Fashion Week Insiders Call For Sustainability Clarity, Citing Confusing Brand Marketing and “Green-Washing”

Fashion month has come to a close and this season, more than ever, the industry has been under pressure to address its environmental responsibility. There are some steps being taken, whether it is the launch of the British Fashion Council’s Positive Fashion Initiative in London or Dior‘s zero-waste, plastic-free, fully recyclable set and tree replanting scheme at their Paris show, but what does that mean on the ground? What do the people attending the shows, working in the industry, buying the products and living their day-to-day lives think and feel about the role of sustainability in fashion? We took to the streets at London Fashion Week (LFW) to find out.

To delve deeper, Techstyler gathered a crew to find out exactly what people know about sustainability in fashion and how they integrate it into their daily lives, if at all. Continuing from our pilot research project back in February, this season we partnered with The British School of Fashion to develop a questionnaire that would capture individuals’ attitudes towards sustainability in fashion, consumer behaviours and personal views on the topic. We then interviewed hundreds of attendees of LFW, both inside and outside the official venues, over the five days. 

Image: Henry Nicholls/Reuters

This season saw pressure groups including Extinction Rebellion (XR) and PETA protesting against the environmental and ethical impacts of fashion, culminating in a “funeral” march by XR featuring a coffin inscribed with “RIP LFW 1983-2019” sending a clear message to the BFC and wider industry. While these groups were protesting outside the official LFW venue of 180 The Strand, Techstyler and “parent” company BRIA were inside presenting solutions, seeking to understand the current climate and calling for change, amongst other innovators. There are solutions and designers doing “good”, some of which were showcased in the BFC’s Positive Fashion space including Patrick McDowell, RE;CODE and the global movement supporting the UN sustainable development goals #TOGETHERBAND; but there is also huge consumer confusion which needs to be addressed before we can expect widespread change in sustainable consumption. We wanted to find out what’s actually going on on the ground, and this starts with you (yes, you).

Patrick McDowell at LFW. Image: Techstyler

The study found that the overarching sentiment when it came to sustainability in fashion was a resounding, and slightly concerning, “I don’t know”. When asked “which brands do you see as the most sustainable”, one respondent replied, “Tricky question. How do you define sustainability?”, and that, ladies and gentlemen, sums it up in a neat bow. This commentary could probably end right there, but there’s a lot at stake here. If we are out on the streets fighting for our future, we should probably understand what we are fighting for and our roles in the battle beyond the placards.

Image: Techstyler

After combining this past month’s data with our research from February, it is evident that there is a lot of miscommunication and confusion, and, let’s not forget, that the respondents are not regular consumers on the high street; they are buyers, designers, stylists, journalists and fashion students. In other words, they are those at the forefront of the industry. The answers were incredibly varied, showing a large gap in knowledge, but ultimately a desire to do better. Many simply don’t know how because the messaging is highly confusing; brands can say what they want around sustainability as key terms like “organic” and “natural” aren’t even regulated, never mind the word “sustainability”, which, to be honest, is anyone’s guess at this point. One respondent even said that the term “sustainability” is itself off-putting.

“There is too much negativity arising around the term “sustainable” and a huge part of it comes from the misunderstandings created when communicating it.”

Questionnaire respondent
Image: Techstyler

Respondents were asked to list the brands they see as the most sustainable, at which many reeled off those who are shouting the loudest but are not necessarily backing up their efforts up with facts. When telling us which brands they are wearing, high street fast fashion was ever-present, despite the interviewees claims to be concerned about the issues involved with fast fashion manufacturing and consumption. H&M was one brand that regularly appeared on both the “most sustainable” and “least sustainable” brand lists, thanks to their Conscious Collection campaigns. Eight respondents who said they were wearing Zara at the time of the interview then went on to list it as a least sustainable brand, which is sufficiently revealing alone. Five out of the eight claimed that sustainability was important to them, so there is a clear disconnect here which needs to be addressed. Overall many simply didn’t know what to believe. “I think there is too much green-washing going on with brands and the marketing teams confuse the sustainability message. They make it harder for consumers to understand sustainability,” said one respondent. 

BFC’s Positive Fashion Panel. Image: Instagram

Alongside the confusion there was also positivity around the growth of the sustainability movement and a recognition of our individual responsibility, with one respondent saying “I think [sustainable fashion] has a potential to be huge in the future” and another recognising that, “it is so important to think of your wardrobe and how to make it last longer than a season.”

