How Can Natural Fabrics Be Engineered to Perform Like Synthetic Materials?

Originally published on Eco Age.

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Images by Mirum™ by NFW

Techstyler founder Brooke Roberts-Islam looks into the technological innovation of Nature Fibre Welding Inc. that creates recycled natural materials with the durability of synthetic fibres. 

There is an inbuilt (and frustrating) trade-off when choosing textiles for fashion design. There are, broadly, two options: natural fibres, which offer a luxurious feel and biodegradability (including wool, cashmere and cotton), and there are synthetic fibres, which tend to outperform natural fibres due to their hardy, abrasion resistant properties and offer a more technical look and feel perfect for sportswear, for example. Both fibre types have merits (which is why they are so often blended together), but this forces a compromise either on the sustainability credentials or performance of the final product. What if we could harness the performance characteristics of synthetic fibres and apply this to natural fibres? What would that mean for the use of synthetic textiles in the future?

A US-based tech company has come up with one such solution. Nature Fibre Welding Inc. (NFW) uses textile bioengineering to not only recycle natural materials, including cotton, but to align the fibres into yarns to enhance their performance characteristics. To do this, NFW uses a closed-loop chemical process (using intrinsically safe chemicals) to open the fibers at a molecular level and then fuse them together. It’s this ‘rearrangement’ that gives the natural fibres synthetic-like performance properties. To say that this is a potential game-changer is an understatement. Funded by the US Department of Defense (DoD) and part of the Fashion For Good Scaling Programme, NFW have expanded the limits of biology, chemistry and in doing so, the limits of fashion.

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Their patented scalable processes has been described as being able to “tune” natural materials in ways not possible with any other technology. This tuning is possible because their chemical process effectively glues fibres together (without using synthetics or resins), connecting natural fibres in the way that synthetic fibres are typically formed. Tuning is used to describe the welding process because performance and functionality of the fabrics can be precisely controlled, meaning the resulting natural fibres can replace man-made fibres previously best able to deliver such characteristics. As a result, with natural performance fabrics able to replace petroleum-based ones, the problems associated with plastic microfiber pollution can be eliminated. This is an incredible break-through in terms of circular economy, as the fibres, and NFW fabrics, remain 100% biodegradable and recyclable.

In addition to making performance fabrics, NFW is also utilising textile waste to create materials that look, feel and perform like leather. Unlike many other vegan leather-like materials on the market, Natural Fiber Welding is able to achieve high performance luxury materials using plant-based sources only, eliminating all synthetics. This is in contrast to popular vegan leather alternatives currently on the market which typically contain polyurethane. “Unfortunately, many new vegan and faux leather products are really just natural fibers coated with polyurethane and other non-biodegradable plastics.” explained Dr. Luke Haverhals, Founder and CEO, Natural Fiber Welding Inc.

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Digging into scalability and commerciality, NFW have established waste channels from discarded textiles already being collected and available within the textile supply chain. They have worked extensively on their leather-alternative, launched as Mirum, but not yet commercially available. On the subject of pricing, although this information is not yet available, Haverhals recently said in an interview that only large scale adoption can have the large scale impact on the environment they seek to achieve, and subsequently “To change the world, you have to have price points that are relevant to the masses.” This underlines the company’s commitment to creating materials suitable for brands spanning all market sectors, from luxury through to value fashion brands.

In terms of relative energy use and the carbon footprint of the materials NFW creates (which are not yet commercially available, as mentioned) this is currently difficult to determine. A full Life Cycle Analysis upon commercial launch of the materials would be the definitive way of hailing this as the most viable solution for achieving global material circularity in the fashion industry. Happily, all elements of their process point to low impact and superior performance. NFW are one to watch for 2020.

Sustainability Gamechangers: The Innovations Set to Shape the Future of Fashion This November

Originally published on Eco-Age.

In a new monthly column, Techstyler founder Brooke Roberts-Islam curates a ‘must-know’ list of the innovations set to shape the future of sustainable fashion. Dedicated to positive change, Brooke highlights what is being done right now to transform the fashion industry.  

The challenges we face, as fashion industry professionals and consumers, are vast and complex when it comes to changing consumption behaviours and designing and implementing sustainable solutions to save our planet. As individuals, this can feel like an insurmountable task, but there are teams of scientists, designers, engineers and organisations around the world who are making vast strides towards a truly sustainable fashion future.

