How 3D Digital Design and Augmented Reality Can Slash Textile Waste In Fashion

Originally published on Eco-Age.

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Image: Ethmode 3D digital Bodysuit, BRIA

Much is said about the millions of tonnes of garments thrown away each year, urging us to be more sustainable by wearing our clothes more often, washing them less and keeping them out of landfill, but what about the waste generated in the fashion design process itself? What about the carbon emissions generated in the pre-consumer phase of the fashion industry? How much textile waste is generated before a garment even hits the retail shelves? 

The textile waste generated in the fashion supply chain is difficult to calculate as most companies don’t record the quantities of waste they generate for fear of being reprimanded for it. However, ​EFI/Optitex​ recently reported that £5-7 billion is spent on physical sampling in the apparel industry each year. This sampling is a means to an end in that it generates ‘mock-up’ products, which are fitted and photographed and are generally of no value beyond that. These samples often end up being burned or thrown in landfill. 

As the founder of an innovation agency proposing solutions to material waste problems, I have been met with many difficult facts during my work as a consultant for manufacturers and brands, both large and small. A garment manufacturer in Bangladesh recently told me that he receives requests from brands and retailers for hundreds of new samples each day, based on fast-moving, transient Instagram trends. These requests come from buyers who are anxious to have physical samples at their disposal to develop into products to sell if they choose to. The key here is ‘if they choose to’. These samples are not based on an intention to develop and sell a product – the buyers simply want to see what the garment looks like while monitoring the progress of a trend. These samples are the consequence of brands and retailers hedging their bets on trends and having the manufacturers working on demand for them because of the buying power they hold over those manufacturers. The manufacturers don’t feel they can say no, regardless of how much waste is generated, or the strain it places on their business. 

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Image: Ethmode 3D digital Bodysuit, BRIA

When you hear discussions about supply chain transparency and living wages, this is at the very crux of those issues. Brands and retailers have all the power over the manufacturers when it comes to placing production orders and pricing. With fashion cycles getting faster and the competition for lower prices increasing, brands and manufacturers require ways to work faster, cleaner and more economically. 3D digital fashion design offers a fast, clean solution, and has already gained traction with large global brands and retailers, including Adidas and Target. 

The benefits of digital instead of physical sampling have already been quantified by one solution provider, EFI/Optitex, who have saved companies millions of pounds in sampling costs by creating digital samples in place of physical ones. “But don’t designers and buyers want to feel the fabric” is a common question asked about this digital solution. Yes, they do, and they can. The 3D digital design offers photo-realistic renders of the garment that help to decide silhouette, proportion, design details and colours at the very least. When it comes to the movement, drape and stretch of the garment, this requires more sophisticated animation, which my innovation agency BRIA has achieved as demonstrated in the video below: 

 

Currently, most brands using digital design are doing a portion of prototyping and sampling digitally then moving to physical samples – partly because designers want to feel the fabric and see it move in ‘real-life’, and partly because of the incomplete solution offered when it comes to the 2D pattern output and fitting of digital versus physical garments. This is a fracture in the 3D design process that ​BRIA​ is working to fix. 

Snapshot – Digital Fashion prototyping and sampling in numbers:

  • Target has reduced physical sampling by approximately 65% by implementing 3D digital design 
  • A luxury brand working reduced the average time to market per style from 3 months to 2 weeks 
  • By going digital, Adidas was able to eliminate close to 1.5 million physical samples between 2010 and 2013 

The figures above appear to suggest that 3D digital design is a no-brainer, but holding back its widespread adoption are the fractures in the 3D to 2D workflow (as mentioned above), as well as skills gaps between creative design and technical pattern cutting, which both need to be present and connected to achieve success in the final product. The fashion industry is traditionally slow to adopt new technologies, but with a growing number of use cases and the increased visibility of digital design in fashion retail and consumption, this is expected to change. 

Several brands are exploring how digital design can deliver ​customised clothing​ and are even digital clothes that consumers can ‘wear’​. Perhaps the general shift towards digital solutions in every facet of our lives will propel the use of digital fashion from the design and production phase, right through to purchasing and wearing in digital realms, including on social media and in games, like ​The Sims​ (which recently collaborated with ​Moschino​) and Fortnite, which recently collaborated with Nike on ​digital Air Jordans to purchase in-game​. 

