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2018’s Top Tech Trends in Fashion

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Farfetch’s Store of the Future (SoF) (Courtesy farfetch.com)

Farfetch’s Store of the Future (SoF) (Courtesy farfetch.com)

The past year has been one of constant innovation and technological development that has had a ripple effect across a broad spectrum of industries. One area experiencing a particularly fascinating technical revolution is the fashion industry.

From garment construction all the way to retail, this paradigm shift towards eco-friendly mixed mediums and automated processes has the potential to change the footprint of fashion as we know it. Let’s take a look at some of the recent standouts.

 

Radio Frequency Identification (RFID)

RFID uses electromagnetic fields to capture and access information stored on tags, usually accessed by a reader device. This is especially useful when it comes to telling the difference between identical items of clothing on a retail shelf for inventory purposes, for example, or tripping an alarm if an item is carried out of a store without being properly rung up.

A company that has recently been pushing the RFID envelope is Farfetch. Based out of London, the company, billed as a “luxury e-tailer,” believes that it has come up with a solution to bridge the ever-widening divide between brick-and-mortar stores and their ecommerce components. Called the “Store of the Future” (SoF), Farfetch’s platform will use data from online searches along with RFID tracking to create a real-time “wishlist” based on what consumers are really looking at online— as well as physically picking up off the rack.

Even for brands not participating in this SoF concept, the real-world applications of this technology are limitless. Fashion collectives like Rebecca Minkoff have been using RFID to enhance the checkout experience of their customers- allowing them to cash out more quickly than in the past. Additionally, brands like Moncler are using RFID chips embedded in clothing to combat the thriving counterfeit industry. Customers can authenticate their goods via an app or through the website, which is especially useful when purchasing used or from third-party retailers.

Moncler - embedded RFID chips to combat counterfeiting (Courtesy engadget.com)

Moncler – embedded RFID chips to combat counterfeiting (Courtesy engadget.com)

 

Artificial Intelligence (AI)

When it comes to AI, fashion front-liners can often be concerned at the potential for “robots” to take over jobs in the construction and manufacturing of clothes that were previously held by master craftsmen and factory workers dependent on the income. While it’s natural to feel some hesitation at the uncertainty of the future, it’s important to look closely at the ways this emerging technology is helping support the workers who make fashion possible, not replace them.

One of the important things to understand about artificial intelligence is that while the technology allows for more efficient and complex data processing and analysis, this is usually limited in scope to one niche application. This means that AI is, at present, more like a toolbox than the handyman itself, augmenting the skills someone already possesses. According to fashion experts in Frankfurt, some of the most profitable avenues for AI in fashion are in forecasting trends and managing manufacturing and supply chains.

One great case study of this is Stitchfix, a company specializing in monthly clothing subscription boxes and personal shopping services. Something that has set them apart has been their embrace of AI and machine learning algorithms to predict and reduce return rates, personalize their clothing and accessory selections, and develop new styles based on purchasing trends and customer feedback. According to Forbes, this approach has allowed them to break $1 billion in revenue, and continues to allow them to offer their subscription based product at a premium competitors struggle to match.

Stitch Fix – Using artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms to predict and reduce return rates (Courtesy Stitchfix.com)

Stitch Fix – Using artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms to predict and reduce return rates (Courtesy Stitchfix.com)

 

Biodesign

Put simply, biodesign is a recent field of fashion that quite literally intersects the fields of biology and design. The idea of being able to take organic materials and integrate them into wearable, sustainable fashion has become a major focus of athleisure giants like Nike and Puma, among others, in collaboration with top researchers from institutions like MIT. In fact, the developing industry is rumored to be around $13.4 billion dollars, proving that there is increased interest in the field.

Other projects aiming to use biodesign to shrink the fashion footprint are in initial phases of development and refinement, with Dutch design lab Kukka being a noteworthy example. The “In Living Color” installation is an ongoing biodesign project, according to designer Laura Luchtman, that uses pigmented bacterial dyes like carotenoids and violaceins to create sustainable textiles. Luchtman takes the innovation one step further— by creating a “sound lab,” she and a partner subjected bacterial cultures to various frequencies in order to speed up growth and create unique patterns by making the bacteria “dance” on the fabric.