Many are calling for industry change: for designers to implement sustainable strategies, brands to be truthful and transparent, and fellow consumers to make the “right” choices.  And this sentiment has grown slightly since last season’s research, showing a steady change in attitudes in just a short time; short, but impactful, with the rise of Greta Thunberg and her Global Climate Strikes, XR mobilising groups across the world to call for action, and 150 brands signing up to the G7 fashion pact after a highly publicised 45th Summit in Biarritz. 

“Is there really a place for fashion week anymore? Seems out-dated and pretty distasteful given the current climate crisis… It seems like a parade of excess that isn’t needed”

Questionnaire Respondent
Image: Techstyler

In response to London Fashion Week being well and truly under the microscope this season, the British Fashion Council hosted a panel to discuss the climate crisis and fashion’s role in both causing and, hopefully, reversing it. Panellists including Bel Jacobs representing Extinction Rebellion, Tamsin Lejeune founder of Common Objective, Cameron Saul of Bottletop, and model and activist Arizona Muse were moderated by journalist Tamsin Blanchard on the final day of LFW to debate the best way forward. In an open and honest discussion, Bel Jacobs reiterated XR’s warning that we are “in the middle of the 6th mass extinction”, going on to say “we called for fashion week to be cancelled to use this as a platform to broadcast the climate emergency. Everyone will stop and recognise (the emergency) if the BFC does that. It’s too late for incremental change.” Arizona Muse proposed that “fashion week could be harnessed for good [so that it] reflects a more humane approach.” Fashion Week’s role in this change was agreed to be pivotal and the time is now.

Image: Techstyler

Reflecting on our time at LFW, there was a palpable air of eco-anxiety both inside and outside the venue. Although there was consumer confusion surrounding exactly how they can be part of the solution, there was an encouraging desire to understand and do more. The public are looking to brands and the wider industry for clear indicators and evidence of widespread change, with one saying, “The industry is on the right track [it] just needs to gather momentum”. Experts joining the discussion are calling for major change for the sake of our survival as a species, nevermind the survival of Fashion Week as we know it. Following this initial research, Techstyler and The British School of Fashion will be releasing more detailed reports in the coming months and replicating the study internationally in 2020. The need for change has never been so urgent, and to make these changes sustainable we must understand the issues at a grassroots level. There is still a long way to go, but change is in the air and how these changes manifest next fashion month will be key, as, this time, the world is watching. 

Image: Techstyler

We would like to thank the research crew for volunteering their time over the last two seasons. Keep an eye out for more results from our recent study, and news of the international research on Techstyler’s Instagram, Techstyler.fashion and by signing up to our newsletter.

Discussing the Tensions Between Fashion, Technology and Sustainability with Vanessa Friedman

Before meeting Vanessa Friedman, I considered the perspective she could lend on the tension between designers’ ability to create freely and the need to choose sustainable materials.  Is there a conflict?  Does working with sustainable fabrics limit designers?  What new technologies excite her?  What does she think of ‘wearables’?  I posed these questions and more to her, considering her answers in the context of the the wider fashion industry.

When discussing whether she perceives sustainability being at odds with unlimited creativity in fashion design, Vanessa told me “Fashion has always had that tension – sometimes it’s about pricing, sometimes its more practical restrictions, like the need for two armholes and a place for your head… that creates discipline for designers and I don’t think there is anything wrong with that.  Sustainability is part of the challenge of design”.  She believes that when you are making something that is functional, which fashion is, you have to wrestle with the egregiousness of the product you are making.  Her standpoint is one of sustainable materials posing a challenge, rather than being a problem.

Vanessa cites the possibility that aesthetics may be shaped by the advance of new materials, smart textiles and new fibre composites – cellulosic and animal fibre blends, for example – as a huge opportunity.  If such advances could result in less seams required and ultra light materials, like those used by Moncler who are “making warm coats that can by smushed into a tiny ball for carry on”, then all these advances are exciting.  “Designers should embrace these challenges and opportunities as a chance for them to think differently – It should be something they look forward to”.

I am curious to know whether (and when) Vanessa sees a future where the discussion on sustainability becomes a part of the high profile seasonal fashion discourse during fashion month, taking place in New York, Paris, London and Milan, where she sits front row in her capacity as the Fashion Director and Chief Fashion Critic of The New York Times.  “In my dream world, you don’t need a Copenhagen Fashion Summit that’s all about sustainability – this is not a discourse that is combined with a mainstream event because it is a mainstream event and it is part of best practice – period”.  Her take on the sustainability message is “we can talk about it or not talk about it.  You don’t want to be an eco brand, you just want to be a brand that happens to be sustainable.  It shouldn’t be the thing that sets you apart, it should be the thing that makes you part of the general conversation”. 

