Robots on the Catwalk: What’s cooking in the digital fashion innovation pot?
The fashion industry has long been slow in adopting new technology tools. Now things are really taking off though: Some thoughts on mass customization and a new generation of makers. Read More
Technological developments are revolutionizing the fashion industry. You can now design your own shirts and shoes, produce textiles with neither needle nor cotton, and use 3D avatars for customization.
Some market segments already perceived the potential of technology at an early stage. Since the mid-nineties, automobile and aircraft manufacturers have been using 3D visualization and computer simulations to construct and test new models of vehicles or plane wings. Today 90 percent of all crash tests are performed in a virtual space where the crash can be observed and analyzed three-dimensionally. In Dubai – where else – you can experience the manufacturing of the first 3D-printed office container, which is 185 meters high. Each of the modular units is being generated separately before all the units are combined into one installation. A six-meter high printer is in use on this high-tech project.
These technologies not only save manufacturers’ time and money spent building complex prototypes; they also drastically reduce development cycles and grant competitive advantages. As such, these new technology tools are allowing industry to grow faster than ever before.
All of these beneficial aspects have become increasingly apparent to the point where even the fashion industry can no longer ignore them. Especially now, when new technology tools are becoming increasingly suitable for use by the masses. There are some active and quite creative movements going on in fashion right now.
New technology tools are allowing industry to grow faster than ever before.
Fashion has arrived in the digital era
In 2013, Dutch fashion designer Iris van Harpen introduced 3D-printed couture at the Fashion Week in Berlin. Van Harpen is one of the pioneers in the fashion technology branch. She aims to combine fine handwork techniques with digital technology and show fashion from a slightly new perspective – more personal, more individual. In the same year, lingerie giant Victoria’s Secret sent one of its angels, super model Lindsay Ellingson, onto the catwalk wearing a 3D-printed outfit that was designed to exactly fit the angel’s body based on a 3D-scan. The outfit was 3D printed in lightweight nylon, then encrusted with millions of Swarovski crystals, and eventually paired with Victoria’s Secret lingerie.
This crazy event, where drones and robots ran across the catwalk wearing the designers’ collections, simply blew my mind.
These experiments represent the small and cautious steps taken by fashion actors to enter the technological playground. However, when I heard about the Silicon Valley Fashion Week that took place in San Francisco this year, I understood that it is now official: The fashion branch has finally arrived in the digital era.
This crazy event, where drones and robots ran across the catwalk wearing the designers’ collections, simply blew my mind. It was organized by Betabrand – a crowd-financed supplier and cross-channel retailer in San Francisco. And this is only the beginning!
The start-up Electroloom – also located in San Francisco – prints stuff like skirts, tank tops and hats using a polyester-cotton mix. Yes, and even though it comes out of a printer, you can actually wear it against your skin and it is not scratchy! Their technology, known as Field Guided Fabrication, allows you to print clothing where no needle, no seam, and even no post-processing are required. Isn’t that amazing?! So far, Electroloom is still in the early stages, but what does it really indicate? I have two terms for the current evolution: generation of makers and mass customization.
Design your own shirts and shoes
The interest in personalization is growing conspicuously. Happily, Chris Anderson, author of the books “The Long Tail” and “Makers”, is by far not the only one who is aware of this trend today.
On your next grocery shopping trip, pick up a jar of Nutella or a bottle of Coca Cola. In Europe at least, it is quite likely that you’ll find yourself digging among the bottles or jars looking for your name. On meinecoke.de you can actually order your personal Coca Cola labeled with the name of your choice delivered right to your home – or your friend’s home if you like. Wouldn’t that be kind of a cool pick-up line? Maybe not, you decide. My advice for love-struck guys: Create your own exotic muesli mix on mymuesli.com then have it sent to your crush with a lovely note. Chances are high that you might enjoy a breakfast together soon.
Now, how can this level of personalization hype be applied to fashion? Easy! Go to spreadshirt.com and create a personal design for your shirt or get inspired by matchless designs on sunfrog.com. This is nothing new, you might say. What else is cooking in the digital fashion innovation pot?
