Sabinna Experiments With Mixed Reality Shopping for Fashion

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

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

Family photos, Sabinna’s studio, East London

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

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

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

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

Sabinna’s studio 

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

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

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

Sabinna’s studio 

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

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

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

SABINNA SS17 show, Fashion Scout, London Fashion Week

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Kniterate Brings Industrial Digital Knitting To A Desktop Near You

Over the past year I have been keeping up to date with the progress of East London based start-up Kniterate, led by the trio of Gerard Rubio, Triambak Saxena and Tom Catling, aiming to revolutionise knitting for garment makers in the same way that desktop 3D printing has for rapid prototyping.  I’m pleased to say their first machine is launching via a Kickstarter campaign and event at the Machine Rooms today, having come a long way since their HAX prototype at the Maker Faire Bay Area in 2016.

The Kniterate team have developed a desktop digital knitting machine in partnership with an industrial knitting machine manufacturer in China that bridges domestic knitting with industrial knitting, shrinking mainframe tech into an affordable machine for making one-off designs and for materials research, development and swatching.

Kniterate’s machine launches via a Kickstarter campaign at 4pm today and has a number of pre-launch fans spanning Maker Space owners, engineering, design and architecture schools and small scale knitted scarf and glove manufacturers.  The machines purchased during the Kickstarter campaign, if successful, will be delivered a year from now and will be supported with a simple software package allowing users to upload and refine their designs before knitting them fully shaped and ready to link together (in the case of a jumper) or ready to wear for simpler items like scarves and beanies.  The software is being developed along the lines of Photoshop and Illustrator with easy tools for designing and shaping garments.

For fellow knitters, this seven gauge machine can cope with a vast array of tuck and transfer stitch arrangements and has six feeders, allowing for multi-colour jacquard designs.  At at around $4500 it is at least five times cheaper than industrial alternatives and doesn’t require specialist technical knowledge to operate.  Kniterate will be providing servicing for their machines, though, and will be training an international team of technicians over the coming twelve months, pre-shipping of machines.

The most exciting aspect of this new product is its potential to bring industrial technology into the workshop, studios and potentially homes of designers, makers and engineers and allow new ways of experimenting with the type of machine once reserved for a the industry-connected few.  I could go on, but these pictures of shoe designer Dr. Matthew Head‘s take on the now ubiquitous (thanks to Nike Flyknit) high-tech, super slick knitted trainer made on the Kniterate machine show how access to this tech breaks down design and manufacturing barriers and allows local manufacturing in a creative and more responsible and sustainable manner.

The Kniterate team aim to create a catalogue of yarns with the best knitting parameters for these, along with a yarn sales platform akin to the Amazon marketplace.  With surplus seasonal yarn stocks an untapped potential resource there may also be an opportunity to partner with large international suppliers to inject luxurious and high tech fashion industry yarns into this maker-led movement, providing the opportunity to create products that truly rival those available in the luxury sector of the fashion industry.

Keep an eye on the blog for future experiments between BR Innovation Agency and Kniterate, but in the meantime, head over to their Kickstarter campaign and pledge to be part of the movement.

Also part of the Kniterate team are LCF Knitwear graduate Yi Ling, LCF knitwear student Jinhee Park and creator of the interactive display, Laurence Symonds.

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SIBLING Plunders Lady Di and Babs Windsor for London Fashion Week Show

Community is a concept generating a huge amount of buzz in digital terms in the fashion and tech industries, where brands and businesses engage customers online and build loyalty with the aim of learning more about them and increasing commercial success.  Another kind of the community is the one that is built by a group of people with shared values, where a dialogue about politics, societal shifts and popular culture in, for example, their geographical location, takes place – where all subjects relevant to the community are on the table and action via collaboration, creativity and inclusion happens at a real life level.  Enter SIBLING.

SIBLING is more than a fashion brand – it’s a physical and digital community.  In fashion as in language, the word Sibling means brother, sister – family and unity – which is what Cozette McCreery and Sid Bryan, designers and heads of the SIBLING squad, represent.   They have an extended family around them and are deeply rooted in the arts, music and fashion scene that began in East London way before it became cool, and even longer before the term ‘hipster’ was born and became attached to their stomping ground.

A SIBLING show is an expression of this extended family and the core values of Cozette and Sid and of Britain.   This season it was expressed by way of nods to Lady Di‘s ruffled collars of the nineties, a hat ‘fit for Babs Windsor at a wedding’, London’s Pearly Kings and Queens and jazzed up football socks by way of bows.  Way beyond aesthetics and stylistic leanings it celebrates diversity and self-expression, embracing the enrichment of British culture by other cultures, including the work of Reggae’s ‘Mad Scientist’, Jamaican Lee Scratch Perry, before side-stepping to that most beloved British holiday destination, Spain (I’m sure Babs Windsor would approve) to grab silhouettes from Toreadors and Gaudi’s Trencadis mosaic techniques to add to the mix.

Top: Lady Diana (source unknown), Centre: London’s Pearly Kings and Queens (source unknown), Above: Lee Scratch Perry, GQ magazine

My passion for knitwear is clear via my design work and I couldn’t get through this article without mentioning the extremely complex process behind designing, developing and creating knitwear, the core of the SIBLING brand.  Knitwear is more complex to create than cut and sew woven and jersey garments as it involves designing and constructing the knitted textile, then creating the garment, as opposed to buying lengths of fabric for cut and sew techniques which bypass the textile design and creation processes altogether.  More complex, time consuming and expensive it may be, but it also allows for a bold and focussed vision, as represented in SIBLING’s use of colour and pattern.

