Fashion + Technology = The New Formula To Success And Virality In This Era14 min readReading Time: 10 minutes
What does the clothing of the future look like? Will it be a definitive shift towards more natural alternatives, or will we see more of clothing that interacts directly with the human body? If current trends are anything to go by, we’re likely to see a mix of the two. There will be definitive advocates and users of natural fibers like hemp, nettle silk, and even spider silk, while there will also be people who will redefine the meaning of ‘fashion as a form of self-expression’.
Before we delve deeper into some of the new, innovative, even bizarre innovations that are shaping fashion, it is important to understand the influences that are driving this innovation. In this article, we will discuss the factors that precipitate new and intriguing technology in fashion, explore some of the groundbreaking work being done, and also take a look at what each of these innovations might mean for the future.
Until now, whenever technology and fashion have been discussed together, the context has often been centered around aspects like AI in fashion retail, or the use of augmented reality to improve customer experience. Today, we are going to go beyond these aspects to look at innovations that aren’t often as widespread or widely publicized but are significant nonetheless. Take, for instance, the Rain Palette dress by Korean designer Dahlia Sun.
Before we tell you why, take a look at the weather app on your phone. What does it tell you about the current air quality in your area? It is very likely that it is considered unsafe for you to be outdoors, or that the air could trigger allergies. That is the truth of our world today. Even as some sections of people actively deny that climate change exists, that it is changing and that we need to adapt are fundamental realities of our times.
Now think about a naturally dyed dress that can detect acid rain. If you were to wear this dress, you would know when to get out from under the pouring rain because the dress changes color with changing pH. The truly innovative bit? The dye used is derived from a vegetable all kids love to hate- cabbage!
Who would have thought?
To be sure, most of these innovations are at the prototype stage today and they aren’t being mass produced. That said, it is only a matter of time before applications like these find widespread use. Pioneers in fashion are using the technology of today to design clothing for the future. What is setting off this storm?
Innovating For Tomorrow- The Drivers Of Change
‘The times, they are a changin’, crooned Bob Dylan back in 1964. ‘And don’t speak too soon
For the wheel’s still in spin’, he said. How true, and how apt, his words are for today’s fashion context!
We’ve seen innovation in every sphere, and nowhere has technology been more significant than in offering a better consumer experience. The focus has now shifted to the future of fashion, and that story is being spun in some very capable hands. What is driving these new changes?
- Gen Z has its eyes trained on one thing: sustainable fashion. In several surveys, these shoppers have said that they would prefer to buy longer-lasting clothing even at a higher price than to settle for cheaper clothes that lose their sheen too quickly. Longer-lasting fashion isn’t a buzzword anymore. Instead, people are beginning to actively look out for a wardrobe that lasts longer.
- On the other hand, the same generation of shoppers is also notoriously frugal, if not by choice then because of circumstance. They have grown up with the burden of heavy education loans. Overall, they present a tricky conundrum that’s causing the fashion industry to reinvent itself. The overall volume of clothing sold could very well go down tremendously, so brands have no choice but to bet on better quality products that cost more and are bought less frequently.
- Today’s shopper is not afraid to experiment. The renewed rise of streetwear, plus trends like athleisure and the Urban Prairie growing side by side demonstrate the thirst for individual expression. This gives innovative fashion concepts a real chance at success in the market as harbingers of new ways of self-expression. What’s more, it isn’t just the look that speaks anymore, but everything from the yarn and dyeing to where the garment was made.
- When all that’s said and done, for many shoppers today eco-consciousness of a brand is a good attribute to have but not the only determinant of whether to buy a certain product or not. But, with a whole new cohort of shoppers stepping into the picture every few years, we can expect this trend to change and for people to be more conscious of what they buy.
Taking Design A Notch Higher- The Fun, The Useful And The Quaint
The past couple of years have seen a wave of new innovations in fashion- and not all of them are related to sustainability. However, they all cash in on a few things- millennial anxiety, an outdoorsy life, or just the need to charge your phone when you’re away. We take a look at designs that are cutting edge, and also those that are cutting it too close to be plausible. Dive in, then!