It’s Vanessa’s opinion that using sustainability as a sales tool and part of the brand message, has an upside and a downside.  The upside is the point of differentiation which can attract consumers, while the downside is that it puts the brand in a different niche for other consumers.  She reflects on Vogue’s former “eco or green design section of the magazine where they would feature a different designer every month… You don’t want to be there – you want to be with Gucci, you want to be with Vuitton”.  Reflecting on her comment, it seems to me that sustainability shouldn’t be a consolation or an optional brand choice – it should be quietly integrated into all fashion brands. 

Moving onto the subject of textiles and manufacturing, I asked Vanessa if she has seen any ‘game-changing’ developments emerging.  She highlights 3D printing and manufacturing to order, thereby eliminating stock and production processes (that have long and complicated supply chains) as the most exciting.  “If you can produce a garment in a very short amount of time to order for someone, you will change everything”.  Vanessa is thinking of the likes of 3D printed shoes and advances in digital knitting.  It is her opinion that the biggest change for fashion as a result of advances in technology is going to be in the production process, rather than “the accessory that tests your heart rate… To me, the really exciting opportunity is in how you manufacture”.  Evidence in the form of the Adidas Speedfactory and the mass customisation by NIKEiD support her comments, as do the advances in digital knitting that have led to a complete transformation of the entire footwear industry through the creation of Flyknit and Adidas Ultra Boost, amongst many other digitally knitted products with simplified supply chains, local manufacturing and short lead times.

Image:  Adidas Ultraboost

When I asked Vanessa which designers or brands that she feels are doing exciting things fusing tech and fashion she is of the leaning that there is a giant gap in this area.  She defines it as “A problem that no-one has quite figured out, between technology companies that can make gadgets, and they are trying to make them ‘fashiony’ – and fashion companies that make fashion and are trying to make them ‘techy’.  You need a third point of the triangle, which is someone who is going to figure out how to meaningfully combine the two”.  Enter a number of innovative cross-disciplinary labs and incubators emerging for the express purpose of making this happen, including Plug and Play and Mira Duma’s Fashion Tech Lab

On the subject of ‘wearables’, Vanessa pulls no punches: “I think ‘wearables’ is the most ridiculous word I have ever heard – everything is a ‘wearable’ – my jacket is a ‘wearable’ and it has no tech in it at all.  I don’t think ‘wearables’ has figured out what it is yet.  It’s a catch all word for techy gadgets you wear, but that’s not really a sector”.  To a degree, we may be talking semantics here, but based on the abandoned Fitbit and Google Glass, amongst others, it’s true that the gaping divide between where tech provides clever capabilities and fashion provides aesthetics and desirability to create life-enhancing products, remains wide.

Image top:  Google Glass       Image bottom: Fitbit

Reflecting further on the state of wearables, Vanessa reminisces about the iPhone and iPod “changing the way that everybody interacted with music”.  She says that in contrast, “there has been nothing like that with fashion – no wearable has achieved that”.  Considering the outcome of our discussion and my questions about sustainability playing a bigger role in fashion, it seems that to Vanessa’s mind, there is a tension between fashion and tech, but not between fashion design and sustainability.

As I wrap up this article, an invitation to the launch of Nadi X by Wearable X – the first Wearable yoga pant to ‘communicate with the user to ‘aid alignment’, hits my inbox.  Perhaps our ‘Wearable’ future is about to take a new life-enhancing turn towards the perfect fusion?  Stay tuned for the verdict.

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Sabinna Experiments With Mixed Reality Shopping for Fashion

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

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

Family photos, Sabinna’s studio, East London

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

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

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

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

Sabinna’s studio 

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

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

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

Sabinna’s studio 

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

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

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

SABINNA SS17 show, Fashion Scout, London Fashion Week

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


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

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

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

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

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

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London College of Fashion Sustainability Initiatives “Fired Up” by Professor Sandy Black

Fashion’s future is about looking forward, however looking back with Sandy Black, Professor of Fashion and Textile Design and Technology at London College of Fashion, serves up a timely lesson for right now on running a fashion business and sustainability.

Professor Black provides the privilege of reflection – of pausing and drawing on decades of analysis of craft and technology and designer fashion businesses through her academic research and practice and asking the question ‘why has so little changed for fashion designers in terms of barriers to growing a successful business’?  Many of the difficulties Professor Black, a maths graduate from UCL (more on that later), faced when running her knitwear business in the 70’s and 80’s still exist today, especially in terms of financing production whilst investing in new collections and finding manufacturers willing to work with emerging brands in a dynamic and affordable way.  The conversation and landscape is changing, though.