Bacterial dyeing is not a new science— as early as 2015, we were seeing start-up brands incorporating pigment-producing microbes into their process, in an attempt to reduce the usage of synthetic dyes. Often considered to be “dirty,” synthetic dyes are produced largely via toxic chemicals and oil, none of which bode well for sustainable, eco-friendly manufacturing. Even if such a future is still in development, it’s refreshing to note that we are on our way to a more green approach to fashion.

‘Living Color’- Bacteria dyeing project (https://www.kukka.nl/en/portfolio/living-colour/)

‘Living Color’- Bacteria dyeing project (https://www.kukka.nl/en/portfolio/living-colour/)

Pigment-producing microbes to reduce the usage of synthetic dyes. (Courtesywww.kukka.nl/en/portfolio/living-colour/)

Pigment-producing microbes to reduce the usage of synthetic dyes. (Courtesywww.kukka.nl/en/portfolio/living-colour/)

 

3D printing

A topic that has previously been addressed on the University of Fashion Blog, 3D printing has had a hand in biodesign as well, since the advent of 3D printers allow designers and researchers to create structures and textiles that mimic those that exist in nature. Beyond that, incidents of technology used in a fashion context has soared to record heights lately— with a recent example being the unveiling of the first ever wearable collection made of entirely 3D printed materials, by designer Julia Daviy at this year’s New York Fashion Week.

Daviy’s large-scale printing technique means that clothing is assembled on industrial printers and by using cutting edge flexible resin technology— all without a single stitch of thread or glue. This minimal-waste approach has also proven to be far less labor-intensive than other types of manufacturing, meaning that an increased potential to shape the current state of factories into something more reflective of our collective social and environmental focus.

 

Julia Daviy – 3D Collection at NYFW 2018 (Courtesy- juliadaviy.com/liberation-collection/)

Julia Daviy – 3D Collection at NYFW 2018 (Courtesy- juliadaviy.com/liberation-collection/)

 

Conclusion

From 2017-2018 alone, there have been a number of technological advancements that push the boundaries of what we previously thought possible in terms of creation, manufacturing, and consumer experience.

While this has the ability to change the field of play in a positive way, it’s important to be cautious about the potential for ethical complications as a result of greed and hastiness.

1715 Labs CEO Sophie Hackford commented at a recent Condé Nast conference that “We need to make sure we’re not using technology to widen inequality or worsen social injustice.”

That’s certainly true, which is why it’s so comforting to see the same headlines when it comes to the future of fashion and tech— it seems like the majority of us are in alignment that developing technology that does right by workers and consumers will also help brands achieve the success they strive for.

What can you add to this story? Are you ready for a fashion industry based on technology?

Machine Made Masterpieces

A look by Machine Maven, Iris van Herpen Photo courtesy of

A look by Machine Maven, Iris van Herpen Photo courtesy of scostumista.com

What if you were told to “think outside of the fabric store and a dress form” when creating a garment?

And we’re not talking “you’ve got one hour in the grocery store and a budget of $25 to create a red carpet look” Project Runway challenge.

If a trip to the fabric store was not an option, where would your creative mind go? Read More

Where Science Meets Design

- - Site News, Technology

In fashion, trends come and go. With each new season, decades past resurface and are reinterpreted. For Fall/Winter 2015, the 70s were back in full force on the runway. So, as we look to the future, how can we innovate in fashion? Is it possible to truly create something brand new – something no one has ever seen before? If silhouettes and proportions have been exhausted, what is left to change the face of fashion as we know it? Read More

Future of Textiles: Color-Changing Fabric Controlled with an App?

Color Changing Threads (Photo Courtesy of CNBC.Com)

Color changing threads (Photo Courtesy of CNBC.com)

Imagine the cave man’s reaction going from animal skins to the advent of textiles. Around 5,000 BCE, textiles made from wool, cotton and silk fibers were being woven in Egypt, India and China. Those fibers and methods of weaving were the mainstay of the industry until the advent of man-made textiles like rayon in 1855, viscose 1894 and acetate in 1910. Then, along came the big disruptors…synthetic fibers. These included nylon (1931), polyester (circa 1941), modacrylic (1949) and acrylic (1950). Then there was a trend in creating fabric out of more sustainable fibers and materials such as bamboo, corn, pineapple and even plastic bottles and of course silver nanoparticles used used to impart antimicrobial properties to cotton fibers to aid in the healing of wounds.

Now… enter the 21st century and the latest version of textile disruption …technology. In our blog last week, we discussed the innovative possibilities of 3D and laser printing and the growing list designers who are embracing a futuristic approach to fashion. Let’s check out how technology is affecting and shaping the world of textiles.