The Coat-To-Counter FOMO
This writer spent a week in China with no internet access and no familiarity with the language. Talk about being a nomad in the literal sense of the world. In situations where the internet just refuses to connect, the BB Suit can come in quite handy. Turn yourself into a living, breathing hotspot with WiFi, NFC, and Bluetooth enablement. You can also play music from the suit for good measure. The only downside- the way it looks.
On the other hand, if you’re anxious about just how much information you’re sharing with service providers simply by existing, CHBL’s jammer coat can make you digitally invisible by blocking all signals. Go austere in a busy town just by putting this coat on- no phone calls, guaranteed. Perhaps the sheer thickness of the jacket is a metaphor for how much we’d have to isolate ourselves in order to be truly disconnected from everything.
Keeping Your Personal Space To Yourself
Apart from its eight legs and excellent brain capacity, an octopus is also famous for one other thing- the sheer panache with which it can distract a predator. You’d think that predators would stay away from an animal with eight tentacles, but that is unfortunately not the case. So, the octopus releases a good squirt of black ink, sometimes poisonous, that can temporarily blind its predator, giving it time to disappear like the rightful Houdini it is. Take that for invading in its personal space!
In the context of today’s cities, personal space is hard to come by. You only need to get on the subway to know that that is true. However, if you’re not particularly a fan of breathing in other people’s body odor, there are some fashion choices that can come in handy. The gaze-activated dress lights up whenever someone looks at you- a welcome respite in a surreptitious world. But if you want to take it one notch higher, there’s the Smoke dress that puffs smoke into the faces of people who get too close for comfort, a la octopus.
On a serious note, technology like this can be immensely beneficial. The gaze activated dresses are finding use in medical centers, and the smoke dresses could one day save a life on the streets. In both cases, design wins.
Looking Into The Future
Hunger games, anyone? We don’t mean the actual games, but the fashion in the movie series was to die for (no pun intended). Would the future of clothing look something like that- full of lights, drama, and expressions? If some current designs are to go by, that could very well be the case. Take, for example, London-based Studio XO’s creations. In a collaboration with Haus Of Gaga (helmed by who else?), they’ve designed four dresses for Lady Gaga’s concert collection. A bubble dress called Anemone responds much like a sea anemone, gently flowing. The other one, Volantis, is capable of making the wearer fly!
Studio XO isn’t the only one going the extra mile with design, either. The Unseen first came into popularity with their Selfridges collaboration to create color-changing accessories that respond to external temperature. A different color for a different season, quite literally!
This got us so curious that we couldn’t help but check out the rest of their design portfolio, and we weren’t disappointed. From a Swarovski-powered headpiece that reads brainwaves and interprets them in color, to the more easily implementable hair color that changes with exposure, there seems to be no end to what they can make happen. Why, they’re even designing interactive astronaut suits for Virgin Galactic’s first space flight. Talk about the future of fashion- we even have Martian suits in existence now!
The More Mainstream Options
If some of the pieces on the list sound bizarre to you, or even ‘interesting but not implementable’, you’re not alone. Most of these designs are prototypes and have been made on special commission or for fashion exhibits around the world. That said, there are some pieces of clothing that are slightly more relatable. Levi’s Commuter jacket is one of them. Yes, that jacket with the shiny strips on it to help you stay safe on highways. With their Google collaboration, the Commuter series is getting an upgrade.
Project jacquard takes connectivity on the road to another level by providing access to music and playlists, a function for answering calls while riding, and even navigation with the touch of a button. You may wander, but you will never be lost.
More Than Just Design- The Material Perspective
It is clear by now that innovation in fashion is not limited to design alone. Some of the materials being experimented with are so niche that they’ve found a place in the Museum of Modern Art’s fashion exhibits.
What better place to learn from than nature? That seems to be the mantra in several cases of material innovation.
Imagine what it would be like if all of our clothing could be recycled- every last bit of it. That is the purpose of the development that happens at AEANCE. Here, timeless minimalism meets nature-inspired ideas like water-repellent coatings, completely biodegradable yarn, and sustainable synthetics.