Professor Black completed a maths degree at UCL whilst exploring, informally, her interest in craft and knitting.  Upon graduation she became involved in an artistic knitting movement that saw an explosion of her knitwear across the globe.  Sandy Black Fashion knitwear was stocked in boutiques in the US, Japan, Australia and Europe.  Her hand and domestic machine knitted pieces were intricate and painterly, reflecting a new creative and artistic approach to knitwear that thrust itself into the fashion realm, beyond its reputation as a domestic craft.

img_2117Coat by Sandy Black  Photo: David McIntyre

“Digital knitting began in the 70’s” states Professor Black.  The current knitting technology is an extension of, rather than a re-invention of, that knitting technology.  She forged links with Stoll, a world-leading industrial knitting machine manufacturer to have a machine installed at London College of Fashion, enabling students to immerse themselves in industry techniques and adopt new technology in their practice.

The excitement in knitting arguably lies in its fusion of craft and technology and Professor Black’s publications, including Interrogating Fashion, Eco-Chic: The Fashion Paradox and The Sustainable Fashion Handbook explore the impact of this fusion on fashion, in terms of manufacturing, sustainability and aesthetics.  Her recent work, in collaboration with a number of London College of Fashion-based academics, is an online platform allowing the exchange of information between fashion academics and the designer fashion industry to promote insightful, sustainable and collaborative practice for better business and environmental outcomes.

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The platform, FIREup, has fuelled debate around changing business models for sustainability.  It intends to unlock the potential of industry and academic collaboration, and is designed to help designer-fashion businesses in London access knowledge based in the university’s research centres and academic staff across three prestigious colleges: Central Saint Martins, London College of Fashion and Chelsea College of Arts.  The FIREup initiative is now expanding across the UK. 

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Professor Sandy Black in discussion with Michelle Lowe-Holder, Martine Jarlgaard, Kiwy Huang and Ben Alun-Jones at the Creativeworks Festival, King’s College London – Photo: CSF

As part of the FIREup initiative, four projects were undertaken to allow designers to conduct research to inform their business decisions.  This research involved a sort of ‘forced reflection’ and contemplation.  Recent exits of high-profile designers from global fashion businesses (Raf Simons from Dior and Alber Elbaz from Lanvin) were allegedly, at least partly, the result of frustration at a lack of time and space to pause and reflect because of the relentless cycle of punishing product deadlines with no time for contemplation and development.  Although running a smaller business with fewer product categories is arguably less time-pressured, it is absolutely true that the pressures Professor Black faced whilst running her business and that often lead to added strain on small businesses have not yet been resolved.  It is the mandate of FIREup to allow designers space, time, academic support and funding to conduct reflective research and steer their business forward in a more successful and thoughtful way.  Christopher Raeburn is one such designer involved in the FireUp Catalyst Project.

Raeburn’s ‘REMADE’ products are crafted from re-appropriated military fabrics.  The jacket below was remade by deconstructing and shredding original German snow ponchos, the Schneetarn (German for ‘snow camouflage’) Parka.  A limited edition garment, it is one of a maximum of 50, proudly remade in Raeburn’s London studio.

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The women’s Ceremonial Biker Jacket is reworked from original British military ceremonial garments, traditional British military wear that have held the same design for the last century.  The jacket, typical of British cavalry, artillery and infantry, is also a limited edition piece (a maximum of 50) also remade in the Christopher Raeburn Studio.  Shop Christopher Raeburn here.

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Currently promoted on the FIREup platform, and being hosted by Professor Rebecca Earley and Dr. Kate Goldsworthy is the Mistra Fashion Future Conference on textile design and the circular economy which is part of their research aimed at creating the vision of designing for a circular future where materials are designed, produced, used and disposed of in radical new ways. “Circular Transitions will be the first global event to bring together academic and industry research concerned with designing fashion textiles for the circular economy.  The themes will explore the design of new materials for fashion with approaches ranging from emerging technology and social innovation to systems design and tools.”  For more information about the conference in London this November visit FIREup or Mistra Future Fashion.