This past spring, college researchers in Florida created a temperature-controlled color-changing fabric  known as ChroMorphous. Consumers will now have the ability to change the color and pattern of their handbag or scarf, so that it matches their outfit…all possible with a tap of their smartphone.

This backpack can change its color on demand to match your mood. (Image Courtesy of UCF)

This backpack can change its color on demand to match your mood. (Image Courtesy of UCF)

Dr. Ayman Abouraddy, professor of optics and photonics at the College of Optics & Photonics at the University of Central Florida (CREOL), stated that the age of user-controlled color-changing fabric is here. “Our goal is to bring this technology to the market to make an impact on the textile industry,” he said.

So, how does ChroMorphous work? How can fabric change color and pattern? According to Dr. Abouraddy, “each woven thread is equipped with a micro-wire and a color-altering pigment. You can use your smartphone to change the color or pattern of the fabric on-demand, as the wire can alter the temperature of the fabric in a quick and uniform way. The change in temperature is barely noticeable by touch.”

Abouraddy and Josh Kaufman have been working on optical technology for over a decade at CREOL, but it has only been in the past couple of years that they have veered away from that work, to produce this new kind of fabric. “This is the culmination of our work,” said Kaufman. “We developed different fabrication techniques. This is our first foray in taking those optical fibers into fabric.”

Color Changing Fabric That Can Be Controlled With A Smartphone (Photo Courtesy of CNBC.Com)

Color and pattern changing fabric that can be controlled with a smartphone (Photo Courtesy of CNBC.com)

In the past, color-changing fabrics contained light-emitting diodes, better known as LED’s, that release light in a variety of colors. But ChroMorphous’ technology enables innovative capabilities, in that consumers can control the color as well as the pattern in woven fabrics and cut-and-sewn products.

The threads are made from a synthetic polymer. Within each thread there is a thin metal micro-wire. Electric currents flow through these micro-wires, changing the thread temperature, slightly higher. But don’t worry they do not touch the customer’s skin. Embedded in the thread are special pigments that respond to the change in temperature by changing the thread’s color.

Just think of the infinite possibilities this advanced technology gives designers and consumers. ChroMorphous allows the user to control, both when the color change happens and what pattern they want to appear on the fabric. All this is possible with just a simple press of a button on your smart device.

“Can we expect an ever-expanding range of functionalities from our clothing? These were the questions we asked when creating the ChroMorphous technology that we began developing in 2016,” Abouraddy said. He claims that the technology is scalable at mass-production levels via a process known as fiber-spinning and is currently produced in Melbourne, Florida, with CREOL’s collaborators at Hills Inc. Founded in 1971, Hills Inc. is a well-known innovator in multi-component fiber extrusion technologies.

The CREOL team is working closely with Hills Inc. to minimize the diameter of the threads in order to produce fabrics for the wide-scale market. This innovative fabric can be used in everything from clothing and accessories to furniture and home decor.

So, I’m sure you want to know…how is the fabric charged and how can it be washed? Well, the fabric is powered by a rechargeable battery pack that is hidden inside the clothing. The texture of the fabric is like denim, and it can be washed and ironed.

Abouraddy stated that he expects mass production to begin within the next year. At the moment, the threads are too thick for clothing, but they will work with bags, scarves, and backpacks. “We would reduce the threads in the future to make it more comfortable for a shirt,” Abouraddy said. “It’s not just for things you would wear. It could be used for upholstery, wall decorations for a room … you could change it to darker and more soothing colors.”

Your handbag can change its color thanks to ChroMorphous. (Image Courtesy of UCF)

Your handbag can change its color thanks to ChroMorphous. (Image Courtesy of UCF)

This product is the result of a decade’s worth of research with the past year and a half focused on textiles. It may have taken centuries to get here but wow, the future of textiles has never been more exciting than it has been in just the past decade. Wonder what the future has in store?

So tell us, are you ready to embrace the future of technological textiles?

 

Design for a new time

In Sunday’s New York Times Fashion & Style section, we were introduced to Manufacture NY – “a fashion incubator, factory and research facility housed in a landmark building that was once Storehouse No. 2 of the United States Navy Fleet Supply Base” in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. The project is the brainchild of Bob Bland, a 33-year-old designer/entrepreneur/visionary who has been determined to develop a “21st-century garment district” after struggling to produce her own line locally. Read More