biomaterial dress

HOW FASHION GRADUATE SCARLETT YANG’S DIGITAL BIOMATERIALS FUSE NATURE AND TECHNOLOGY

At 24 years of age, Central Saint Martins womenswear BA graduate Scarlett Yang has achieved a First class honours, been interviewed by a plethora of media publications including Vogue, Dezeen and The Future Laboratory, and exhibited her work in four countries. In October alone, Yang’s work was showcased at virtual Dutch Design Week and Kyoto Design Lab Gallery’s Alternative Futures exhibit. This is a considerable feat: the former is the largest annual design event in Northern Europe, while the Kyoto Design Lab is considered to be an incubator where traditional Japanese makers and tech startups join forces to innovate design and architecture. So why all the buzz?

A self-described multi-disciplinary designer and creative technologist, Yang stunned virtual audiences with her final collection online showcase on Central Saint Martins’ digital platform, titled Decomposition of Materiality and Identities. Themed around nature and driven by a desire to create “a circular ecosystem where garments grow, decompose and shape-change throughout time and changing environment,” Yang’s collection raises the industry’s ambitions for sustainable, ecological design. In response to the college’s post-lockdown digital submission requirements, the designer presented a showcase animation film. In this, Yang simulated how her biodegradable dress- made from a 3D printed algae biomaterial (any material that is wholly or partly made from biomass, such as trees, plants or animals)- would change shape and disintegrate when exposed to varying humidity and temperature levels. After her innovative showcase, Yang, who is originally from Hong Kong, was awarded the LVMH Maison/0 Green Trail 2020 Prize and The Mills Sustainability 2020 Prize

Matryoshka Wadhwani models Yang's glass-like biomaterial dress at the seaside for the lookbook photoshoot  ©Scarlett Yang, 2020
Matryoshka Wadhwani in glass-like biomaterial dress ©Scarlett Yang, 2020

But what does Yang’s combined digital/biomaterial approach to design mean for the future of sustainable materials and the fashion industry at large? Is her glass-like biomaterial a feasible alternative to traditional natural and synthetic materials for making physical clothes? If so, what would it take to get these pieces into our wardrobes? And on the digital side, is Yang offering us merely a window into her process and the circular life cycle of the proposed products via Decomposed Materiality, or is she also offering us digital fashion that we could download and consume in virtual, online realms?   

Your idea to combine biomaterials and digital fashion design for your final collection was motivated by your awareness of the vast quantities of textile waste generated by the fashion industry. When did you first encounter this?

Holistically, it was during my first year at Central Saint Martins when I discovered the different kinds of waste generated by the fashion industry. Textile waste is a huge problem, but I’m also concerned about the labour and energy waste that is a by-product of this industry. The system feels a little outdated and lacks crucial innovation. 

You researched and developed a biomaterial which you aptly coined as serpentine lace. Is this a new, original material?

The algae-based biomaterial already exists; the recipe is all over the internet. However, as far as I am aware, my method of casting it into a lace structure using a 3D printing mould and use of silk cocoon protein to make it hydrophobic (resistant to water) is original. 

©Scarlett Yang, 2020

In your interview with Dezeen, you said your biomaterial could also be used to make interior products and packaging materials. Are you planning on developing it further during your MS, Innovation Science Engineering at Imperial College London and the Royal College of Art? 

Yes, I have begun the research journey of developing a multi-purpose biomaterial, and I am using my Master’s degree as an opportunity to establish a new, streamlined system of designing with lab-grown materials. The goal is to invent an efficient production system that combines the materials, software and machinery necessary for this modern, hybrid method of design. 

What was your process of designing the silhouettes for your final collection? 

At first, I drew sketches by hand, but I quickly realised that the digital way of sketching was more appropriate for my concept. My collection is themed around nature and its chaotic behaviour, so pencil drawings felt too conscious and predictable. On Cinema 4D, (a 3D software for modelling, painting, rendering and animation) I created 3D simulation sketches using biomaterials from my archive of work as a Sustainability Designer. I made hundreds of duplicates of a 3D female model which I positioned side by side, and then dressed with randomly different simulated fabrics of varying texture, shape and properties onto each model. When I clicked the simulate function, Cinema 4D would simulate hundreds of different results based on the different properties of each of the fabrics. Then I ended up with hundreds of different shapes, which formed the foundation of my silhouettes. I did this design and development stage on Cinema 4D as opposed to CLO3D because I feel that the latter’s linear functionality results in mediocre design.