As the current day brunette ‘Lady Di’ strode past I admired the metres of ruffles linked onto the knitted jackets and the lovingly designed details including lurex trims.  The increased time and scope of crafting two combined mens and womens collections rather than four separate collections per year looks to have allowed SIBLING the opportunity to explore print and weaving in addition to knitting, so the Trencadis concept extended beyond the knits to printed sweaters and trousers.

Their shoe collaboration with Freakloset uses their bespoke customisation system, rounding off my review with a foray towards digital design and how technology is shaping the fashion industry across all areas of the supply chain, from design to sales and delivery.

Sibling X Freakloset A/W 2017 Photo: Freakloset

This SIBLING show was a celebration of friendship, collaboration, British values of diversity and inclusion – something we need to shout about in this currently polarising political climate – and gives the audience an insight into what this ‘close-knit’ (sorry, couldn’t resist!) team stands for.  It is fun and moving and it transcends fashion.  Onwards and upwards #SIBLINGsquad

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London Fashion Week Presents… Wolves and Hungry Emerging Designers

The format of presentations versus catwalk shows has changed the consumption of collections at London Fashion week.  Presentations give designers on smaller budgets with big ideas the platform to express all the ambition and concept, without the frantic pace and crippling cost of a seven (or so) minute show.

A show is fleeting.  A presentation distills and simmers, offering an entire crafted and installed concept, not just clothing,  As seen at the brilliant Wolves PR presentation spaces in the Elms Lesters Painting Rooms, the designers and their teams built a world around the clothes using the set, sound and architecture of the space.  Compared to a show, a presentation offers more to grab onto in terms of the story behind the collection and the clothing itself.

During the presentations at Elms Lesters Painting Rooms there was time to be consumed by the building and the designer’s visual storytelling.  Not having show notes to read through while sitting, waiting for a show to start means no advance intro to the clothing and seasonal theme, however a presentation offers less pretence and puts the experience above all else. 

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Georgia Hardinge –  AW16 ‘Hidden” collection

Viewers are invited to interact with the space, the models and the clothes.  Want detail pics?  No problem. Want to engage with the models for a beauty shot? Sure.  Paradoxically, by allowing viewers to take a greater part in the presentation the designers are able to present their story more strongly.  A show can be distracting and the format detracting.  There’s so much looking around, flash bulb mania, show guest antics and FROW chat that the show itself doesn’t always feel like the main event.  If any kind of fashion presentation or show is about engagement, it seems more effective and sustained in a presentation format.

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Omer Asim – AW16 collection

I wandered backstage at Gabriel Vielma’s presentation where Gabriel guided me to the area with the best light to photograph the models as they exited to join the presentation.  His hair and make up team were just as sweet and friendly as he was.  See, that’s the side of fashion hidden behind the facade of a show.  The designers, the production teams, the hair and makeup team, the assistants – so many sweet, creative people working their butts off.  The story on the other side in the front row is so very different.  Distance between the fashion machine and the consumer (buyers/press/stylists attending fashion shows) makes sense, sure, but my curiosity (possibly nosiness) means I find the story behind the story so much more interesting, and presentations bring the viewers closer to the inner workings of the collection and the designer and their team.  Designers presenting rather than showing get the chance to interact openly with their models and the set throughout the presentation – you see them working.  They can also openly chat with press/bloggers/plucky civilians and in a relationship and social-media-led industry it feels like a great way to go about building a loyal brand following and grab column inches.  Did I mention how photographable presentations are?  There’s time to compose shots that represent the clothing and set and (hopefully) do them justice.

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Behind-the-scenes – Gabriel Vielma’s AW16 Presentation

Gabriel Vielma’s website lured me in with cut and paste animated graphics and x-ray imagery. The invitation was illustrated with instructions on how to wear a life jacket.  The promise of tech and lives saved materialised in the form of a constructed pipe rig with tablets affixed showing doe eyed graphics with a distinct manga quality.  The presentation literature cited the inspiration as Wes Anderson’s ‘The Life Aquatic’ and nautical notes expressed via sailors braids and flocks of seabirds on jacquard knitwear, a first for the designer.  The entire collection was made in the UK, including the knitwear which was made in Leicester.  The evolution of knitwear in emerging designers brought about by accessibility to machinery via Stoll and Shima in the UK is heartening and inspiring.  What used to be such a tough category created at arms-length in far flung factories is now bubbling up with creativity and cohesiveness alongside the woven and print elements of collections. 

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Wes Anderson’s ‘The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou’

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Gabriel Vielma – ‘Beside the Seaside’ AW16 collection

Another collection integrating knitwear with woven textiles plus a moss-driven biological and futuristic sci-fi leaning was by Minki Cheng.  The set looked like an about-to-be-electrified urban moss-scape – a kind of techno / bio patch for his hybrid texture clothing.  I’ll be zooming in on the details again tomorrow at the Designer Showrooms and getting to the bottom of the incredible soundscape documented visually (sort of) below, with Minki snapped alongside the composer in one shot.


Peter Lindberg for Vogue, 1999 – From Minki’s Instagram feed pre-LFW

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Minki Cheng – AW16 collection 

Chatting to Justine Fairgrieve, founder of Wolves PR (who I met years ago during her Relative PR days) she was buzzing with excitement alongside her Wolverines.  Inspired by visiting a space created by a PR company offering a potent metaphor for the hunger and ambition of emerging fashion designers means I’ll be stopping by to chat to the Wolves again soon.  Justine’s pack held engaging presentations with punch and polish.  More where that came from!

Header image: Minki Cheng – AW16 collection

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