Trend Forecasting agency ​Stylus​ recently released a report demonstrating that the consumer appetite for artifice and illusion is rising rapidly, spanning CGI social media superstars (check out ​Lil Miquela​ and ​Shudu​) and immersive mixed-reality brand experiences, to AI-fuelled avatars allowing us to put ourselves in the brand picture. Of course, digital design paves the way for digital experience, with virtual and augmented reality a natural progression from static digital clothing on fixed screens into the space around us – ASOS, John Lewis and Dior are all in on the ​AR and VR act​. Keep an eye out for digital fashion entering the mainstream and slashing the waste generated by physical fashion both behind-the-scenes in the fashion industry, and in our future digital wardrobes. 

Can ​Artificial Intelligence Combat Oversupply and Minimise Deadstock in Fashion?

Originally published on Eco-Age.

Fashion tech innovator, writer and public speaker Brooke Roberts-Islam investigates the role that AI could play in reducing the environmental impact of unsold fashion. 

Artificial Intelligence, for all its futuristic and sci-fi connotations, is a way of analysing data that helps to make smarter decisions. It’s true that AI can be much more – it can ‘learn’ and evolve based on data, but in the case of fashion, its most common application is to find out what’s selling, what’s not and to do something about it. 

Why do we need artificial intelligence to solve such problems? What is wrong with the current system? Followers of fashion and sustainability will be no strangers to the news that brands, both big and small, fast and slow, are grappling with the current business model that relies on predicting what styles will be popular in several months’ time and in what volumes. Additionally, ensuring that the product is available in the right place, at the right price at the right time is increasingly difficult. Add to that the influence of social media on fast-changing trends and it is hard to keep up, and operate in a financially viable, let alone sustainable manner. The very cycle of fashion that requires predictions months ahead of the product being available is outdated and slow and leads to product sitting unsold in warehouses and eventually being discounted, or worse, landfilled or incinerated. 

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The McKinsey ​Notes From The AI Frontier​ report quantifies the benefits of AI for retail as being mostly in marketing and sales (targeting customers with the right products and boosting conversion) and supply chain and manufacturing (manufacturing the right product in the right quantity and making it available at the right time). While this may sound basic, it’s the current fast fashion business model’s inability to get this right that is causing overstock and catastrophic resource and waste consequences. 

How can AI help to cut down on oversupply of stock and thereby reduce the environmental impact of unsold fashion? One of the key ways is by capturing data through online sales based on geographical areas to determine the types of products that are on demand (and those that aren’t) in specific locations. A prime example of this is the Nike Live store ​‘Nike by Melrose’​ in West Hollywood, which is a fusion of online and offline stores. The first of its kind, the store requires shoppers to sign up to the ​Nike Plus​ app in order to unlock the services and perks available in the store. In signing up, the shopping behaviour and preferences of each customer are known to Nike, allowing it to only stock what local shoppers want. No overstock and no need to have regular sales to get rid of stock that wasn’t right for the local customers. This data feeds back to the manufacturing systems and influences the styles and quantities manufactured. 

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Casting the net wider to take in global shopping preferences and real-time purchasing behaviour, ​The Trending Store​, which opened in London’s Westfield Shopping centre this week, is using AI to analyse social media data to extrapolate the ‘top 100 fashion items’. ​The trending products, which span high-street and designer looks across fashion, accessories and footwear, are then collected each morning by a team of stylists from the retail stores at Westfield London. The data analytics are being performed by ​NextAtlas​, who track 400,000 early adopters spread across 1,000 cities worldwide to determine the top 100 items. ​Screens in The Trending Store show exactly where each trend originates from, so shoppers can see which city or country is influencing the popularity of the item. ​This is perhaps the first foray into shopping centres providing AI-driven multi-brand solutions that helps get trending styles and colours in front of customers at the right time. 

It bears noting that these are reactionary solutions that require linked-up data and transparency across the supply chain to genuinely reduce overstock and deadstock – that is to say, the data should ultimately drive the design and manufacturing process to ensure that only the product that is ‘needed’ is manufactured. As fast fashion retailers struggle to manage the vast quantity of products they manufacture globally, this data could allow retailers to make smarter and more sustainable decisions. However, ​digitalisation of the entire supply chain​ (allowing the capture of data at all points from the initial design and manufacturing to global sales) is necessary in order to fully harness and act on this powerful data. Watch this space.