“I did this design and development stage on Cinema 4D as opposed to (using other software whose) linear functionality results in mediocre design.”

SCARLETT YANG

What software did you use to create the animation film, and what was your process?

I created the entire animation film on Cinema 4D. I used the sculpting tools and cloth simulation the most, as well as the physical engine generating wind forces onto the textiles. Personally, I prefer three-dimensional draping directly on mannequins in physical fashion design, so that translated well to virtual fabric sculpting with digital tools. 

To reference biological growth and decay processes, I engineered randomised factors to mimic and generate textile shapes. I then programmed collisions between the fabrics and simulated bodies to create unexpected draping and silhouettes, with various texture qualities (density, weight, size, elasticity, etc.) Afterwards, I selected a handful of design drafts from over 700 generated simulations. As my final collection was half digital half physical, I frequently switched between design with bio elements and algorithms. In a way, this dual design method informed my final 3D video presentation as the decomposition aspects were iteratively being tested in real life, and then simulated onto virtual versions of the garment in the film. 

©Scarlett Yang, 2020

Do you think that your Asian heritage and upbringing in Hong Kong encouraged your interests in technological innovation and your approach to design? 

Definitely – modern Chinese culture encourages the use of technology to improve quality of life. Over there, people are not afraid to take risks and introduce new methods of thinking or working. I am mainly referring to Shenzhen, China mainland – a city I spent time in during my teenage years. It’s known as the ‘Silicon alley’ of China; innovations are constantly happening in the city, in electronics, manufacturing, software and more. I grew up around a culture of reflection, speculation and critical thinking with regards to existing infrastructures, and I’m sure that has fed into my own approach to design and fashion.

Before the United Kingdom went under lockdown in March 2020, did you intend to stage a live metamorphosis of your garments on the Central Saint Martins BA Fashion catwalk akin to Hussein Chalayan’s One Hundred and Eleven Spring/Summer 2007 show?

Definitely, at the beginning of the year, I told my tutors that I wanted to create a biodegradable collection that would completely decompose during the runway. That was the point; to prove that a physical collection was unnecessary. However, due to the school admin system, this would have meant that my collection would not have been graded and I would not have graduated! 

If you had a role in the fashion industry working with global brands, what would you do and what would you change?

I would mainly see myself working towards bridging the traditional fashion industry and other disciplines. I would push to collaborate with other innovators and researchers (particularly in science and technology) to improve current processes and ways of working. Learning from a different discipline brings perspective and questions which can inform your own practice, and sometimes an ambitious idea or raw concept requires a scientific method to realise. I think multi-disciplinary initiatives should definitely be encouraged more in the fashion industry to enable more people to access techniques, skills and knowledge that would otherwise be difficult to obtain. I would also push for more experimentation with the aspects of virtual fashion I explore in my practice, and finally, I would encourage these global brands to be fully transparent about their processes.

Biomaterial Development Process ©Scarlett Yang, 2020

In a turbulent year in which it took a pandemic to force and encourage many established fashion designers to think of virtual ways to showcase collections during fashion week, it is vital to recognise the ambitious fashion students who have since developed novel, self-taught sustainability solutions using 3D design and animation, artificial intelligence and augmented reality tools. Fellow Central Saint Martins alumnus Paul Aubrey Parnell and Birmingham City University graduate Shannon McGowan are part of a growing number of fashion graduates who turned the lockdown to their advantage. They saw it as an opportunity to integrate 3D digital design practices in their final collections as an alternative to traditional craft and garment making techniques, many of which were impacted by government restrictions. Their self-directed, small scale developments make the fashion industry’s rate of innovation and digital transformation look somewhat glacial by comparison. What makes Yang’s practice so appealing is its potential sustainability implications beyond fashion; if her Master’s degree goes to plan, we could expect to see the designer innovating materials that could transform product design and architecture too. The challenge that Yang and like-minded designers face is ensuring that their clothes balance the urgent need for sustainable alternatives to fossil fuel-derived and non-biodegradable materials with longevity and scalability so that having them in our wardrobes is a real possibility.

