Copenhagen Fashion Summit’s Voices of Politics, Diversity and Change

Former Dean of Parsons School of Design, Simon Collins, served up the most pointed of all questions to New York based designer Prabal Gurung when he asked “would you dress the first lady?”  Prabal, after some consideration, gave an applause-inducing answer, explaining that his brand stands for inclusion, celebrates diversity and does not discriminate.  He stands firmly behind his brand values, saying that on that basis, he would dress the first lady.  It is no surprise that his comments echo those of another immigrant designer, Ashish Gupta, who celebrated his status and called for racial inclusion and diversity at his London Fashion Week show in September 2016. 

Reflecting on the global political and economic climate, Simon Collins commented on the political dissent in Thatcher’s 70’s and 80’s Britain that gave rise to the punk rock movement and other beautifully creative genres that still resonate in Britain today.  So out of this current political upheaval, could there be a beautiful and positive outcome?  Can current dissent mobilise creativity – even drive it?  Maxwell Osborne, of another New York based fashion brand, Public School, commented that in this time of great change in the fashion industry, new show formats are arising, the rules are changing and traditional mindsets are being altered.  Public School’s latest show was an intentional pressure cooker, with editors and buyers sat closer than convention would dictate in the aim of  ‘making them a little uncomfortable’.  Their brand of Americana sells unity, not division, and their sellout hats bearing the words ‘Make America New York’ were a hit because they took the measure of what people on the street were saying and feeling in Trump’s America.  I imagine this to be somewhat like what Londoners were saying in the wake of the Brexit vote.  Public School speak to their consumer – directly, in the same language.  That conversation is not nearly as personal or direct for big fashion and lifestyle brands, and the challenges for them in defining and delivering meaningful messages on society and politics is clear, given the recent blunder by Pepsi, and the ill-judged and since dubbed ‘Feminism Collection’ by Karl Lagerfeld’ for Chanel.

In order to reflect the repeated focus of the summit on innovation and collaboration it would be remiss of me not to mention the key input from some suppliers on the textile and fibre side, where significant technological and scientific advances have lead to circular nylon fibre production in the case of Aquafil, and cellulosic (plant based) circular production, in the case of Lenzing.  Whilst perhaps not the sexiest subject matter (unless you have a penchant for chemistry and heavy machinery) these advances are game changing – that is, providing brands purchase such circular materials in favour of linearly produced ones.  Significant limitations of circular production are complexities arising from mixed fibres – for example cotton and elastane – where separating the cotton and elastane fibres in order to reuse them in new textiles is not yet fully possible across all textile structures.  The single most important advance in making textile manufacturing circular, according to a number of industry experts I spoke to at the summit, was finding effective and efficient ways of separating out all types of fibres according to their chemical properties in order to reuse them.  Microplastics – tiny particles of plastic – are finding their way from fibres shed in the textile washing and wearing process, into water ways and causing devastating pollution.  We need to pioneer new technologies to deal with this problem at the manufacturing stage. 

Overview of the Lenzing textile process of turning wood into a textile

Materials solutions are key to solving problems arising from our demand on natural resources, and an alternative to current cotton growing methods would be a complete game changer too, saving immense amounts of water (it can take more than 20,000 litres of water to grown just 1kg of cotton).  Creating new methods of making/growing materials is an area of intense research, and something being done by the likes of Bolt Threads and other smaller, more experimental materials labs such as the one at Aalto in Helsinki.  In 2013, Kering launched their in-house Materials Innovation Lab in Italy and entrepreneur Mira Duma has just announced a 50 million dollar fund to invest in materials and technology solutions aimed at solving fashion’s biggest problems in the road to sustainability and ethical transparency.  More on Kering and Mira Duma’s initiatives to come in future posts.  