Ground-Breaking Augmented Fashion Experience by Steven Tai and ILMxLAB at London Fashion Week

It’s no mean feat creating a truly unique Fashion Week experience.  The traditional catwalk and presentation formats are tried (or perhaps tired) and tested and provide what could be considered limited scope for in-depth storytelling and effectively conveying a brand’s message in our tech-engaged world.  Considering the concept of engagement – capturing the attention of an audience and involving them in an experience and “moving” them – how does the traditional fashion show stack up?  Limply, it would seem.  The irresistible pull of digital content and taking part in online conversations on Instagram and other platforms pulls people in the front row of shows into the digital world, as if the physical one around them doesn’t exist.

In this hybrid physical and digital world, what does the fashion show of our (immediate) future look like?  Steven Tai and his collaborators for AW18 say it looks like this: a physical showcase of the collection on live models who intermingle with an augmented digital avatar being generated in real time using CGI, who is also wearing the collection.  It’s a true blurring of physical and digital worlds – a mixed reality.  But why is this important?  Why explore the bringing together of digital and physical realms?

We live in a world where we create constant digital representations of ourselves and share them with the world.  We augment ourselves with filters and we animate our faces to imagine ourselves as different characters – not unlike the way that Steven Tai’s collaborators ILMxLab, a division of Lucas film, tells stories by creating characters in contextual places using CGI.  What does this creation of digital characters in a physical world look like, and how can that be harnessed to present fashion?  What would that look and feel like?

In the case of the Steven Tai presentation, it involved an actor in a “mocap” (or motion capture) suit which tracked her movements while walking and posing in order to render her body movements in real time as an avatar on the stage screen, immediately behind the physical models.  Her avatar therefore appeared as though she was interacting with the live models on the stage, although she was physically not present.  Different garments were rendered onto her body in real time, creating a carousel of changing outfits as she moved through the space, around the physical models.  The presentation proposed the concept of layering a digital world over a physical one, which strikes me as a social commentary on how we live increasingly through our social media personas and online interactions and how we wish to augment how we are perceived in the digital, and perhaps soon physical, world.

Actor in mocap suit creating the digital avatar seen in the video below amongst the physical models

During the presentation, in order for the actor’s avatar to “wear” the Steven Tai garments they had to be digitised in advance and then rendered in real time on her moving avatar body, to demonstrate the realistic and accurate drape and movement of the fabric.  The process of designing and creating the collection was an interesting one from the point of view of designer Steven Tai.  His appetite for technology and experimentation demonstrates a rare trust and brave approach to fashion design, where his desire to use certain textiles and create certain silhouettes gave way to the technological limitations, allowing the rendering and appearance of the garments digitally to inform their creation physically.  It’s tricky to convey just how at odds this is with the way fashion designers have been trained.  I say this as a graduate of London College of Fashion and Central Saint Martins, where the teaching emphasises a dogged belief and dedication to achieving your creative and aesthetic goals and striving for your ideals.  Experimenting with new technologies and telling a fashion story that incorporates these new enablers requires a far more dynamic and collaborative attitude.  One that Steven clearly has and that has allowed him an unusual freedom to express himself through the use of the technology.

Another key reason to utilise the LiveCGX technology within the presentation was its capability to create an entire world within the digital and physical space.  Through the imagery on the screen behind the stage, we were transported to Steven’s native Macau by way of a CGI urban landscape, blending a street scene, complete with awnings, flowing gently in the digital breeze, flanked in jungle-like surroundings with softly falling leaves.  Macau was a pivotal inspiration for the collection, which as Matthew Drinkwater of the Fashion Innovation Agency – orchestrators of the collaboration – pointed out after the show, meant that the audience could experience Steven’s inspiration and see how it translated into the collection before them, rather than read about it on a press release.

steventai AW18 collection 

The presentation felt like an invitation to consider the future of fashion.  A chance to ask how fashion should be consumed and sold – and perhaps more importantly, worn.  Will we extend our augmented selves from mobile devices to our physical space through glasses that effectively overlay a digital layer onto our physical world?  Will we chose to change our clothing (or rather how others wearing augmentation glasses perceive our clothing) throughout the day at will?  If so, what is the role of the designer, and indeed of physical clothes?  How would we consume such fashion?  Would we buy renders of clothing?  What impact could that have on the wider industry and what are the potential environmental benefits of reduced physical garment production?  These are all interesting philosophical questions that steer us toward re-imagining the future of fashion.