By Dayna Tohidi

How Fashion Graduate Aubrey Parnell Is Using 3D Design To Explore Fashion Without Limits

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Aubrey Parnell is a graduate of CSM, where he studied Fashion Design with Marketing. His final collection, The Fold, is inspired by the physics-defying paintings of René Magritte and M.C. Escher, taking place in a utopian world between the sky and the stars and inhabited by inter-dimensional beings. Parnell achieved this by meticulously creating 3D digital garments worn by animated avatars akin to mythical gods. Most of the looks are silicone 3D-printed suits with heavy embellishment at the skin-tight level, with diaphanous, ethereal outerwear taking the form of origami. The processes of creation for his designs included: cutting and folding fabric, bead embellishment, laser cutting and layering, 3D printing and casting, and virtual sculpting. 

Parnell originally wanted to make real clothes whilst also presenting their digital simulations. The designer’s process was upheaved, however, by the pandemic’s closure of the factory that made his chosen fabric (an especially stiff organdie) and the cancellation of the CSM final-year fashion show, which would have been an opportunity to showcase the Class of 2020’s hard work. Despite the setbacks he experienced, Parnell managed to create transcendent designs that were made possible through the endless creative exploration offered by 3D digital design methods. 

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What was the inspiration behind your collection?

I got into fashion design from mathematics: I loved geometry, trigonometry, origami. When I was younger I wanted to be a maths teacher. So a lot of the collection comes from making complex pleats and folds. It’s still fashion, but with quite a mathematical approach. I also like the concept of magic, aliens, otherworldly things. By bridging fashion and video gaming, my designs could have that fantastical, costume-y, sci-fi element.

What software did you use in creating your designs? Were there any challenges?

I started with CLO3D and Marvelous Designer, which is what I use when I do other people’s work (i.e. virtual product visualisation for small clothing and accessory brands alongside developing assets for video games – not just clothing but also environmental pieces like trees and flowers.) I was having trouble doing the pleats that I wanted because there were so many, I needed the folds to be exact. My design was so complex that no clothing simulator could handle all the vertices needed to make the garment. So I went to a regular 3D modelling software called Blender, which is a free one, and I used it to model to garment from scratch. I liked it so I ended up using it a lot. It was difficult because I had to animate everything by hand, frame by frame, which took ages, but it was much easier to model the pleats.

What led you to choose digital fashion design over traditional methods? Was it an unexpected solution to the limitations of COVID-19 or had you been interested in 3D design before?

I’d been doing it [digital design] for a couple of years now. Before I started university, I’d already been pattern-cutting for several years, since I started working as an assistant tailor at 14. Now it’s been almost 10 years. And so I was quite ahead of the game construction-wise. A lot of projects at CSM are theory and sketchbook based, they don’t teach a lot of construction. At first, I found it quite frustrating, but I came to accept it. The final goal for each project was a photograph of the garment. I thought if I could create something digitally, I wouldn’t have to spend money on fabric. I could just do it all on my computer. So I started doing that and turning them in and sort of tricking my tutors, *laughs* saying “Yeah, this is totally real!” That way I saved money and saved time.

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It must have been bittersweet to have your last year cut short; how did you feel?

You’re looking forward to doing this final collection, I knew I was going to spend so much money making it. I’d already ordered maybe half of the fabrics and started doing stuff when they gave us the news that the final show wasn’t going to happen. I told myself: “Well, you know what, I’m saving so much money on models and more fabric and everything else.” Though it was a bummer. I wasn’t quite happy with the way they presented it online, but it’s the first time they’re doing this, it’ll get more and more interesting as it goes on. I missed sharing the experience with my classmates. It was a weird feeling not being able to see them, this family you’d been with for 5 years in some cases. So it was sad to leave without saying goodbye.

How did you overcome the obstacles of designing in lockdown? Was it difficult to stay motivated and in touch with your creativity?

It definitely was for me. I talked to a lot of fellow students about this as well. Designing has always been something that’s about feelings, it’s this feeling that you chase. It’s something you’re doing together as a group, it’s exciting and creative and inventive. When you’re doing it by yourself, for your own brand, it can feel really selfish in a way, as if you’re not really contributing. Especially when you’re getting messages like “We need people on the front line to help fight COVID” and things like that. And so lots of my friends and I were feeling – not quite guilty – but as if we needed to create something that said something and wasn’t going to impact fashion in a negative way. In terms of designing in lockdown, I had hired a studio but I ended the lease and ended up doing everything from my own bedroom. It was hard to be in the same space the whole time, and also feeling like there was no break from this project. You just have to get over it, find the things that excite you, and chase those things.