Aalto recycled cellulosic fibre research and yarn

On the subject of transparency and supply chain traceability, blockchain is providing a useful platform for consumers to follow the journey of their products from origin to the shop floor.  London-based designer Martine Jarlgaard teamed up with Provenance, A Transparent Company and Two Rivers Mill to demonstrate how her alpaca garments are made and sold in a fully transparent manner.   She presented the results at the summit’s Solutions Lab, alongside Lenzing, Aalto and a number of other brands, labs and institutions. 

Technology can also enable the capture of large data sets in order to assess large scale manufacturing processes and detect areas for improvement.  Sensors placed in factories working in partnership with Li & Fung are ushering in a phase of assessment of resource use and areas for potential improvement.  Target is working with its suppliers to pilot the use of beacons to feed data to apps to track what is happening in their factories in real time.  In this area, technology can provide hard data to support change, in place of anecdotal or subjective views on current practices.  

Stand by for my in depth interview with Chief Sustainability Officer and Head of International Institutional Affairs at Kering, Marie-Claire Daveu

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Ravensbourne Incubation – A New Age of Fashion and Technology Dawns

Our wearable tech, fashion tech (including smart textiles, wearables and soft robotics) and smart cities future is something I spend a great deal of time thinking about.  How will fashion designers influence the wearable tech sector?  How will they transition from traditional practice to technology-driven practice?  How will fashion design students enter into fashion tech without the facilitation of dual science/tech and fashion training? Do fashion designers (apart from my peers and I) have a belief and genuine interest in this field?  How do we close the gap between fashion and technology?  How will we begin the speak the same ‘language’?

The questions above were answered at least in part by Farid Akmal when I interviewed him at the Ravensbourne Incubation space at the end of last year.  The first ever graduate of the MA Wearable Futures course at Ravensbourne he explained to me his involvement in devising the first ‘wearable tech’ unit to be taught as part of the Ravensbourne Foundation course commencing in January this year.  The significance of this can’t be underestimated.  To introduce a core six weeks of training spanning basic circuitry and electronics, integration of electronics into textiles, sensors and their use in capturing data and actuators as a tool for expressing this data is a leap not only in the skill-set being disseminated, but in opening up future pathways in training across disciplines and cultivating designers (accessories, fashion and product) who seamlessly integrate electronics and textiles to shape our fashion tech future.

Images from a Farid Kamal’s Couturier’s and the Art of Survival – A Technologist’s Guide

I posed to Farid that his students will have one key advantage over us (designers currently working in this space), and that is their ‘naive’ blank slate and lack of assumptions over fashion and what it means to be a fashion designer.  When we studied fashion we were trained to admire and seek to understand the work of other designers and shape ourselves as designers, accordingly.  A healthy respect for the practice and aesthetic of fashion designers underpinned our contextual fashion studies.  But if we don’t look beyond what has been done before and introduce truly new practices, where can fashion go? 

                                                  Images from a Farid Kamal’s Couturier’s and the Art of Survival – A Technologist’s Guide

One of the projects the foundation students will undertake as part of this new wearable tech unit is sourcing charity shop garments and embedding them with technology to enhance their design and functionality.  Whilst Farid (and I) are reticent about LED lights on clothing, for example, the students don’t hold the preconceptions we do given our prior fashion training and may develop a beautifully refined and symbiotic use of them in clothing – who knows? Farid’s initial feedback from the students is overwhelmingly encouraging with many of them expressing a desire to know how fashion tech garments work and how to make their own ‘wearables” – some inspired by costumes they’d seen at Burning Man.  Whilst this sounds a little ‘costumey’ rather than fashion-led, it’s important to recognise these things are subjective and take time to evolve.

Following the launch of this unit the aim is to extend this core ‘wearables’ training to a short course for students and staff at Ravensbourne, which is an exciting and visionary step in furthering the field of fashion tech and its applications across industries.

Carl Bresnahan is as inspiring as he is energetic.  Also an incubee at Ravensbourne, he introduces me to a world of haptic holograms and the future of holographic purchasing. His company Intaglow was borne out of a live brief for Paul Smith during which he created a holographic window display that transformed the Paul Smith store windows into a digital event space.