It’s clear that Professor Black’s research and industry involvement, along with the work of her fellow academics at London College of Fashion, is helping shape the discourse around designer businesses and sustainability.  The broader discussion, encompassing the impact of our lifestyle choices (including fashion) on the environment has been explored by Professor Helen Storey in her recent Dress For Our Time project.  Developed in partnership with Holition, the dress digitally displayed data – extracted from a major study of the global risks of future shifts in ecosystems due to climate, which showed the impact of climate change on our physical world. It showed the planet as it will be, if we don’t do enough.  The film below demonstrates the shocking and compelling figures related to the refugee crises and displacement across across the globe projected onto the Dress For Our Time:

Professor Black and Professor Storey are both also instrumental team members at the Centre for Sustainable Fashion (CSF) at the London College of Fashion – a Research Centre of the University of the Arts London based at London College of Fashion. Our work explores vital elements of Better Lives London College of Fashion’s commitment to using fashion to drive change, build a sustainable future and improve the way we live.  In 2014 the CSF announced a five-year partnership to work closely with Kering to support sustainable practices in education for the fashion industry. The partnership is a three-way approach to ensure new ways of thinking about sustainability in fashion: The Kering Talks, The Kering Award for Sustainable Fashion and The Empowering Imagination module for MA students at LCF.  This year’s Kering Award for Sustainable Fashion will be announced on November 14th and I will be attending and writing about the finalists, so stay tuned!

To learn more about CSF initiatives, click here

To find out more about FIREup and see current opportunities here

Header Image:  Christopher Raeburn, who uses re-appropriated military materials in his collections

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Superhuman – The Ravensbourne Postgraduate Show

Off the back of a frantic London Fashion Week I attended Superhuman, an exhibition of work by the MA and MSc graduates of Ravensbourne, spanning the degrees Communication Design, Interactive Products Features, Fashion, Wearable Futures, Applied Technologies (rapid prototyping and digital technologies), Interactive Digital Media, Moving Image and Environment Design.  The titles of these degrees alone fills me with wonder and optimism and gives anecdotal support to a claim I saw in a tangential teaser video by Future Hub, claiming that ‘40% of the top jobs in 2027 have not even been invented yet’, suggesting that the old educational silos and linear career paths of the past will not fit the bill of the future.  Step up Ravensbourne…

With the work of 29 graduates presented in a compact exhibition space it was a great deal to review and as such, my overview focuses on fashion and digital technologies.

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Farid Bin Karim is the first student to graduate from the MSc Wearable Futures degree and has created a body of written work entitled “Couturier and the Art of Survival: a Technologist’s Guide”.  This work is the result of Farid’s ambitious attempt to explore the appetite within the ‘closed-shop’ of couture for current and future technologies.

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His guide looks into the hypothetical future of the aesthetic embellishments of couture and the couturier in their struggle to remain relevant in an ever-changing and digital future.  Farid seeks to explain how technology can aid in this endeavour and affect the human perception of adornment as a wearable. It is an exploration in updating crafts and disciplines to add dimensionality for wearables of the future.

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MSc Applied Technologies graduate Jason Taylor’s  project “The Bionic Toolkit” explores the idea of changing the way amputees interact with the design world by creating intuitive design tools.  It begins from the basis that the human hand has shaped the way we use traditional tools to design, meaning that such design tools are difficult to use with a prosthetic limb, as these devices are not kinematically accurate.

Taylor began by deconstructing an MRI scan of his own arm to create a 3D digital model. This model then served as a template in which myoelectric sensors, servos, and microprocessors were inserted and arranged so as to preserve kinematic function.  Using an open source robotic arm by InMoov (created by friend of Techstyler, Gael Langevin) for initial testing allowed Jason to explore how tools could be incorporated directly into the arm, reducing the need for sensors that would usually grip an existing tool.

Jason explained that “Rigorous testing has allowed me to explore the most efficient ways in which an amputee could draw, write, paint, sculpt etc… typically by attaching existing tools to each phalanx and recording the level of control, and ease of use. This allows for varying DOF’s (degree’s of freedom) depending upon the tool being used”.  “Using Ravensbourne’s state of the art prototyping facilities has allowed me to 3D print many iterations of mechanisms and prototypes, using a combination of FDM and polyjet 3D printers, laser cutters and 3D CNC machines.”

He plans to continue with the project now that he has graduated, and wishes to design more tools that amputees can attach to the Bionic Toolkit.  “The next step would be to make my project open source, so that other designers can freely edit my designs, and improve the quality of lives of others.” 

Update: 13/10/16 “The Bionic arm now allows the user to not only draw, sculpt, paint etc… but also to interact with digital environments (great for 3D modelling, VR and AR), sculpt dense materials (acting as a dremel-like tool), and 3D print direct from the ‘finger tips’.  Actions and movements can now also be recorded and repeated for iterative designs – lots of improvements since we last spoke!”

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Siyue “Lulu” Xu’s designs propose that denim’s prevalent, cheap, fast fashion reputation can be reshaped by elevating denim design through craft.  The collection challenges the perceptions of environment-friendly fashion design and aims to show that smart design can both be aesthetically sleek and pleasing and at the same time reduce the rate of pollution from industrial manufacturing in a post-humanist future.