How do you want to see the fashion industry change? Is it already changing or is this evolution merely superficial (for example in terms of sustainability)?

When I first started doing fashion and submitted my application to CSM I put in zero-waste patterns. And when I first came to the university, I did a lot of zero-waste patterning projects and no one seemed to care. I think part of it was a lack of understanding of how it worked or what it meant. Last year we shared virtual fashion at London Fashion Week and we got very mixed responses. Generally, people thought it wouldn’t really catch on. And then cut to 6 months later, everyone’s doing it. So I don’t know… Part of me is worried that it’ll be a phase, because I believe that the tools aren’t quite ready yet. I think there are some software and hardware things that need to be worked out still. Whether that’ll be accelerated because now there’s more interest or whether it’s a fad that’ll die out, it’s something that I’m always interested in and will continue doing. I do worry that general interest may decrease after this pandemic comes to a close.

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What is your plan after graduation? How do you feel about going into the industry during this uncertain time? 

I was looking for jobs as soon as I finished – and before I finished actually – and had some things lined up but a lot of it fell through, with people unable to hire due to a lack of funding because of COVID. Now I’m just doing a lot of freelancing and consultancy. That works for now but I’d like to find something more permanent because I love working as a team. A lot of people are in that boat now, most of my friends are either doing freelancing or starting a MA.

Is 3D fashion design the future?

I think we’d like it to be. There’s such a huge pushback because people want to feel a physical sample, try it on, feel the fit. I think fashion’s going to move in 2 different ways: I think people will be wearing more sportswear and then the other extreme, couture, that maybe could only exist virtually. I quite like this idea. Maybe I’ll just live in a tracksuit all the time and have virtual clothes. I don’t know if people will design 100% virtually. Certainly for major companies like Zara, who order the same styles quite frequently and just change minor things, virtual would provide a good alternative for them so they don’t have to sample the same stuff over and over.

What about digital fashion from end-to-end (meaning no physical product is made)? 

I love that, that’s what I’m mainly into now. I’m almost trying to get out of fashion. You see all these crazy figures like if we stop producing clothes now we’ll have enough for 100 years. It shows you there’s no really sustainable way to produce clothes, so I might as well do something else with it. I’m doing a lot of character and skin design right now for people. A lot of people are staying at home and they want to have their personalised virtual avatars. So I’m doing stuff like that for games such as Fortnite. People pay so much money for it, sometimes more than what I pay for physical clothes, which is crazy.

Lastly, what do you think digital fashion means for sustainability?

It cuts out the sampling, that’s a fact. Also things like transportation and material cost. But it’s always important to remind people of the cost of producing the machinery and then powering the technology that enables you to do the work. I mean if I could live on an island with solar panels or something, *laughs* have a little farm and do my virtual clothing, that’d be the dream.

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Parnell touches on the difficulties of being a designer during these times: in terms of the lack of stable employment opportunities post-degree, but also in coming to terms with whether it’s even right to create fashion against such a chaotic backdrop. (Though his 3D design skills give him an avenue to work with brands in the booming digital gaming arena.) He and other young designers feel reservations about creating new garments when there is arguably no need for them – we are already saturated with textile waste. Parnell’s existing knowledge of pattern cutting and construction gave him an advantage in this space. Whereas many of his peers were likely learning pattern cutting and construction at the same time as trying to teach themselves 3D design, he was able to simply apply his skills to 3D digital software. That’s why Parnell found creative release in 3D design; with ongoing sustainability imperatives and expanding digital design tools, designers can explore fashion unhindered by real-world limitations. His vision for the future of fashion is an interesting one: physical clothes being comprised almost exclusively of sportswear whilst the traditional fantasy of couture takes place in the virtual world. Considering how many fashion fanatics and industry outsiders already consume high fashion solely through a computer screen, it’s a plausible idea. In any case, even though digital fashion falls short of being the “100% sustainable” solution that we want it to be, it has the potential to revolutionise the industry in terms of both design and consumption.   

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By Anastasia Vartanian

How Fashion Graduate Mathilde Rougier Is Using AI and AR To Eliminate Fashion Textile Waste

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Mathilde Rougier is a recent graduate of Central Saint Martins, where she studied on the womenswear pathway. For her final collection, she wanted to create new designs from old garments and samples of fabric she had acquired from past internships. This circular approach to fashion – where textile resources remain in repeated use rather than going to a landfill or being incinerated – is one that the industry as a whole must move towards, considering the amount of textile waste it produces. Like Mathilde, many students from Techstyler’s Digi Fashion Class of 2020 showcase have incorporated sustainable/waste-reducing practices into their collection, showing an acute awareness of the climate emergency and the incredibly wasteful and pollutive industry they will inherit. It’s a dilemma many fashion students have tried to come to terms with: loving fashion creation but also knowing that the world does not need more clothes. To overcome this problem, Mathilde decided to adopt innovative techniques.