The global fashion supply chain typically operates in an opaque manner, which has historically been a barrier to traceability and authentication of the origins of materials. As a result, it can be difficult to prove whether materials are from ecologically sound and sustainable sources. This means that sustainably produced fibres, although they are the gold standard, can not always easily prove their provenance. This, in turn, means there risking a reduced incentive for creating sustainable fibres from a business point of view. Imagine being able to trace the origins of textiles fibre throughout the supply chain from source to the final garment. 

Good news. A ​US company is patenting a process to tag the DNA in cellulose​ materials so that they can be tracked across the supply chain, delivering 100% transparency from raw fibre, through to end of garment life. It is the ultimate tool for transparency and proof of provenance of all cellulose-based textiles (ie. cotton, viscose, lyocell, linen, hemp) and it beats blockchain because there’s no risk of human error (as blockchain relies on human input and validation).

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Image: Cellulose as raw fibre

We are all by now familiar with the recycling of plastic PET bottles to turn into yarns for clothing and footwear, however these recycled fibres are now expanding into a new segment – insulation.  ​Primaloft has partnered with Parley for the Oceans​ to develop insulation made from repurposed plastic bottles found on the coasts of remote islands. Insulation for outerwear is a relatively new waste stream for recycled materials that could see the lifespan of recycled garments increased (due to use in outerwear garments, which we tend to keep and wear for longer). Outerwear is also laundered less, so results in reduced micro-plastic shedding into wastewater compared to when recycled PET is used in everyday clothing. 

One of the smartest ways to go zero waste is to use digital garment sampling in place of physical sampling. This is already in use at some brands, but software company Browzwear have taken this a step further by working with a jeans finishing company to create digital denim ‘washes’ and ‘effects’ that mimic physical denim treatments. Browzwear 3D digital design software now integrates photographic-quality rendering of Jeanologia​’s water and chemical-free laser finishes, reducing the need for physical samples to test the final jean look. This saves time, money, and textile waste, as well as carbon emissions from transporting samples across the globe. After 20 years of implementing software solutions, the adoption of Browzwear’s 3D design in place of physical sampling is picking up speed in line with growing sustainability pressures across the industry. This means that digital design has the power to provide immediate and drastic (and measurable)carbon emission reductions.

 

Also in the jeans sphere, ​DryIndigo technology​ is a denim dyeing process invented in by Tejidos Royot in Spain, that has saved more than ​one million liters​ of water since launching in 2018. DryIndigo uses 0% water in the dyeing process and reduces energy consumption by 65% during manufacture. It uses 89% less chemical products, and completely eliminates waste water discharge. Producing a single pair of jeans with conventional dyeing methods uses approximately the same amount of water that an average person would drink in seven years. DryIndigo technology, and its growing adoption in manufacturing, ​means it has the potential to turn one of the world’s most unsustainable (but loved) fashion products into a sustainable wardrobe hero. 

In terms of turning waste into high value products and advancing the circular economy, Spinnova have developed the world’s first straw-based textile​ which performs similarly to other plant-based textiles, but is much lower impact in terms of growth and extraction from the land. Straw has the potential to replace a portion of cotton production because exists globally as a byproduct of grain growth in agriculture. At the moment this straw is mostly burned or left to biodegrade, so this is an opportunity to harness unused low-impact waste and reduce the water-intensive and nutrient depleting production of cotton. 

With much of the sustainability discourse centered on the challenges and problems, these innovations demonstrate significant progress and cause for optimism. Stay tuned for the next edition of sustainability game-changers in December. 

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. 

Why The Key To A Sustainable Planet Is Combining Biology and Design

Originally published on Eco-Age.

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Image: Piero D Angelo – Biodesign Here Now exhibitor

Fashion tech innovator, writer and public speaker Brooke Roberts-Islam investigates how a movement of biologists and designers are working to replicate nature’s design systems to create sustainable biodesigns and biomaterials for the future health of people and planet. 

Every day, we learn more about how our homes, transport and fashion and beauty products are becoming more sustainable. However, many of these sustainable solutions are chipping away at the global climate change problem, providing retro-fitted partial fixes. With the urgency proven by recent collective measures at the G7 summit, the outcry at the burning Amazon and ongoing ocean plastic cleanup efforts, it’s clear that whilst every positive action to reduce impact is a step in the right direction, ultimately, we need end-to-end sustainable systems to achieve the sweeping change that will secure our planet’s future. Put simply, we need to design and create and consume in a fully sustainable way. 

