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.
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.
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.
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.
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?