She took photos of the old garments she wanted to use, and these became the basis of the augmented designs in her final collection, which is a tessellation of leftover textiles and existing garments, re-imagined virtually. Although she was interested in 3D design before and planned to use it in her final collection to some extent, Mathilde is one of the many fashion design graduates for whom digital fashion took on a much larger role in their projects due to COVID-19.

 

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It must have been bittersweet to have your last year cut short; how did you feel?

At the beginning, when lockdown was announced, I had a couple weeks of uncertainty. I didn’t know what to expect or how long lockdown would actually be. So for that period I was a bit of an emotional mess. Then I became very determined to make the situation better for UAL students: with petitions, meetings with university staff, demanding to cut the cost of tuition… This eventually fizzled out because we were getting nowhere. Finally, after that, I began to feel more acceptance. I came to realise that I have the opportunity to really throw myself into something which I had wanted to explore before. I was in a good position as the main equipment I needed was a computer. I already had the squares of second-hand materials (from sample books I had collected over internships to avoid textile waste) I was going to use to map the pixels of the digital garment. The only machinery I needed was a heat press for the recycled plastic I was using.

How did you overcome the obstacles of designing in lockdown? Was it difficult to stay motivated and in touch with your creativity?

Actually, I thought it was quite exciting in a sense. I was more productive. It may have been the sense that it was all in my hands, no-one was going to push me. The only real problem at the beginning of lockdown was shipping all my stuff back to France, since I was going to spend lockdown with my family. I needed to ship all my squares, all my materials. I couldn’t replace them because the goal was for them to be recycled materials in order to minimise waste.

What led you to choose digital fashion design over traditional methods? Was it an unexpected solution to the limitations of COVID-19 or had you been interested in 3D design before?

I was interested in it before, but it took on a larger role because of the physical limitations of COVID. Digital fashion had already been part of the plan, but not to that extent. What I do is augmented reality, so a middle ground between physical and entirely digital fashion (with 3D avatars). I still want to dress people but want the option to do so without producing waste. You can update your designs constantly without waste.

 

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What was the inspiration behind your collection?

It didn’t actually come from an aesthetic inspiration, more a problem-solving approach. My approach was technical: I wanted to address the issue of sustainability. I used different tech systems (whether that’s pixelation*, convolutional neural network**, etc.) to solve problems to do with sustainability.

* The images of the old garments were pixelated in photoshop or sections of the garment were 3D scanned. This allowed Mathilde to translate the real-life textiles into a virtual medium for use as the basis of new 3D designs (i.e. the old garments would be the foundation for the Augmented Reality digital layer of Mathilde’s designs.)

** A convolutional neural network is a type of deep neural network that analyses images to determine and categorise their visual characteristics, in effect recognising details of the garment – such as edges or hard components like buttons – and allowing the designer to adjust the pixel patterns within these garment details. The significance of being able to adjust the pixel patterns is two-fold: first, ensuring that everything looks as intended and to make the transition from physical to digital more seamless, and second, it gives the designer the option to infinitely rearrange and “play with” the building blocks of their design.

 

 

 

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What software did you use in creating your designs? Were there any challenges?

I used a convolutional neural network (AI), Spark AR and Blender (3D animation software). I learnt how to 3D model during the project, so it took some time before I was comfortable. It was a challenge to try and get the AR right and plane-track* the clothes. The thing with 3D design is that you need to make sure the design looks good from different angles. This means blocking out the body and using occluders** to make sure that patterns on the back didn’t show up from the front and vice versa. It took a lot of adjustment to make sure it worked.

*Mathilde used plane-tracking on second hand garments to add an Augmented Reality digital layer on top, using software such as Spark AR and Blender. Plane-tracking involves taking a photo of a recognisable high contrast area of the garment, which is the bit that acts as a trigger that causes Augmented Reality interaction.