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Image: Aurelie Fontan – Biodesign Here Now Exhibitor

To this end, there is a passionate movement of biologists and designers studying and replicating the ‘design systems’ that exist in nature in an effort to apply these to how we design the cities, homes and clothes we inhabit, and more. What are these ‘design systems’? Have we copied them in the past, and if not, why not? 

In nature, there are biological processes that create and sustain life (and materials) in a naturally efficient and organic manner. They maintain an equilibrium that only draws the energy required and creates byproducts that support other life. This is in contrast to the synthetic creation of materials, which are imbalanced in the sense that they harm rather than support other life and require disproportionate levels of energy for relatively small outputs. 

An example of this biological versus synthetic material process can be found by comparing silk to synthetic ‘silk’. The silkworm creates a cocoon of continuous silk filament around its body length (around 3 inches), giving rise to a thread that is 1,300 metres long – in just three days. To do this, it expels a sticky silk protein while moving its head in a figure eight pattern to weave the cocoon. All it needs to do this is the correct climatic conditions and its energy source – mulberry leaves. It is an extraordinary organism that creates a raw material that has uses spanning beauty creams (silk protein protects the skin), medical dressings and of course, luxurious fabrics. The raw material has several grades of product outputs and all byproducts have value, with broken and low grade cocoons providing a superior protein food source to livestock, for example. 

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Image: Blast Studios – Biodesign Here Now exhibitor

No wonder biotech companies like Bolt Threads are copying the biological blueprint of silk by using the DNA of silk proteins (bioengineered into other organisms) to manufacture silk in larger quantities in a lab, so that this high value, relatively low impact material can become more available and affordable. The resulting fabric maintains all the natural properties of silk and ideally it would eventually reduce our overdependence on cotton and synthetic substitutes. Currently, silk makes up only 0.18% of textiles used globally. The most common fabrics used in clothing are cotton and synthetics (polyester is one example). 

Prior to this biodesign effort by Bolt Threads, the industry approach to replicating silk was to create synthetic fibres and weave them in a manner that attempts to mimic the look and feel of silk. These synthetics had the added benefits of being machine washable, much less fragile, and much cheaper than silk. However, as we now know, they are also often treated as disposable – particularly in fast fashion – and this has contributed to the microplastic pollution problem, strengthening the case for more solutions like Bolt Threads bio-engineered spider silk. 

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Image: Open Cell, Shepherd’s Bush

In the UK, there is an emerging community of biologists and designers working in tandem on solutions in the same realm as Bolt Threads. Pivotal to this community are graduates from degrees such as MA Material Futures and the new MA Biodesign degree, launching at Central Saint Martins later this month. In addition, co-working lab spaces such as Open Cell in West London are making biodesign and materials research accessible to the most ambitious and creative minds at the beginning of their careers, on small budgets. 

In addition, the Biodesign Challenge launched in 2016 fosters collaboration among art, design, and biology students, helping to cultivate the first generation of bio-designers and build meaningful public dialogue about biotech and its uses. Its executive director, Daniel Grushkin, said that: “future designers must fully understand the debates surrounding biotech so when they are asked to design with it, they do so thoughtfully and ethically.” 

In September, London sees the annual design festival present the most cutting-edge product and material design to industry and consumers alike. The Biodesign Here Now exhibition at Open Cell marks the second year that biodesign has been featured prominently at the festival, with a pivotal place at the V&A as part of the Global Design Forum on September 16th, along with a launch event and free public exhibition at Open Cell on the 19th to 21st September. The aim is to share biodesign and biomaterials with the general public and allow access to the lab spaces that are catalysing this new generation of sustainable design systems. 

The work being presented includes non-toxic bacterial dyeing by Post Carbon LabLovely Trash by Blast Studios , an algae-based sustainable material by Carolyn Raff and Rosie Broadhead’s probiotic bacteria embedded into clothing, with the aim of encouraging cell renewal and improving the skin’s immune system. The work of these hybrid designer/engineer/scientists is proof that sustainable design systems that harness nature’s blueprints are crucial not only for the future health of the environment, but for humans, too.