A graduate of Chelsea College of Arts and Central Saint Martins, armed with graphic design and communication credentials he teamed up with Product design graduate Harry Hope-Morley and they now create bespoke hardware, software and digital design for their clients, who range from Swarovski to Zaha Hadid.

Intaglow at Wired2016

A chance meeting with Ultrahaptics at Wired2016 posed the idea of enabling their holographic creations with haptic feedback to enable a fuller user experience by integrating touch with holographic visuals and sound.  Carl sees what he and the team at Intaglow do as storytelling, both as a form of entertainment and a way of engaging consumers.  They are resolutely focussed on the aesthetics and the experience they deliver and pride themselves on their ability to create bespoke products exactly according to their vision for their clients.  The collaborative nature of their work is evident in that they create a number of stories to present to brands to consider and refine.  They have up to ten designers and developers on hand to realise ambitious projects on lead times as short as four weeks.  Enough text.  Here are some of the results.

Top: Intaglow for Zaha Hadid, Above: Intaglow for Swarovski, Images: Carl Bresnahan

Our discussion segues into fashion tech and wearables, of which Carl is a big fan, and we muse over projects we are currently working on and potential future collaborations.  Carl benefits hugely from an infectious and open-minded design approach and confesses to loving the process of coming up with ideas and telling beautiful, holographic stories.  The future looks seriously luminous.

Further to my earlier explorations of the Hololens by Microsoft, DoubleMe, also incubees at Ravensboure alongside Karim and Carl, are pushing hard to explore fashion applications with their astonishingly good image capture technology ‘Holoportal’ combining camera capture and their proprietary algorithm devised by founder Albert Kim, that can create 3D renders for avatars, holograms or use with any other 3D design software in record time.  This gives DoubleMe the ability to capture 3D content from subjects in the Holoportal (I gave it a go – see below) and then process it with said algorithm before uploading it to the web or sharing it to any design platform or Hololens in seconds.  Here I’m holographically dancing (low resolution to allow quick image processing).

The Holoportal for 3D image capture at Ravensbourne 

The DoubleMe team are currently developing a 4K version which will render the kind of degree of detail that could benefit the fashion industry. 

But what are the applications of this technology?  Where can we expect it to be used?  We saw the early explorations of a foray into fashion presentations via Martine Jarlgaard’s SS17 collection at London Fashion Week last September.

Martine Jargaard London SS17 Mixed reality fashion show, London Fashion Week

Beyond this, Albert Kim, Founder and James E. Marks, Head of Sales, are creating holographic guided tour content that can be projected into museum and gallery spaces.  They hope that fashion design students at Ravensbourne will experiment with the technology to use it for styling and photoshoots which they can then share digitally in 3D.  They also see it as a potential sales tool for the fashion industry. 

As I wrapped these interviews I headed back east for the Ravensbourne X VF exhibition, which I have featured on the blog here.  Stay tuned for more news of fashion tech developments at Ravensbourne and beyond by subscribing to Techstyler.fashion

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Martine Jarlgaard’s Mixed Reality Show at London Fashion Week – A World First

Often looking inward (and perhaps gazing too much at it’s own toned, teenage-model navel),  fashion, for all the illusion of creativity and dynamism that it exudes to a captive public audience, is, in reality, largely conservative.  “I don’t see much innovation in fashion” says Martine Jarlgaard, ex-Vivienne Westwood Red Label Head Designer who has also designed for All Saints and Diesel.  It’s a broad professional backdrop from which she launched her brand Martine Jarlgaard London in 2014, and is presenting for the first time in an immersive ‘mixed reality’ experience on the official schedule at London Fashion Week in September 2016.

