Museum, London to find rapid solutions for mannequin making for display of historic costumes.  As an extension of this revolutionary development for display mannequins, Paul is looking at how the current mass standardisation of garment making mannequins relates to sizing within the fashion industry.  There is no datum on mannequins – no system for sizing and no standard approach to it across the industry.  When creating clothing, we have anatomical landmarks (nape to waist, for example) but the way this is measured is still variable.  Paul is determined to standardise measurement taking and sizing to put an end to what is a slow, laborious and repetitive process.  He makes the point that, for example, three people in the fashion industry will measure the same dress and get three completely different sets of measurements .  Compare that to Architecture – or any other creative industry – and you would be laughed at for not having and applying a set of standards.  He makes a strong point and I have personally dealt with this often painful aspect of sampling and production in the fashion industry.  Paul is confident that a set of standards can be extrapolated from the points mapped in his algorithm.

DSC01627

Interestingly, Paul tells me that the standard nape to waist measurement of garment making blocks used routinely in the fashion industry came from 1920’s military uniforms.  Today’s approach to garment sizing and pattern proportions has only marginally evolved since then.  ‘Standard sizes’ are in truth specific to each individual fashion house and are not related to any actual standard, which to me makes sense because each fashion house/brand has it’s own silhouettes and ‘fit’ which are part of its aesthetic, but I can see how this isn’t customer friendly and how in an increasingly e-commerce driven industry sizing standardisation would reduce returns and help consumers make better style choices.

Returning to museum mannequins, the Alexander McQueen exhibition Savage Beauty at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York was one of the most successful exhibitions of all time but despite this, when it ended it was not picked up immediately by another institution.  The hand-sculpted mannequins, made specifically for the garments they displayed were destroyed.  Shortly after, the V&A took on the exhibition, and set about hand-making the mannequins all over again.  Almost a year later they were complete.   If these had been created using Paul’s 3D printing method this would have been simpler, quicker and less expensive.

main_imageSavage Beauty, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York 

The exception within the Savage Beauty exhibition was the Plato’s Atlantis 3D printed mannequins which closed the exhibition.  See the 3D rendering by Asylums FX and a photo I took at the exhibition below:

IMG_0999Plato’s Atlantis, Savage Beauty, Victoria and Albert Museum, London

When I ask Paul about the response so far to his work he says it has been met with distrust and caution from a number of museum curators and fashion designers who feel things are working just fine as they.  The fashion industry is famously and paradoxically resistant to change (the out-of-synch seasonal cycles and some luxury brands still refusing to sell online are just two examples) but why isn’t the way things are done being challenged?  Why can’t we do things better?  Why can’t we explore technology to do things in a better way?  As long as we pose the questions, it appears technology will provide the answers.

Paul and I leave the Makerversity disagreeing over the recent Batman V’s Superman film (he’s a fan, I’m not) and agreeing on the amazingness of The Hulk.  I wish him well on his bumpy but worthwhile journey to fashion mannequin disruption.

Header image: Paul Sohi

For more about Paul’s work, click here and follow him on Twitter

Follow me:  Twitter @Thetechstyler  and  Instagram @techstyler

From Delivering Louboutins to Devising an Injury Detection Suit – This is Fashion Tech

It’s a refreshing start to the day to chat to an entrepreneur with two startups on the go just six months after graduating from an MA in Global Innovation Design at the Royal College of Art.  Dan Garrett is a do-er – and a resolutely practical one at that.  His recent collaboration with fashion designer Mary Benson is testament to his dynamic and collaborative approach to design.  ‘Fashion design is magical’ he says, reminiscing about his job as a bike courier ferrying Louboutins to devotees in London.  He recalls seeing women trying on the shoes in the store and paying handsome sums for what he describes as an uncomfortable and impractical object that paradoxically is utterly desirable.  Yep, that’s fashion!  Magical, sometimes confusing and utterly spellbinding.