Let’s take a look at big players like Adidas. You’ve probably heard of Mi Adidas – the campaign that Adidas started a few years ago. The global sportswear and equipment manufacturer offers customers a way to personalize shoes, jackets and sunglasses. You can choose from a range of different colors and materials for individual product components. Personalized prints on shirts or bottles are quite easy to produce, whereas personally selected components integrated into other products require intervening in the production process.
As its next step, Adidas is planning is to move part of its fabric manufacturing to regional areas – and closer to the customer – so as to be able to perform mass customization more efficiently. Adidas calls this concept “Storefactory” or “Speed Factory”. Other brands like Nike have had similar thoughts and are working on options that allow them to produce closer to the customer. But why expend all this effort?
An individualized product can hardly be compared to similar products from competitors, which allows a bit more flexibility in pricing. Studies have shown that customers spend more money on individualized products – we are talking 10 – 30 percent more revenue. It is also easier to attract consumers with something that speaks directly to them and considers their personal needs and desires.
Studies have shown that customers spend more money on individualized products – we are talking 10 – 30 percent more revenue.
In the German newspaper “Frankfurter Allegemeine”, economist and philosopher Birger Priddat puts it this way: “The ‘industry’ will evolve to become ‘servistry’: to a process ‘on demand’ that considers individual customer’s desires without ignoring the ‘economy of scale’, the advantages of production in quantity.” Flexible machinery makes it possible to generate a small number of items for the same cost as mass production.
More fashion-enthusiast hackers, please!
There is one more item to be discussed: Why isn’t everybody in the fashion industry psyched about this trend? Why didn’t they jump on the new technology train long ago?
The name itself provides the answer: “new” technology. It takes guts and innovative spirit to send company brains out to start experimenting with new developments. Sometimes entire ERP systems – like the project management and product planning system – have to be rethought and reconfigured. It takes lots of tedious work and money – and, lest we forget, risk. Besides, the market needs self-contained start-up companies who think independently and offer a wide horizon of ideas and modi operandi to huge corporations who have long been stuck in their working cycles. And, of course, it takes time for the school system to adapt to the new trends on the market and provide the necessary lectures for future employers and employees.
Gamers and science fiction moviemakers had to dress their human characters. This is how some of the first software programs for textiles emerged.
But given all this, why are the automobile and the architecture industries still much further along in their technological progress than the fashion branch? To put not too fine a point on it: There are simply significantly more hackers who are personally interested in creating self-driving cars, 3D-printed buildings, or high-capacity video games rather than fashion conductive tools. In other words: There just aren’t enough fashion-enthusiast hackers out there.
This should not pose a serious problem though, since gamers and science fiction moviemakers have already addressed the issue by necessity. After all, they had to dress their human characters somehow. This is how some of the first software programs for textiles emerged, such as Marvelous Designer. South Korean high-tech developers created software that created 3D pattern linked to a complex simulation and visualization system that allows amateurs to create 3D-clothing and simultaneously dress their avatar of choice.
Realizing the potential of this tool for the fashion branch, Marvelous Designer recently launched a new software product, Clo3D, specifically targeted at the textile industry. In 2014, one of the most common brands for pattern-drafting software, “Assyst”, launched an upgrade called “Vidya”. Using Vidya, the pattern-maker can design and simultaneously visualize clothes three-dimensionally on an avatar, and apply various fabrics and colors.
Based on these advances, we can confidently assume that the first steps have been taken. It will be very interesting to see how long it takes the fashion branch to widely adopt and gratefully embrace modern technology. For my part, I am very optimistic and with my company Admoreal, which develops virtual reality tools for fashion e-commerce, I do my best to support this development!
Do you want to learn more about Internet of Things, fashion and technology? Do you love to be around designers, tech-heads and free-spirits?
Then you should join Anna and her virtual reality company Admoreal at MeshCon conference. At MeshCon, IoT experts, fashion designers, software developers and textile manipulators come together to develop open technologies for local and fair production with a special focus on FashionTec. The event will take place on 3rd October 2015 in Berlin, Germany.