It is worth noting that the Fashion Innovation Agency, based at London College of Fashion, disseminate the outcomes and discoveries of the experimental fashion presentations they facilitate to cohorts of fashion students whose concept of what fashion can and should be is still in the making.  These students are the future of the industry, so departing university with an affinity for, and understanding of, emerging technologies, suggests that their use will gain prevalence and move towards widespread industry uptake in coming years.

Mohen Leo and Vicki Dobbs-Beck of ILMxLAB, Steven Tai and Matthew Drinkwater of FIA

The question I arrive at after seeing the clear benefits of this mode of storytelling and audience engagement is, “How does this contribute to fashion business commercially?”  Can this content be used for online sales?  It’s likely true that such technologies and methods of presentation will take off when clear financial benefits for brands are proven.  Steven Tai hypothesises that he can reach a global audience by allowing viewers to attend his shows simply by wearing a VR or Mixed reality headset and entering his fashion presentation remotely.  Similarly, their avatars could ‘try on’ the collection using the same the technology and purchase through e-commerce.  Nay-sayers might comment that people would never purchase something they haven’t physically seen or tried on, but then isn’t that exactly what cynics said of Natalie Massenet’s bold concept for a web-based clothing store, which became the industry-changing e-commerce retailer ‘Net-a-porter’?

The team behind the show: steventai, London College of Fashion’s Fashion Innovation Agency, ILMxLAB and The GREAT Britain Campaign

Sabinna’s Pioneering “See Now Buy Now” Via Instagram Stories at Fashion Week

Fashion month has rolled around again, as it does every February/September, and once again I am contemplating the upcoming shows and presentations and how brands will navigate the month of Insta-frenzied reporting of the latest shows, street style and celebrity spotting.

Emails start hitting my inbox about upcoming shows and presentations, lookbook shoots where you can get behind the scenes access to and teasers of digital experiences that are set to break the traditional fashion presentation mould.  There was a time when if you were a fashion designer, you had to have the means and industry contacts to have a traditional catwalk show, and the tens or hundreds of thousands of pounds to finance it, or else present your collection behind closed doors in a showroom to industry insiders.  No longer.  With each season comes a new array of approaches to presenting and selling fashion, and these new ideas and business models are emerging from, well, emerging designers.  Those nimble and small enough to adapt quickly and harness the power of technology are bringing together the presentation and immediate sale of their collection during the buzz of fashion month.  

Sabinna s006 collection (AW18) is being presented digitally and sold immediately via Instastories during fashion month

What am I excited about as London Fashion Week approaches?  What’s new?  What will I remember from it as March rolls around?  Some stand-out looks, sure, but fashion month is so noisy, with hundreds of shows, thousands of brands and millions of Insta-likes.  How do designers differentiate themselves and make themselves heard, let alone remembered, once the product they sweated so hard to create and invested so much in, personally and financially, is available to buy (six months later)?  This is the burning question – the answer to which stands between surviving and shutting up shop.  You only need to look at the roster of emerging fashion talent that has been financially supported, promoted and awarded by the British Fashion Council over the past two decades under the NEWGEN scheme to see that only a handful of the hundreds supported are still in business today.  Fashion is broken, but frustratingly, it still works (sort of). 

I have spent the past hour talking to designer Sabinna Rachimova of womenswear fashion label Sabinna about her radical new approach to presenting and selling her fashion collections during New York and London Fashion Week.  The London-based designer has tried the traditional options – catwalks, presentations – and a less traditional VR see now/buy now fashion presentation in conjunction with the Fashion Innovation Agency and Pictofit – which won her and the team a Decoded Fashion Futures ‘Beyond the Runway’ Award, acknowledging their initiative to think outside the confines of the traditional catwalk format.  But how does an emerging designer, three years and in the business – at that critical point where many designers can no longer sustain their business and close down – achieve commercial success following the traditional business model?  Well, it appears they don’t. 