How Designers Are Turning Food Waste Into Stunning (And Sustainable) Fashion and Furniture

Originally published on Eco-Age.

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Image: Chip[s] Board Parblex Plastic Samples – Photo credit: Chip[s] Board

Fashion tech innovator, writer and public speaker Brooke Roberts-Islam investigates the pioneering designers utilising food waste to create stylish design, furniture and accessories.

As the pressure rises to tackle our global sustainability issues we are learning more about how food waste is contributing to climate change. The Food and Agriculture Association of the United Nations reports that “Roughly one-third of the food produced in the world for human consumption every year — approximately 1.3 billion tonnes — gets lost or wasted.” Not only is this a humanitarian and social crisis, but it is also an environmental one. When we waste food, we also waste all the energy and water used to grow, harvest, transport, and package it. If the food decomposes in landfill it produces methane, which contributes to global warming. 

Fortunately, there are some brilliant initiatives that we can all sign up to, like OLIO, that allow us to donate unwanted food locally, but what of the masses of food on an industrial scale that goes to waste, sometimes before even hitting supermarket shelves? This is where ingenuity and creativity offer some of the most inspiring and effective solutions, by way of fashion, furniture and interior designers committed to smart and sustainable design. 

Chip[s] Board was co-founded by Rowan Minkley and Rob Nicoll after they conducted a series of potato waste experiments while at Kingston University, aiming to create new sustainable materials. What began in a wheelbarrow in Minkley’s back yard has now developed into a materials business with a specially designed London-based lab. They have recently produced their first collection of materials ‘ParblexTM Plastics’, combining potato waste, pine flour, coffee grounds and other waste materials into recyclable and biodegradable ‘bioplastics’, which contain no toxic chemicals. Parblex is designed to be used for fashion and interior design and has already been used in Cubitts spectacle frames, furniture and clothing fastenings. 

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Image: Chip[s]Board X Cubitts – Credit: Chip[s] Board

Mycelium materials have been emerging over the past few years, spurred on by a community of designers growing this mushroom-based material in their kitchens (from kits available online), then refining the process to industrial standards. One such designer is Adam Davies, founder of Ty Syml, who started out experimenting with the masses of unused (and naturally abundant and replenished) seaweed on his local beaches, shaping it into lampshades. He then moved on to mycelium, which he is developing for interiors and construction because of its hybrid nature that can absorb waste during the growing process.

The waste he uses to ‘feed’ the mycelium includes spent grains from the beer brewing process. Mycelium is unique in that it grows by taking in other materials (for example, the spent grains) and grows symbiotically with them, creating a naturally strong, biodegradable and compostable material that can be used for packaging, clothing, food (including plant-based ‘meat’) and construction. Mycelium, when harnessed as a technology, has the potential to provide alternatives to the plastics that are rapidly accumulating in the environment. The recent investment by Bolt Threads in developing Mylo is further evidence of its scalable commercial potential. 

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Image: Ty Smyl Mycelium Lampshade – Photo credit: Adam Davies

Perhaps one of the most unexpected material developments in recent months, which is still in the development phase, has been Clemence Grouin Rigaux’s use of butcher offcuts to develop a resin-like material suitable for furniture and homewares. Although veganism has become mainstream, global meat consumption will continue for the foreseeable future, and it gives rise to millions of tonnes of bones and other byproducts that are currently underutilised. The byproducts often end up being incinerated, releasing dangerous gases and chemicals into the atmosphere. I applaud Grouin-Rigaux’s determination to take the kind of animal waste she says we “prefer to pretend does not exist” and treat it with a sealed and safe ‘extreme heat’ process to create a biodegradable, recyclable and compostable material.

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Image: Clemence Grouin Rigaux stool and grooming products – Photo Credit: Clemence Grouin Rigaux

What’s stopping us turning all food waste into new materials and products? It’s worth noting that when materials are developed from waste the results can be difficult to predict, and this means they can be viewed as ‘imperfect’. When making a material to be used in products certain standards have to be met, so not all waste is suitable for the quality of materials required. Chip[s] Board explained this to me in a recent interview about their potato waste process. They worked with McCain potato waste during their research and development phase and the materials they created varied greatly depending on the variety of potato, where it had been grown and several other factors. No wonder we have used synthetic industrial processes for years – the process behind these ‘virgin’ materials is far easier to control and predict. 

