The centuries old relationship between fashion and technology
Fashion and Technology have always been closely connected. It all started in France in 1801, when Joseph Marie Jacquard created fashion’s first technological breakthrough - the loom.With a system of punch cards designed to weave brocades and other patterns, the loom instantly impacted the fashion industry and revolutionised the way garments were created (The design also has parallels with today’s digital age, with similar concepts leading to the invention of modern-day computers). Since 1801, fashion and technology have both continued to develop, in a symbiotic relationship. One of the easiest places to see fashion innovation is within the supply chain - companies can go from prototype to on the shelf in a matter of days. While speed has increased, costs have come down as labour became more efficient (thanks to technology), and comes as no surprise to many of us that fashion has become one of the most valuable markets in the world, estimated at about $3.5trillion in 2020 and representing 2% of global GDP.
Fashion’s digital shift
The digital revolution has impacted all our lives and opened up a whole new world of digital consumption. What used to be a physical process given birth to e-commerce, and online fashion shopping has seen explosive growth in the past +5 years. Brands are becoming increasingly thoughtful around the digital experience, and starting to apply technology in interesting ways to their designs, marketing and customer experience. Wide spread innovation will lead to inventions and change, with the potential to transform the fashion industry for the better. We are starting to see innovation from other industries seep into fashion, whether that be automated processes and robotics within the manufacturing chain, or augmented reality and digital shopping experiences, fashion tech is booming and here are a few of our favourite examples.
“Augmented reality, digital clothing and blockchain will continue to develop, while rental, resale and influencer marketing will grow.”
The Fabricant is a digital fashion house leading the fashion industry towards a new sector of digital-only clothing — wasting nothing but data and exploiting nothing but imagination. The Fabricant specialises in photo-real 3D fashion design and animation, which can be used in digital fashion editorials, digital clothing and occasional collections. They have already worked with fashion giants like Tommy-Hilfigher, Aape and their recent project together with Puma and Central Saint Martins students creating a digital collection to promote sustainable threads. “Brands are already looking for radical ways of redefining their culture and operations to a more digital mindset” said Kerry Murphy, the founder of the Amsterdam based tech company. Murphy explained that consumers react to what brands and retailers put out there to be consumed, and behavioural change will depend on adoption of new experiences such as digital fashion. Digital fashion is slowly gaining traction, if not being ‘worn’ on digital platforms like Instagram by the mainstream - yet.
BLOCKCHAIN & BABYGHOST
While blockchain has been around for a while, it is only in recent years that the technology has started to see widespread adoption. In fashion - alongside most other industries - blockchain has transformative potential to introduce transparency into supply chains. Some companies have already started adopting this technology. Last year Farfetch joined Libra Association, LVMH linked up with Microsoft on Aura and Ba&sh started offering resale through blockchain-enabled purchases. But it is not just large corporates adopting this technology, start-ups and emerging designers are also embracing blockchain within the world of fashion tech.
BABYGHOST, a chinese-new york streetwear fashion label, teamed up with blockchain startup VeChain to create a collection which can be digitally verified by scanning a garment’s label and referencing the blockchain network. Consumers can view a map of the garments movement through the entire manufacturing and distribution process, and see every step from production until it lands in their hands. This is all done via a small VeChain chip embedded inside the clothing or accessory, which communicates with your mobile to tell its “story”.
For those in the gaming community, the idea of a digital avatar is not new. But for the rest of us it might need some explaining. Avatars are digital representations of people and popularised by games such as Warcraft and Fortnight. But CLO virtual fashion is taking this technology and focusing on making fashion slower. Their software enables users to create virtual garment prototypes and see them digitally simulated. Able to simulate intrecitate materials, different fabrics and multi-layer design, the software should help designers reduce the number of physical samples produced, saving time, money, and the environment. Their software works not with garments, but anything that is constructed with fabrics including hats, bags, wallets, lingerie, swimsuits and more. “The development period has been shortened by real-time collaboration using platforms without actual shipment” explained Staphanie Kang, founder and designer of HANSAE - start up working with CLO.
“Shoppers might never come around to virtual products the way they do with real ones, but that doesn’t mean the tech industry isn’t going to try.”
Augmented reality applied to fashion
Another example of general technology developments starting to influence fashion - VR and AR have been around for a while, but are now starting to be seen in our industry. Google, Apple, Amazon and countless other tech companies have huge teams dedicated to advancing AR/VR, and even Instagram (owned by Facebook) are starting to experiment with its applications.
Virtual reality startup Obsess is helping brands to use Augmented reality and Virtual reality technologies. Their business model leans on affiliate links; earning money off of purchases of the products its engineers have built into virtual boutiques. “Obsess’ site will eventually turn to a marketplace model, where it will charge to create brand-specific boutiques.” said founder Neha Singh who led engineering and product teams at Google and Vogue. Similarly Farfetch have been trialing AR/VR technology for sometime in their Store of the Future concept, however adoption has sadly been slow and left people questioning how applicable this technology will be.
Fast-changing future with promising developments
These are just some of the many examples of technology being applied to the fashion industry. As computing power grows, data costs decrease, and the world becomes ever more connected, we expect to see even more innovation and change in our industry. We hope this change will drive the industry forward to a more sustainable and creative place, where the environmental burden can be reduced, but also where technology can enable even more creativity and unshackle minds. If the last 20 years are anything to go by, the next 20 will be very interesting indeed.
by Neri Dijokaite