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Lulu prints, embroiders and enhances new and second-hand denim fabrics and garments, transforming them from ubiquitous items into rare collectibles.  Her re-worked denim seeks to challenge the polluting reputation that denim carries and is inspired by rebellion and anarchy, taking its manifesto from punk and 1980’s western club culture.  For more of Lulu’s work check out her collection book and Instagram antics.

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Zoe Alexandria Paton Burt’s work in progress is “Neither/Nor” (she is due to graduate from the MA fashion degree next year) and looks into the gender divide in clothing and how it perpetuates inequality amongst different genders.  She is seeking to highlight modern day use of language that is ingrained in western society that she feels undermines individual behavioural traits, expecting men to behave in ‘masculine’ and women in a ‘feminine’ ways.

Zoe’s collection synopsis goes on to explain that “the collection will encompass the use of 3D modelling and printing, textile manipulation, embroidery, a broad range of fabrics from the traditional to the techno”. The final outcomes will be a collection, fashion film and a documentary aiming to raise awareness of the fight for equality.

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The garments presented by Zoe under the name “Alexandria Paton” contain components that have been 3D scanned and modelled using Rhino, then realised with large format 3D printing.  Zoe is also experimenting with 3D printing directly onto fabric using the Ultimaker 2 and Faberdashery PLA. She prints on to both Velvet and PolyUrethane fabrics and plans to further experiment with 3D modelling and printing, incorporating traditional textile techniques to create a new and unique amalgamations of the two.  

ZAPB PG04 DesignsZAPB PG04 Designsscreen-shot-2016-10-08-at-22-17-03screen-shot-2016-10-08-at-22-16-23screen-shot-2016-10-08-at-22-15-53Zoe Burt’s garment prototyping, MA Fashion Degree in progress

For more information on the Ravensbourne MA/MSc graduate show visit superhuman2016.uk

More information on Ravensbourne courses can be found here.

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CitizenM: The Hotels Inspired by ‘Global Citizen’ Fashion Designers

CitizenM was founded by the ex-owner/CEO of fashion company MEXX, Rattan Chadha.  Mr Chadha was struck by the uninspiring nature of hotel accommodation for his 150-strong design team as they travelled around the world researching fashion trends and visiting suppliers.  His young dynamic design team were travelling on strict budgets and staying in traditional hotels that left them out of budget and uninspired.  That’s when the concept of citizenM was born.  Robin Chadha explains the light bulb moment that led his father Rattan to ask himself why the hotel industry hadn’t been reinvented.  Why didn’t it reflect global citizens who lead dynamic lives? Further inspiration for the concept of providing affordable luxury for global citizens was in the form of H&M’s collaborations with luxury designers like Karl Lagerfeld.  The founder and his team came up with a list of frustrations around the hotel experience (pre 2008, when the first citizenM hotel launched in Amsterdam) which included queuing for check in and check out, filling in the same paperwork every stay, the impersonal nature of a big check-in desk, the restricted restaurant hours … the list went on.  Why wasn’t the hotel experience more customer driven?

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Enter CitizenM, where technology and design have facilitated a 5 star hotel model in terms of comfort (the bed and shower are second-to-none) with pruning of unnecessary costs (a streamlined 24 hour canteen in favour of a heavily staffed restaurant) and self check-in.  The practical rooms, as mentioned below, are clever pods that were built modular and off-site, meaning a cost effective build and efficient use of hotel space.  The pods are complimented brilliantly by the enormous and welcoming social hubs for drinking, reading, watching TV, sitting by the fire or catching up with friends.

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Arriving at CitizenM Rotterdam feels like embarking on an adventure.  The wooden spiral staircase feels like a modern day entrance to the coolest cubby house  you’ve never seen.  We checked ourselves in at the landing level which welcomes in the harbour via vast glass panels.  Glance left and there’s a sofa-surrounded fire place. Glance right and there’s a buzzing bar. 

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In between are some cool shelves, a red ceramic glazed gnome and few other oddities and trinkets.  There’s no fuss here.  We’re greeted in a non-pretentious and fun way – it’s more of a chat than a check-in.  The room’s no fuss too.  Our harbour view suits us just fine.  Welcome Citizen Roberts indeed!

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The accommodations are like a pod.  The fun cubby house vibe continues and I unpack in an instant so I can check out the tech.  The blazing sun across the sofas makes breakfast a two hour affair.  Yep, there’s loads to see in Rotterdam.  My list of must-sees is long. I’m just too relaxed to move.  Faced with a book shelf full of interesting reads it’s not until hours later that I venture back to my pod – where I make the mistake of launching on to the way too comfortable bed and indulging in the hundreds of channels on TV.  Maybe I should watch a film?  Trapped again,  I’m typing away here at long after 2pm and feeling plenty chilled and comfy.  Everything’s at the touch of an iPad.  The LED mood-coded lights, the room temperature, the curtains and blinds.  It’s all touch screen simple and feels like a home away from home. It suits me.  It’s my ideal hotel, because it feels nothing like one.