 

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** Occluders are objects which impede the amount of light that reaches the eye. In this context, an occluder would block a pattern on one side of the garment from bleeding into the other side. Mathilde had to put explicit instructions into the software to ensure that everything was visualised in the correct location and orientation, according to Mathilde’s design.

 

This is an example of what could happen if occluders are not used: you can see the details of one side of the 3D object bleeding into the other.
This is an example of what could happen if occluders are not used: you can see the details of one side of the 3D object bleeding into the other.

 

What is your plan after graduation? How do you feel about going into the industry during this uncertain time?

I don’t really know yet. At the moment I’ve had lots of freelance jobs which I don’t think I would have gotten 6 months ago. All of a sudden people are interested in digital fashion, there’s a lot of hype. COVID accelerated things because everyone was in front of their screens. But people have been experiencing fashion digitally for a long time without really realising it: e.g. all the people that watch shows online rather than being there in real life. Fashion enthusiasts have been consuming fashion from their screens for ages, but now, since everyone was in lockdown, industry professionals and the fashion system have had to adapt a bit more. I’m going onto MA Accessories at the Institut Français de la Mode in Paris so I’ll carry on freelancing on the side, but I’m lucky to not have to think about a full-time career yet.

How do you want to see the fashion industry change? Is it already changing or is this evolution merely superficial (for example in terms of sustainability)?

Fashion needs to move towards a circular model of production, i.e. stopping with the production of new textiles and making use of existing garments and materials. In terms of sustainability I think we’re still quite far behind. Sustainability is such a large word, there are so many ways to go about making the industry more sustainable. In a sense it’s a good thing as there are many small ways to help, but the risk is focussing too much on the small things rather than the big problem at hand. We see a lot of greenwashing and superficial fixes to a problem that is fundamentally wrong. I’m curious to see more systemic change.

 

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Is 3D fashion design the future?

It’s quite revolutionary waste-wise for smaller brands since the proportion of sampling to product output is bigger than for large companies, meaning it would be extremely worthwhile to move to virtual sampling. With this, you reduce waste at the design and sampling stage and can make many alterations on a toile.

What about digital fashion from end-to-end (meaning no physical product is made)?

This would work for brands doing digital showcases. I have a preference for augmented reality (meaning real people wearing digital clothes rather than a 3D avatar). I still want to dress real people, but people have increasingly developed a digital aspect to their personality. For example, influencers on Instagram that wear a whole new outfit for every new post: augmented reality could solve the overconsumption issue caused by this. The medium is digital so why not the clothes? It can be integrated into the way we live our lives already.

 

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Lastly, what do you think digital fashion means for sustainability?

It allows design without physical production, therefore less waste. Though you can’t totally ignore the carbon footprint of technology, the electrical energy used in powering a computer would be less than trying to recycle all the waste material and mixed fibres at recycling plants. Digital fashion at least streamlines the waste and carbon footprint caused by the industry. Also, there’s visibly “tech-y” fashion (virtual fashion) which will certainly affect the zeitgeist and our opinions on owning physical clothes, but I think the core change in terms of sustainability will be about incorporating technologies into making physical products. You might look at a T-shirt and not think there’s anything particularly innovative or futuristic about it, but the truth is it was made using digital processes that aid sustainability.

 

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With the goal of a more sustainable fashion industry in mind, Mathilde wanted to address both our physical and digital identities. This is due to our digital identities playing an increasingly bigger role in our lives, and these digital identities (or rather the social media sites where they live) being ruled by algorithms that constantly call for new content. She remedies this in the physical realm through the fabric squares she used for her designs which can constantly be repositioned, creating new designs without creating more waste. This translates to the digital realm too, where her Augmented Reality virtual outer shells (each of which correspond to a different garment) can continuously be updated. 

Mathilde enjoys being able to design without creating any physical waste and strongly believes the waste issue in fashion is one that needs to be addressed by the industry. However, she doesn’t want this to come at the cost of design, whether that’s aesthetically or in terms of speed. This is what her collection tried to remedy, showing that zero-waste, repurposing and recycling techniques do not have to produce the “crafty” results they are often associated with. Like much of fashion’s “new guard”, Mathilde is an advocate for the circular mindset where things can constantly be re-designed, allowing for full creative expression by the designer and satisfying the fashion crowd’s love for newness without creating more textile waste and contributing to the devastating climate impact that comes along with fashion production and consumption. In this way, the designer can fully explore the best of fashion – unbridled creativity – whilst avoiding its destructive impact.

 

By Anastasia Vartanian

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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