It’s time to ramp up our efforts to harness and work with nature, though. If necessity is the mother of invention we are in very exciting times, as designers utilise all manner of food waste, from citrus peel and pineapple leaves to potato skins and grapes from wine-making to create a new generation of materials with inherent beauty and sustainability. 

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.

Our Tech Future According to Wired 2016

Continuing on from my previous article, a major theme of WIRED 2016 was humanitarianism and the refugee crisis.

Roya Mahboob is an Afghani tech entrepreneur who had her eyes opened on a trip to an internet cafe in Herat.  She talked passionately about how the internet offered her a life outside of domesticity via a tech career.  She became the first tech CEO in Afghanistan, hiring female employees (many of whom worked from home) and spoke of the challenges in firstly obtaining clients (due to a lack of confidence in the abilities of women in her country, who are largely deemed fit only for domestic life), and once she did obtain clients, a battle to be paid because her work was not valued as she is a woman.  Tension arose and she and her family received death threats from the Taliban due to her breakout career and creation of local centres to teach girls computing.  She was then forced to leave Kabul, where she had moved to from Herat.  She found an Italian/American investor (via LinkedIn) and is now based in the US and declares herself a “global digital citizen”, sharing a door to the world to women and girls in Afghanistan.  For more information about Roya’s work follow her on Twitter and see the Digital Citizen Fund.

dsc03409dsc03404Roya Mahboob

Regina Catrambone, along with her family, founded the first search and rescue boat for those fleeing danger and persecution to make the journey to southern Italy from neighbouring countries.  So devastated was she that hundreds of children and adults were being left to die on this treacherous passage that she co-founded MOAS – Migrant Offshore Aid Station.   Since 2014 MOAS has saved more than 30,000 people, the youngest being four days old.  Regina says “you cannot stop the might and the will of those looking for a chance to live.  It is impossible.  You can’t stop them.  You have to help them”.  Her speech was incredibly moving and showed how harnessing compassion and empathy can create powerful solutions and implore governments and other agencies to help solve the refugee crisis.

dsc03393Regina Catrambone

Brooklyn-based Jessica O. Matthews presented an ingenious creation – a football that stores energy from kinetic movement which then provides electricity for devices and appliances.  A game changing (I couldn’t help the pun) and simple piece of technology, it allows kids in off-grid areas to kick around a football during the day and then read books at night, continuing their studies and affording them a better chance in life.  Jessica is extending her invention to other objects such as suitcases with wheels, into which you can plug your mobile phone to charge whilst on the go.  See Uncharted Play for more information.

dsc03522Jessica O. Matthews

Psychiatrist and Aviator, Bertrand Piccard, piloted the Solar Impulse aircraft and declared that the “old world and new world are a state of mind”.  Elaborating on this, he gave a thought provoking talk that explained how a boat building company, Alinghi, created an aircraft and how the coming together of teams from diverse disciplines allowed them solve problems never before tackled.  “If you want to innovate you have to get out of the system.  What you know is a handicap”, says Bertrand.  He and his team completed an around the world journey, travelling 40,000 km without fuel, proving that the capabilities of solar power are beyond our current usage.  He provided inspiration, and a challenge, to those dismissing renewable energies and highlighted the current work of Elon Musk in bringing solar power into the transportation industry on a commercial level.

dsc03458Bertrand Piccard

Wired has come to a close, leaving an echo that says I can’t keep doing things the same way.  Knowing what I now know, and looking at how I have done things in the past, it’s time to adjust and apply new ways of thinking and creating.  The talks catalyse new trains of thought and ignite the will to try new technologies, or apply existing ones in new ways.  

Wired joins some of the biggest global moving dots with speakers from all over the world giving us a picture of where we are right now in terms of advancing new medical technologies, solving environmental issues, achieving universally acceptable levels of education, battling the refugee crisis, reaching space commercially, using AI to diagnose diseases, fighting hate, racial discrimination and sexism, and connecting people using VR to solve social issues – and it provides the inspiration to contribute to solving these problems.

I’m going to stop talking and start doing.  The effects of the above paragraph will be revealed over the coming weeks and months on these pages, my Huffington Post blog and in a soon to be launched new venture.

What will you do today?

Watch snippets and read summaries of all the speakers at Wired here

Headline image:  COLLAPSE PROJECT  Photo: Techstyler

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