We talk a little more about the magic of fashion and why Dan and his collaborators Elena Dieckmann, Ming Kong and Lucy Jong worked with Mary on their fascinating piece of wearable tech – the Bruise Suit. 

static1.squarespaceMary Benson’s graduate collection, University of Westminster, 2014

The bruise suit was borne out of a collaborative project at the RCA which saw Dan and his team find a problem that needed to be solved and then design and make the solution.  The project, supported by Rio Tinto, had an open brief.  The team decided to design a piece for use at the Sochi winter olympics and interviewed disabled athletes with the hope of devising a solution to a problem.  Paralympic sit-skiier Talan Skeels-Piggins complained of being injured but unaware of his injuries due to his disability and that’s when (after rejection of a number of wearables related concepts) the ‘bruise suit’ concept was borne.  The concept was that on sufficient impact likely to result in an injury, the suit would respond with a visual notification for the athlete.  Weeks of R & D in conjunction with a specialist research team at Imperial College London and collaboration with pattern cutter Raj Mistry resulted in a suit with removable sections of a polyurethane coated textile containing microcapsules of dye that shattered on sufficient impact, therefore signalling a chance of injury.  It’s best demonstrated by the video and images below.

bruise suit 4bruise suit 2

Bruise suit 1

The design won additional funding from Rio Tinto and the James Dyson Foundation, leading to a second phase which saw the team collaborate with fashion designer Mary Benson whose work incorporates vinyl applications on a multitude of textiles.  Dan explained to me that having researched (and launched a startup in product manufacturing for the healthcare market) he remains frustrated by the ugliness and lack of design in healthcare equipment.  There is little if any consideration for aesthetics in the creation of products for those with disabilities and the complicated process of procurement for such devices (usually by councils on behalf of those with disabilities and without their direct input) means those using the products aren’t choosing them.  The cold, beige hallmarks of medical devices and institutions carry through, he says.  Why? He asks.  Having worked in the NHS for over a decade and being a designer myself I have asked this question (in my own head and audibly) countless times.  Dan is determined to do something about it.  I sense this comes from a fascination for design, in particular fashion, having completed a stint at the Pratt Institute alongside studying at the RCA, however Dan confirms that his practical problem-solving brain’s hard wiring prevents him from moments of Mary Benson-like magic.  He delights in seeing designers, like Mary, create imaginative aesthetics but remains focussed on primarily solving problems with his design and engineering projects.    

output_xAfuF9Mary Benson’s AW14 Cruise collection

Mary, Dan and I live a stone’s throw from each other in Bethnal Green, East London, but it proved impossible to get together due to scheduling conflicts, s0 Dan explains to me that Mary devised the surface design for the Bruise suit by exploiting her much used technique of vinyl applications, which takes the suit into a different (multi-coloured) realm.  Mary’s surface design turns the suit into a fashion object in addition to a piece of technical clothing with a serious purpose.  The process of creating the microcapsule filled polyurethane strips that slide into discrete pockets strategically placed on the most at risk areas of the body (the long bones and knees, for example) was complex.  It utilised newspaper print press roller technology to ensure the two layers of film with the microcapsules were correctly structured to function on sufficient (injury causing) impact.  What Dan worked on specifically with Mary was creating pockets with teflon in between the vinyl and the film which could then be filled with the microcapsules.  Dan explains the satisfaction in developing design that serves the body and cites biomimicry as a motivator for his particular approach to such design projects.  Mirroring the structure of the body and supporting human anatomy is at the core of another of Dan’s projects, for which currently has an advisory role – Aergo, the pioneering modular disability support system. 

4BRUISE

Azure-DX-SmarterFasterTougher-15The Bruise Suit in collaboration with Mary Benson

Dan’s other projects have included TasteWorks, a VR sensory study focussing on appetite and dementia at Keio University and his most current undertaking, Farewill, which launches in earnest soon.  For now, I leave Dan with a buzz and heightened curiosity over what problems he might propose to solve through design next and hope they incorporate the magic of fashion.

Follow me:  Twitter @Thetechstyler  and  Instagram @techstyler