“I wanted to wait until I had a significant reason to present” said Martine, following a long discussion about the current state of the fashion industry and concerns about the environmental impact of mass production and waste in the garment manufacturing industry.  These are concerns that have been simmering for some time and a handful of emerging designers are tackling these issues head on.  Martine is one.  She is “disappointed with fashion” and feels a universal transparent system that untangles and delineates the supply chain and sourcing of materials is needed so that it is possible for brands and consumers to understand the impact of the materials being chosen and make informed decisions.  Many designers, for example, are not aware that some fabrics are created using devastatingly toxic chemicals that pollute and endanger workers and local populations.  Currently, this is not transparent.  She says it’s time for the fashion industry to be re-envisioned and re-defined and find the investment to create alternatives to the current polluting and wasteful processes. 

martine_jarlgaard_london_x_alcantara_x_njal_2016_07_04_0AlcantaraMaterialMartine Jarlgaard London AW15

As this article goes to print I read a piece by Richie Siegel about the expected future domination of Amazon Fashion, despite its current lack of curation and aesthetic appeal to fashion shoppers – a problem now being addressed.  Amazon’s pricing model is not based on large margins and sales discounting to shift stock like traditional fashion retailers.  Its margins are small, prices are keen and products are produced to fill gaps in the market – an already more ‘sustainable’ and pragmatic model – where a t-shirt costing £5 to produce is sold to consumers at around £6.50, in contrast to a traditional retailer who would squeeze suppliers down to a price of closer to £2 in order to sell to the consumer at £6.50.  Since Amazon would potentially sell tens of thousands of units (based on it’s market penetration and 65 million worldwide subscribers) it follows that if the products created by Amazon were sustainably and ethically produced it could trigger a big shift in the current polluting, inefficient, land-fill creating fast fashion sector.  Granted, this still may result in a lot of product eventually finding its way to land-fill, but the business model and the motivations are promising, especially if cleaner production methods are employed, and the customer is at the centre of this model.  For more information about calculating the cost of fast fashion, see my previous article Fashion Data: Calculating the cost of the fashion machine.

Martine is a curious and impassioned designer with a rich educational background (she gained a BA/MA at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts in Copenhagen and did a stint at Rhode Island School of Design where she studied sculpture, artistic anatomy and anthropology amongst other broader fine art and design subjects, and has always worked in a cross-disciplinary manner.  She feels that the solutions and impetus for the change needed in the fashion industry to achieve a level of responsible, sustainable manufacturing will come from outside the industry and that technology will most likely find the solution.  Amazon is a technology company, and as mentioned above, looks set to disrupt fast fashion and provide some solutions to production excess and bloated inventories.    

Martine and I discuss current examples of big brands tackling sustainability and I mention the Nike Flyknit trainers, manufactured using a single knitting process creating the upper with minimal wastage – no leather tanning and sewing of component layers is required – and it can be manufactured anywhere in the world as it is machine driven.  This knitted upper began as a running shoe style and has now been used in a vast array of styles including the classic Air Force One and Nike Air Max.  Hershel have just released their ‘ApexKnit’ range of backpacks using the same knit technology and other product lines will surely follow.  Digital knitting provides a solution that creates superior design, comfort, wearability and sustainability.  Maybe that’s the key.  The sustainability looks like a bonus here, as the design and product performance is enhanced AND the product is sustainable.  It is also cheaper and easier to develop and iterate, therefore creating a far superior solution to the old leather, fabric and foam uppers made of many components requiring man power for stitching and assembly. 

af1m1 nike-flyknit-air-max-blue-lagoon-bright-crimson-01 Herschel-Supply-ApexKnit-CollectionTop: Nike Air Force One  –  Middle: Nike Air Max  – Above:  Herschel ApexKnit backpack

Martine mentions being inspired by Nike’s presentation at the Copenhagen Fashion Summit in which they explained the commercial and sustainable success of FlyKnit, achieved through technology and innovation.  Martine later clarifies that Nike displayed a rare level of honesty at the summit, expressing frustration with the slow pace of change towards sustainability in the fashion industry.  She happens to be wearing a pair of flyknit trainers during our interview, along with a gorgeous pinky, fleshy shimmering silk peaked slash neck blouse from her AW15 collection.