Reflecting on my own experience of running my label and presenting at London Fashion Week and selling at Paris Fashion Week I know the tens (or hundreds) of thousands of pounds of financial risk attached to following the traditional business model that most young designers follow.   Like Sabinna, I chose non-traditional methods, but Sabinna has developed a completely unique approach this season, by launching a presentation and sales campaign on Instagram for the duration of New York and London Fashion Week.   On the face of it, it sounds an obvious thing to do, but Sabinna has opted to work with 14 “influencers”, spanning the US and UK, and created 24 “looks” in her collection this season, giving all 14 the choice of look to reflect their personal style.  Sabinna has struck a deal to pay each of them for delivering one post to their feed and one Instagram story on their designated day, in their chosen “look”.  The styling and photography lies with the influencer and is a key element of them presenting the outfit in a way that resonates with their followers and presents Sabinna’s collection in a way that makes it easy to relate to and to imagine wearing.  These are real girls of all shapes and sizes – so the context is commercial.  Which is handy, because the looks are instantly shoppable, direct from their Insta-stories.  Herein lies the clever aspect of this strategy. 

Fashion Influencers @camillasentuti, @_jemmawade and @mimosasmanhattan

Sabinna can see the engagement generated from each influencer, view feedback from their followers, collect data on which outfits and garments generated the most interest and a range of other indicators that add up to powerful insights from which she can shape her future collections.  Of course this strategy requires investment upfront in production so that there is stock available to buy immediately, but Sabinna explains that this is simply redirected from budget otherwise spent on a traditional presentation format, which has no guarantee of generating sales and provides very little tangible feedback.  As the campaign continues throughout New York Fashion Week Sabinna alerts me to a similar strategy being adopted by New York -based brand Mansur Gavriel, who are selling their previous collection (just delivered in store) via Insta Stories, whilst launching their new collection at NY Fashion Week – capitalising on the collective “Insta-buzz”.  Their savvy approach to Instagram curation and marketing is well reported and has led to in-excess of 500,00o followers. 

Fashion Influencers @asliceopi, @saratoufali and @malloryonthemoon

It is absolutely true that everyone at Fashion Week is living their experience through Instagram, even if they are sitting in the front row.  Sabinna is smart enough to know that you can’t get people to put their phones away and stop staring at their screens, so why not present your collection directly, and make it instantly shoppable, on Instagram?  You could scarcely find a bigger fashion-obsessed and hungry audience, and the power of working with influencers in two of the largest markets – the US and UK – makes total sense.   

Emerging designers have traditionally struggled to expand their businesses on a global scale, but it’s easy to see that changing with e-commerce linked to social media.  The best bit?  It doesn’t cost a thing.  To use Insta-stories with the swipe-up function, taking the swiper straight to the brand’s e-commerce site, is free – you just need 10,000 followers to access this function.  And capturing and analysing the data generated?  That’s free too, with the help of Google Analytics. 

The key point to Sabinna’s adoption of this strategy is the vastly increased likelihood of her achieving profitability with this direct-to-consumer approach, both in terms of saving on inflated presentation costs and selling to customers without losing the retail margin of wholesaling.   Instead of following the traditional business and presentation model, where her success would rely on her PR agency and her contacts being able to bring the ‘right people’ to her show or presentation and create the right buzz, her success lies firmly within her own hands and is limited only by her creativity and commercial strategy.

What of the notion of exclusivity?  How do industry insiders – usually the first to see and critique the new season’s collections – view these non-traditional strategies that bypass them and deliver straight to the consumer?  Will they partake?  Early indications are that engaging press and buyers in this democratic manner is tough.  Those familiar with the Bloggers vs Vogue Editors furore, which I was also asked to wade into here , will know that the fashion industry is reluctant to embrace bloggers and influencers, despite the fact that their relevance to consumers and power to sell product is undeniable and trumps that of the established glossy editors – circulation figures prove this. 

Fashion Influencers Diipa Khosla and Dalal AlDoub and Blogger/Brand Ambassador Susie Lau

So does the fact that industry insiders are not giving focus to collections presented in this non-traditional matter even matter?  Materially, probably not.  But psychologically, probably.  Fashion Week has always been about who’s hot and who’s not – who is the next big thing – who is the one to watch?  Who is considered credible?  Who is intensely talented and creative and exciting?  Who is everyone talking about?  If by everyone you mean the consumer beyond the industry confines, it’s whoever wins the social media engagement race.  And that race is happening on Instagram.  

I am looking forward to the upcoming Steven Tai presentation which promises to deliver an immersive fashion showcase with LiveCGX Technology, in conjunction with ILMxLAB and the Fashion Innovation Agency, on 18th February.  Stand by for news of how that is set to shape fashion presentations and the use of new technology as a presentation and sales tool.