Bolt Threads, on the other hand, is pioneering the development of artificially-engineered spider silk. Spider webs are unbelievably resilient and can handle pressures such as a sudden gust of wind. The Microsilk technology developed by Bolt Threads is just as resilient and has a sheen the likes of which we’ve never seen before. Moreover, the silk itself is human and artificially produced, so no animals are harmed in the process.
That’s not the end. Bold Threads has also designed Mylo, a fiber developed on the basis of a mushroom’s roots- resilient, thin and fully adaptable to current climatic conditions. It looks just like leather but is not affected by climate the same way. Plus, it is vegan leather of a new kind.
Zoa, the bio-fabricated material designed by Modern Meadows made it to MoMA’s fall 2017 exhibition titled ‘Is Fashion Modern?’ Zoa is as modern as it gets- it uses the basic structure of collagen, the same substance that holds all living beings together and in one piece. The end result is a product that can be solid or liquid, adapt to any shape and take on any texture. The time has come for our clothing materials to be grown, as opposed to being harvested from animals or from traditional cotton farms.
Speaking of cotton, its role in fashion doesn’t end just yet. But, behemoths like H&M have made a promise to use more sustainable methods of sourcing. In fact, their goal is to use 100% sustainable cotton by 2020. In fashion where there are many suppliers, manufacturers, and intermediaries, that is no small feat. We are all rooting for H&M to achieve the objective and show the world that with enough commitment, anything is possible.
Sometimes, the first step towards innovation, particularly in an industry like fashion, could also start with entrenched practices being replaced by those that make better sense in current times. Then, the newer material inventions take over.
Making The Most Of Distribution
Fashion, at the end of the day, is a retail business. It needs a strong distribution network in order to truly be successful. What’s more, fashion is also traditionally driven by demand, and we know that sometimes, forecasting can go wrong leading to overproduction and wastage.
Technology today is helping to turn things around on the supply chain end of things as well. Better inventory management systems and supply chain trackers can accurately pinpoint the right data. For example, until now it was virtually impossible to track which garment was made by which manufacturer in what country. Today, however, with the advent of RFID chips, such information can be encoded into every single garment, right from the time when it was nothing more than a spool of yarn. This allows fashion retailers to gain better control of their sourcing practices.
On the inventory and forecasting front, machine learning and AI applications are the future. With the availability of tons of raw data, it is possible to make forecasting a finer science. Inventory management can also be simplified with better visibility across all storage and retail touchpoints.
There is also the possibility of turning fashion into a supply-based endeavor. Instead of mass production, which is the norm today, we will see companies begin to offer bespoke clothing based on a digital catalog. Customers can use a digital interface that scans their body for accurate fitting to order clothes that are made just for them. This way, everyone gets what they really want.
With new innovations, there’s always a tough question that needs to be answered- will it fly or will it land for good?
There are some innovations in fashion that seem to serve no purpose on the surface. Take, for example, the dress that is designed to punish the wearer for telling a lie. From afar, it looks like a useless invention- why would anyone subject themselves to torture for their own shortcomings?
On closer look, however, its application in espionage and covert operations cannot be discounted. Perhaps, fashion in the future will not just be about protecting ourselves from the elements, but also about serving a very specific purpose. Karma clothing, designed to change colors in response to bodily functions, is already being used in hospitals as a way to quickly identify deteriorating patients.
It is also safe to say that today’s fashion innovators are not counting on the power of numbers. The Unseen, for example, works on specific, commissioned projects like the Virgin Galactic spacesuits. Hence, they do not face the problems inherent to fashion- the task of making many people want the same product in a short span of time. This is a whole new business model in fashion, one that closely interacts with science and goes after those clients who want something different and are willing to pay at the business-to-business level.
Such products also give us an insight into the business strategy which is often a closely-guarded secret in competitive industries like fashion. For some brands, the power is in innovation itself. For others, like Levi’s X Project Jacquard, the numbers of the traditional business are the basis for introducing something new.