01 Martine Jarlgaard London AW15Martine Jarlgaard London AW15

We discuss luxury fashion in this context and when Martine mentions the apparent lack of desire for true innovation in this sector our discussion leads to a lack of cross-disciplinary teams in luxury fashion and a persistent uniformity and conservatism.  Where a team’s perspective is limited, perhaps the resulting creative expression through product is too.  It’s difficult to find varied perspectives on solutions to creative problems if every team member has a similar professional experience and background, which tends to be the case in the luxury fashion sector. 

Since launching her brand, Martine has used a combination of sustainable, recycled and surplus fabrics from luxury mills in Italy.  Her design philosophy is to create garments with a lifespan beyond one season, that are made to the highest quality, with a minimal aesthetic and an element of the unexpected.  She explores the tension between minimal and maximal so that her pieces have a personality and cites sculptural three dimensional creation of the garments as a driver for the silhouettes. 

b. Martine Jarlgaard London Drift Ice AW16 c. Martine Jarlgaard London Drift Ice AW16 d. Martine Jarlgaard London Drift Ice AW16Martine Jarlgaard London AW16

Martine’s SS17 collection will launch at London Fashion Week on September 17th with a mixed reality experience using Hololens, in collaboration with DoubleMe, who provide a novel 3D capture system, HoloPortal, that converts 2D videos into dynamic 3D models in real-time and supported by the Fashion Innovation AgencyHololens is a headset that projects a hologram in front of the wearer and allows them to interact with it by walking around it and moving nearer or farther, giving a truly immersive and personal experience dictated by the wearer. Martine’s collection will be presented via Hololens, meaning technically, it could be viewed by anyone in any location who possesses the headset, and physically in an accompanying garment presentation at the W Hotel London, marking the first ever holographic 3D mixed reality fashion ‘show’ for want of a more appropriate word.  So why this rather than a fashion show?  The fashion show format has barely changed since its inception in the early 1900’s and does not allow any kind of personal experience with the clothes – it is passive – as is much of the interaction in the way fashion is presented.  There is a lack of true engagement when sat at a distance viewing clothes zoom past on a runway and in a matter of minutes, the whole experience is over.  The format of a fashion show is also restrictive in that there is an intense build-up and planning and a huge team required to deliver a show to very tight deadlines within a remit that can curb the creativity of the designers and restrict the selection of garments shown, as outlined in a recent interview with London-based designers Fyodor Golan.  

Volvo-Cars-Microsoft-HoloLens-experience_01Microsoft Hololens – experimenting with car models in mixed reality

Martine found complete synergy with Hololens because it allows her to work across disciplines with their digital team and create a 3D experience befitting her sculptural design approach.  Here, the presentation format is symbiotic with her design approach and affords her the opportunity to showcase that and tell a story which can then be navigated from the viewer’s perspective, making another leap forward in our journey to the experiential as a form of fashion presentation.  Crucially, her buyers are “super-excited” about the presentation format.  Fashion is changing, albeit slowly, and it feels like Martine is at the foot of what will ultimately be the crest of an experiential fashion wave.  She plans to work with this technology for coming seasons, declaring that this is in no way a one-off, but rather the beginning of an exciting journey to differentiating her brand in an intelligent and meaningful way and raising awareness of her successful creation of sustainable luxury fashion.   

dune-london-diipa-khosla-15Online Influencer Diipa Khosla in Martine Jarlgaard London  at London Fashion Week

For details of Martine’s previous collaboration with Alcantara SpA click here 

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For information on first forays into fashion design using Hololens, click here

For a run down of fashion’s exploration of VR to date, read Emma Hope Allwood’s piece on Dazed Digital

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