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The bed dominates the room, which is a haven for intense chilling out.  The button operated curtain and blind mean barely moving to get just the right amount of light and let the view in from the harbour side courtyard.  

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Delving a little deeper into the tech and design behind Citizen M, Robin explains that the hotels, which are all identical in terms of IT infrastructure, have a central Dashboard at the HQ near Amsterdam powered by a piece of proprietary software collating data from all the hotels.  If the lights aren’t working in room 303 at the Rotterdam hotel, they – and the smartphone-enabled staff – know about it.  Faults are coded according to importance.  If there’s a problem with a shower the hotel staff (aka Ambassadors) know about it and are probably actioning a fix before it’s even registered with the guest.  The iPad that is the central control panel for the room is out of battery? It’s flagged on the dashboard, but not urgent – in all likelihood the guest is happy to sort this one out, but if they can’t, CitizenM is informed and ready to respond.  CitizenM’s hotels that are customer driven and responsive and I find myself asking the same question as Rattan Chadha pre-2008 – Why hadn’t the hotel industry been reinvented?

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The team behind the CitizenM hotels includes Robin Chadha, Michael Levie (COO), Nick Price (IT) and Concrete Architects, whose modular room design is shown above. 

My discussion with Robin rounds off with a view into what’s on the horizon.  A bulging list of new CitizenM Hotel locations over the coming years includes the Tower of London (July 2016), Shoreditch (September 2016) and London St Pauls (2019).  Other locations include The Bowery, New York (2017) and Taipei and Shanghai through their joint venture with Shuntak. 

The fact that we citizens of the world are increasingly global is undisputed.  The centrality of customers to product and service industries and their increasingly consumer-led business models is also irrefutable.  CitizenM fits perfectly, as you would expect from any fashion entrepreneur worth his (sartorial) salt.

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Fyodor Golan: The Fashion Designers Collaborating with Microsoft and Hasbro to Create the Smart Phone Skirt and Transformers Sweaters

It’s an insightful and warm conversation that plays out in the depths of Somerset House where Fyodor Podgorny and Golan Frydman, the designers behind fashion label Fyodor Golan, invite me into their temporary studio while their usual one is undergoes renovation. Golan tells me they’re arranging pre-collection production now, then beginning their main line production before moving onto designing the AW16 collection, which launches at London Fashion Week in February. Phew! The fashion wheel keeps on turning…

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IMG_6716Production at the Fyodor Golan studio

Fyodor points out very early in the conversation that the fashion industry has changed dramatically since their Fashion Fringe launch seven seasons ago. Their evolution as designers and as business owners has been just as dramatic. They began by making restrictive, complex couture and changed direction when they gained global attention and realised that one Fyodor Golan woman did not exist – there are many. She comes in all shapes, sizes and ages and she doesn’t want to wear a corset. The philosophy of making their clothing lighter and easier sits well alongside two designers who are natural, pragmatic and thoughtful. Their customers speak, they listen.

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Fyodor explains that the internet explosion and uptake of social media means that the old system of designers dictating whole customer ‘looks’ died with Instagram’s birth and has fertilised the Fyodor Golan brand’s growth.  It’s safe to say they are happy with fashion’s democratisation and credit fashion bloggers and clients styling their own looks on social media as sources of inspiration, revealing their fashion personalities and breaking down the ‘whole designer look’ phenomenon.

They gain new clients across the globe who contact them directly for special one-off pieces or to purchase garments directly on the strength of an Instagram image.  This is a powerful tool and leads us to contemplate whether the relentless pre-prescribed fashion industry collection schedule makes sense.  Do they need it? As a small label they are still responsive and in touch with their clients and that is a strength and competitive advantage.  Fyodor explains that he would love to make mini collections every three months, freeing them from the restrictive shackles of fashion’s seasonal calendar.  I notice from images and seeing first-hand the constructed textiles of their pre-collection that they are no less ambitious in terms of materials and concepts when creating their pre-collections, in contrast to some designers who approach these as “mainline lite” collections in terms of design and realisation.  It’s clear Fyodor Golan don’t take short cuts and invest their energy into realising ideas, not churning out product.  I admire them and I admire their ease and resolve. They know exactly why they are creating their collections, and it’s not just for the sake of it or because the fashion calendar says it’s time to churn another one out. They have recently launched resort S/S16, deciding to create one pre-collection per year instead of the standard two, in addition to their two mainline collections (Spring/Summer and Autumn/Winter) so that they can maintain some balance and not stretch themselves too thinly.