Bottletop’s Flagship Store – A Symbiosis of Sustainability and Tech

I know I’m not alone when I say it takes more to get me into a retail store these days than ever before.  Shopping online is the ultimate convenience, so stores have to go bold and offer something really special to get shoppers through the door.  Enter Bottletop, the sustainable luxury accessories brand with a newly launched flagship store on Regent Street sporting a KUKA robot in the window along with films telling the story of their responsibly sourced and produced products projected onto the store walls.  When it comes to fashion brands, this isn’t your average sustainability story.  Let me take a leap back and explain exactly what makes Bottletop a sustainable luxury brand and how their ethos extend from the product, to the store and then the engagement of cutting-edge robot technology in the form the KUKA LBR collaborative robot.

Render of final store – Image:  Bottletop

The Bottletop Fashion Company journey began in 2012 with co-founder Oliver Wayman’s mum picking up an up-cycled ring-pull and crochet bag in Salvador, Brazil – a neat way to fuse readily available waste and the craft of crochet, making a light and strong bag – and led to a partnership with artisans in Brazil that has grown into an atelier producing the brand’s signature products and developing new materials for future product lines.  Bottletop bags are made from discarded ring-pulls sourced in Brazil, along with locally sourced yarns for crochet and responsibly produced Brazilian leathers that are certified ‘Amazon Zero Deforestation‘, guaranteeing zero impact on protected forests from cattle farming and grazing.  Underpinning Bottletop’s fashion brand is the Bottletop Foundation, founded in 2002 by Oliver’s co-founder, Cameron Saul, which raises funds for social enterprise initiatives across Africa, Brazil and the UK.

So what spurred a sustainable fashion duo to delve into the world of robotics and 3D printed interiors for the launch of their flagship store in December this year?  At least in part, for reasons mentioned in my opening paragraph – retail needs to offer customers an experience and tell a story – but also because they wanted to do something different and juxtapose the hand-made natural elements of their products with a very high tech interior, according to Oliver.  “Using natural, sustainable materials would have been an obvious thing to do” he explained, but they wanted to be more ambitious than that, and offer their customers something unexpected.  A brain-storming session between Oliver and a friend Paolo Zilli at Zaha Hadid led to a discussion with KRA– USE ARCHITECTS, who were already exploring robotic manufacturing, and inspired the Bottletop team to delve into this brave new robo-tech retail world.  The team of collaborators then grew to include AI-build who are 3D printing interior surfaces designed by KRA– USE ARCHITECTS and Reflow who created the 3D printing filament from 100% recycled plastic.  The primary purpose of Oliver and Cameron’s tech-led shop fit and KUKA installation is to use technology as a storytelling tool and to foster an understanding amongst consumers about the place that new technologies have in our world and within their business – in this case facilitating the use of a new and exciting recycled plastic material in their store design and build.

A 3D printed wall panel shaped to hold bag handles for display

The instore storytelling of the Bottletop brand begins from the window display, featuring signature Paco Rabanne-esque ring-pull ‘‘bellani’ bags and the enamelled ‘Mistura’ clutches developed in collaboration with Narcisco Rodriguez, amongst which moves a KUKA robot 3D printing bag charms from 100% recycled plastic.  This recycled PET plastic was created from plastic bottles rescued from the ocean and processed into a thin printable plastic tube – a 3D printing filament.  The concept is akin to Parley for the Oceans collaboration with Adidas, which used plastic yarn in trainers and clothing, but instead of spinning the recovered plastic bottles into a yarn, Bottletop collaborators Reflow have processed the plastic into a continuous plastic filament, which the KUKA robot heats and extrudes through a 3D printing ‘gripper’ attachment fixed to the end of the robot arm that prints the bag charms by depositing successive layers of molten plastic – known as additive manufacturing.

In store, working alongside the robot was Daghan Cam of AI Build, who explained that in contrast to usual 3D printing filaments made from non-recycled plastic (including PLA), the recycled plastic filament is trickier to work with and has slightly different structural properties;  And here lies the commonality between Bottletop’s sustainable hybrid ring-pull/crochet/leather materials and this new recycled filament  – the experimentation to develop these new materials is a long and complex process, requiring considerable R&D and bags (pardon the pun) of passion and perseverance.  Oliver and Cameron have it in droves and as they talk me through the store’s 100% recycled rubber flooring and show me samples of the interior walls currently being printed at AI Build, to the products themselves, their dedication to both sustainable hand craft and cutting-edge technology, symbiotically, is inspiring. See how the product is made here.

It was a fitting choice to select a KUKA LBR robot to 3D print the bag charms in the shop window.  Working harmoniously alongside humans in a collaborative manner is the exact purpose of the KUKA LBR, with its inbuilt sensors to stop on contact, preventing it from causing injury to humans and with the absence of trap hazards for human hands, allowing easy and safe collaboration.  We undoubtedly have a growing dependence on technology and robots (although they are usually behind the scenes, carrying out repetitive manufacturing tasks unbeknown to most consumers), so seeing the KUKA LBR used as a creative tool to produce 100% recycled (and recyclable) products was a lovely example of cutting-edge tech enabling sustainable manufacturing.

KUKA LBR with Daghan from AI Build

The store interiors will be installed over the coming weeks, acting as a live installation, punctuated by the official launch last week at the Regent Street Store.  Attended by Mira Duma of Future Tech Lab FTL, Livia Firth of EcoAge and Professors Sandy Black and Dilys Williams of the Centre for Sustainable Fashion at London College of Fashion amongst other instrumental fashion and sustainability pioneers, the launch demonstrated how fusing fashion, technology and sustainability requires a commercial, creative and academic effort.  It was an interesting and enlightening night, with Oliver and Cameron proudly declaring Bottletop the first sustainable luxury brand on Regent Street.

party shots Image top: Left – Oliver Wayman, Right – Cameron Saul.  Above, the Bottletop Store launch party

Oliver and Cameron are excited about building the interior walls as a live installation that shoppers can see evolve, and I went behind the scenes to see some of the 100 wall panels being 3D printed by the KUKA KR90 6 axis arms at AI Build in East London.  The panels each take 7 hours to print and are individually sanded along the edges before being joined to create a unified wall panel for the store.  700 kg of 100% recycled plastic are going into the printing of the interiors at what Oli confirmed was the equivalent of around 60,000 recycled plastic bottles.  I also saw a demo of the 3D printed ceiling structure which is embedded with reclaimed cans in the store and captured in the shots below.

Behind the scenes at AI Build

The interior installation in store is expected to continue into mid-January, so be sure to pop in and see it evolve, alongside the KUKA LBR busily 3D printing  bag charms in the store window.

Header image and all images not otherwise credited: Techstyler

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Back to the Future: Wired’s Next Generation and Reflections on Prometheus

Looking back to look forward, here’s the first instalment in a round-up of inspiring and enlightening talks from Wired Next Generation at London’s Tobacco Docks.  2015 offered up a hint of what’s to come in 2016.  Brace yourselves.  It’s techtastic!

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Start early, said Jordan Casey, the teen from Waterford in Ireland. He taught himself to code aged 9 after convincing his grandma to buy him a book about building websites. He was playing a game called Club Penguin at the time and wanted to make his own video games. He learnt HTML code then decided he wanted to make apps – but he’d need a mac for that.  Jordan asked his parents for one, but they didn’t understand why he needed a Mac – he already had a perfectly decent computer.  Jordan’s entrepreneurial spirit extended to writing a fake letter from an ‘Apple executive’ to his parents explaining he needed a Mac to progress with coding and create apps.  They promptly bought said Mac.  Jordan then went on to create his first app, the game Alien Ball VS Humans, which shot to the top of the iTunes chart, with Minecraft slotted in below at number three. Not bad.

I watched the film Prometheus last night (better late than never) and it strikes me that humans messing with the aliens is a recurring theme and point of interest as we hurtle into our tech-driven future.  More on that later.

Jordan is currently growing his business, Casey Games, travelling around the world and encouraging teens to follow their dreams.  “If you know what you want to do, don’t wait!” he says.  Now 15, he admits his age means he’s not always taken seriously, particularly when trying to gain investment, but he is firmly focussed on the end goal and that motivates him to continue.  I was lucky enough to grab a snap with Jordan after his inspiring talk.