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This leads us to a discussion about the recent exit of Raf Simons and Alber Elbaz from their fashion design and creative directorships of Dior and Lanvin respectively. As admirers of both designers, Fyodor and Golan discuss the unrealistic expectations on such designers to conceive and oversee the execution of upwards of eight collections a year, plus accessories, fragrances and in some cases retail spaces.  Being spread too thinly kills creativity.  We know it and have experienced it.  Golan wrestles with it when having to abandon concepts for collections part way through the development phase because he does not have the time and means to see them through.  He talks of being forced to wade through admin work and arrange business transactions in order to meet responsibilities to staff and suppliers – people have to be paid on time – leaving his unrealised ideas lingering.  It’s a tough and bitter pill that leaves doubt in the mind of a designer as to whether they have accomplished what they set out to and whether their vision has evolved into full bloom. The idea of the creative exploration being curbed too soon is a brutal one, especially considering a collection takes up to six months to create and is presented in around 6 minutes on the runway. If you don’t get to finish your sartorial sentence it’s an all too abrupt ending.

Fyodor Golan have embraced technology and the changing fashion landscape more than most. By launching a smart phone skirt collaboration with Nokia Lumia and a Microsoft-powered runway show with an impressive pyramid installation displaying projections from Nokia Lumia cameras in the front row, they have been at the frontier of experimenting with how tech gadgets can interact with fashion.  Their forays into combining fashion and technology have been facilitated by the Fashion Innovation Agency, spearheaded by FashionTech stalwart Matt Drinkwater.

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Fyodor-Golan-Nokia-3Fyodor Golan x Nokia Lumia smart phone skirt in collaboration with research and design studio Kin

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LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 12: Fyodor Golan and Lumia 830 blend digital with reality to reinvent the catwalk show at London Fashion Week Spring Summer 2015 on September 12, 2014 in London, England. (Photo by Ben A. Pruchnie/Getty Images)

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Both designers are at ease combining fashion and technology, but also recognise its current limitations.  The limitations they cite come as a shock. Where previously I believed the lack of collaboration between technology and fashion designers lay with the designers’ lack of affinity for tech or a mismatch between the tech and the textiles or aesthetics, what it truly comes down to (at least in part) is the insistence on a new product outcome within a very short and strict timeframe.  One year to innovate and create a whole new fashion tech product? “How is that possible?” asks Golan.  The expectation of technology companies during pre-collaboration discussions with Fyodor Golan has been to create a new tech-driven product to sell within 12 months.  There appears to be a lack of appetite for experimentation for its own sake and for exploring long-term, ambitious and integrated fashion tech innovations in this collaborative environment.  Maybe that’s why fashion and technology aren’t integrating seamlessly and desirably yet – at least in the wearables space.

Fyodor and Golan are experimenters with spirit. They have a penchant for grabbing familiar references and layering textiles in a way that captures the imagination.  Their clothes are bright, bold, fun and attractive.  They’re highly tactile and attention grabbing. It’s hard to imagine not feeling happy and celebratory wearing their printed, vinyl, ruffled neoprene shift dress with neon trims. It’s a recognisable silhouette, making it firmly wearable, but it’s shaken off any shift-dress dowdiness by way of neon trims and chunky metal zips and the unexpectedly successful pairing of roses, ruffles and neoprene. SOLD!

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Their latest SS16 collection, which launched at London Fashion Week, evolved out of an existing collaboration with toy maker Hasbro.  The designers used My Little Pony as inspiration for their A/W15  ‘Rainbow Wheels’ collection and when offered the chance to delve into the Hasbro Transformer archives for S/S16 they grabbed it.

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Unfortunately I’m not able to view and publish those original images, suffice to say that the bright colours and bold transformative nature of Transformers comes through at least in the spirit of the collection, and through the Transformer-inspired prints on sweatshirts. Being in the priviledged position of seeing never before published Transformer sketches the collection spontaneously erupted into a cacophony of colour and graphics.

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A smattering of Geisha-inspired silhouettes and accessories (the shoes were a collaboration with Kat Maconie) give gravity to the playful colours and prints.  The indigo pieces are a personal favourite and appear to ground the collection amongst the flurry of digital prints, vinyl and colour.

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Fyodor Golan is the unexpected.  The designers themselves define it as ‘a spirit’. I define it as a breath of fresh air. They’re as candid as their clothes.  And that’s rare.

Header Image: Noctismag

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