IMG_6202Jordan and I

Hyeonseo Lee offers a personal and moving insight into life under the oppressive North Korean regime. Following a life well into her teens of seeing people tortured and publicly executed for speaking out about injustice, she secretly watched TV broadcasts from neighbouring China on her television while shielding herself from the outside world in her bedroom, sealing the windows with thick curtains so that the flickering light couldn’t be seen.  By viewing Chinese TV broadcasts she realised that she had been brain-washed by her government and that oppression, human suffering and murder were wrong – until then they were a ‘normal’ part of daily life.  Looking around the audience at Wired Next Generation I see hundreds of bright eyes apparently trying to process the difficulty and horror Hyeonseo has experienced.  I also sense a collective understanding of how important her story is and that opportunity and freedom are the most important privilege and right that we have. Hyeonseo’s talk can inspire us to appreciate, aim high and share our stories.  Given that she had to unlearn 17 years of false propaganda-driven education in order to begin her tertiary education in South Korea and eventually share her experiences further abroad, her story is an extraordinary one.

IMG_6164IMG_6167Hyeonseo Lee

The propulsion of rockets in space hasn’t innovated much since the 1920’s and our current rockets are propelled chemically and electrically.  Ryan Weed’s company Positron Dynamics proposes a new type of fuel – energy generated by combining antimatter (positrons) and matter, which results in huge amounts of energy that if harnessed, could reduce the duration of a flight to Mars from months to minutes.  Currently it takes 10 years to get to Pluto.  Antimatter-generated energy would make this journey 1000 times faster.  By my calculation, that means the journey to Pluto would be reduced from 3642.5 days (87,420 hours) to 3.64 days (87.5 hours).  Voyager One currently takes 45 minutes to travel around the world but using this new energy source it would take 3 seconds.

In a nutshell, this means that with our existing understanding of physics we could use this antimatter-generated energy to travel to outer-space within our lifetime – you, me, our friends and family.  It’s exciting stuff and brings us another leap closer to outer space and life beyond Earth.  It also makes me think about sci-fi film portrayals of outer space. As mentioned, I watched Prometheus last night.  Set in 2089-2093 and with a 2.5 year fictional journey back to Earth from an unnamed planet (suggested to be in outer space) I wonder whether this ‘futuristic’ estimation is already vastly outdated.  In 2093 it will almost certainly take only days or weeks to reach outer space, based on antimatter energy calculations.  The overriding suggestion of impending doom and desolation brought by isolation and distance between planets will no longer hold up as outer space becomes accessible – It will be an extension of our lives on earth.

Ryan Weed explains the phenomenon of antimatter annihilation in his Jaguar sponsored video with Wired, filmed at the European Space Station. This is quite literally rocket science and we are going Interstellar!  I’m inclined to start designing a collection of space flight-ready jumpsuits right now (I am a huge fan of pilot, boiler and jump suits, as documented on my Instagram feed and that of my fashion label).

IMG_6236Ryan Weed WiredRyan Weed of Positron Dynamics – Wired 2015

janty-yates-Costume-Designer-PrometheusJanty Yates’ space suits for Prometheus: pics-about-space.com

Bradley L. Garrett is a social geographer and urban adventurer with a penchant for exploring the derelict and condemned.  He scours the underbelly of our great city, revealing forgotten spaces and initiating dialogues about how those spaces could be used in the future.  The spaces he has explored (without permission, he says adding to the thrill and excitement of the adventure) include 14 abandoned tube stations, see Aldwych (below) and Battersea Power Station.  The underground cavities of London tell us about the infrastructure of our city and how things function above ground.  He encourages all of us to go and explore (cue horrified faces on parents of eager teens in the audience).

IMG_6171IMG_6176Bradley’s images of power cables and an intact section of Aldwych station


20120604-rd7c121620120604-rd7c1063National Grid Excavation, East London: bradleygarrett.com

imgl0047imgl0056Finsbury Park Reservoir, North London: bradleygarrett.com

rd7c6542rd7c6510Aldwych disused Tube station, London : bradleygarrett.com

See more incredible images from Bradley’s European-wide adventures on his website.

Stand by for the second instalment.  And Happy New Year!

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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.

00070big_1Fyodor Golan Fashion Fringe Winning Collection, 2011

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.

IMG_6750Fyodor Golan Resort S/S16 postcards

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)

Kin_FG_01SS15 FG x Microsoft + Nokia Lumia

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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my_little_pony_sabor_abbigliamento_licenzatarioA/W 15 collection in stores now

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.

IMG_6711Golan and the ‘front row’ Transformer

IMG_6715FG x Kat Maconie S/S 16

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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