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3D Printing and Fashion

In the same way that wearables have been buzzing around the headlines at various levels of expertise, depths of analysis and niche-ness, 3D printing has been developing in parallel, gaining ground in the media and advancing technologically. Although still experimental, limited in capabilities (super slow, and high density), the process is constantly improving, and in many industries it is already an obviously integral part of the future. In fashion, the relevance of the technology is clear, so the outlying issues become questions of commercialization and copyright laws.

As we learned from Napster in the music industry, once a commodity is digitized, it's easy to copy and share (i.e. pirate) and the same could be easily applied to any kind of product sold in code format for download. 

Personal musing: What if you can plant a bug in the code, where if it's copied, it will print out with "I am a pirater" printed across it? Or the Lulu Guinness lips handbag (which I reported here she would love to start with, experimenting with distribution through 3D printing) doesn't open? Brands could come up with any number of tongue-in-cheek–or more serious–ways to use code in deterring consumers from stealing code.

Soft materials cannot yet be printed, so for fashion 3D printing is only for explorative, structural products. This means that accessory designers will continue to lead the adoption of the technology, while Iris Van Herpen, who creates entire garments for great Wow factor at her runway shows, remains a singular pioneer of 3D printing garments (a couple of other lesser known names share the space). And besides the celebs who will brave the red carpet in one of the sculptural designs, the salability of the pieces, and thus the scalability, waits for us in the future.

Aside from the not-there-yet commercialization of the end product, there is also a question of the commercialization of the printers themselves. Will we all have one in our homes? Or will there be print shops, like Kinkos, where you can send your code and get a notification when it's ready for you to pick up?

The possibility of personalization is also an exciting aspect. While I believe in the authority of the designer, so modifications in style are not something I encourage, fit is a place where customization is transformational. In garments as well as in shoes, imagine if we weren't limited to standardized sizes, but instead we were all just the size that we are, with our unique bodies and unique the foot shape. 3D printing could enable this kind of production, and that is a beautiful thing. 

Finally, it demands an understanding of the technology in the design team to be able to explore the posibilities. Is this something that fashion designers will exploit? Will design teams soon be hiring programmers? Will styles be developed, like chez Herpen, solely for the 3D printing format? Or will the printers only be used as an alternate means of distribution for an article that is prototyped and manufactured through more traditional methods?

You can find a lot about the future of fashion and technology (see here, here and here) on the blog, but I've largely neglected the subject of 3D printing until now. It's a space I'll be watching more closely, so keep checking back for more analysis and updates on the amazing & innovative (or not so successful) applications and developments.

In the meantime, here's a brief digest of reading on 3D printing if you're behind on the game:

"The Future of Fashion is Code, Not Couture" Mashable

"Will 3D Printing Upend Fashion Like Napster Crippled the Music Industry?" Mashable

"3D Printing Hits the Fashion World" Forbes

"Royal Ascot: 3D printed hat from poetry and plastic" The Telegraph



The Story of Wearables Through the Headlines

It's hard to keep up with the wearables market, especially when every other article on the subject has a headline that contradicts the one before it. Here are some examples from recent news articles that sensationalize, dramatize, celebrate, and forebode the future of wearables.

Is your wearable tech helping you -- or watching you?

Smart devices, wearables pose security risks for consumers

Are they threatening to our security, or could they save our lives? Or both?

Wearable tech: It could save your life

JWT Singapore's New Line of Wearables Will Keep You Safe

Image From  CNN

Image From CNN

Exclusive: Nike fires majority of FuelBand team, will stop making wearable hardware

Nike’s pull away from wearable tech might be good for field

Why an Apple/Nike Partnership Would Sell Wearables

If anything, this erratic approach to news keeps us active in finding those articles that actually add substance to the discussion, rather than playing on our anxieties and weakness to click on any provocative link.

Better yet, we can add to those substantive headlines by making informed, productive contributions of our own.

Challenge of Making Wearable Technologies Meet Real Needs in Our Lives

There's also a lot out there about wearables as data gathering tools for brands, and ways to have round the clock immediate access to users. But the day wearables are ubiquitous will be the day the user becomes the main benefactor, not the supplier. Brands will never maintain an audience through wearables until users see and experience real value in their wearables. This means answering real needs, which seems, so far, within all these spasmodic headlines, to be the one element that still eludes both engineers and designers.


Three Sectors of Fashion Tech: Distinguishing gimmick from game changer


Three Sectors of Fashion Tech: Distinguishing gimmick from game changer

When we talk about Fashion Technology, what do we mean? There are three distinct sectors that make up the varied initiatives of Fashion & Tech mergence. Each is at a different phase of integration and development, each is pioneered with different intentions and by innovators with different backgrounds, and each affects different groups of people. Technology will eventually be universally employed within the fashion industry to streamline our businesses, our consumption, and our daily lives. For the time being, we are still working through the pain points and residual effects of the early arrivers. We can confidently assume that the most exciting inventions are yet to come, especially in wearables, but also in platforms for B2B and  Listed below, from most to least developed, are the three sectors of Fashion Tech:

Online platforms: In both B2B and B2C, online platforms are altering and streamlining the exchange of goods. Net a Porter is a great example of Fashion Technology that was a game changer for the luxury fashion industry. NaP has since spurred the development of flash sale luxury sites (Gilt), luxury garment rental sites (Rent the Runway), and many more online business models. The great feat was to prove that consumers are willing to spend big $$ online, sight unseen. LeNewBlack and Joor are two B2B examples of accessibility between buyers and brands with an integrated ordering system. RewardStyle is a platform that revolutionized the monetization of fashion blogs.


There are also community based fashion platforms such as Polyvore whose success shows that fashion's aspirational culture was craving a creative outlet. It's the idea that you don't need to own all of the items you covet in order to display your fashion sense. The foundation is laid, and more and more commerce will move online. As that happens, the commerce and curation models will blend to create a more engaging experience for the consumer, and a place for the aspirational consumer on what would, in some cases, be an otherwise prohibitive platform.

Experience Creation: This can be anything from how the brand uses Instagram and Facebook to build their following (think Burberry's famously successful use of online), to how they use tablets to enhance the in-store experience. One of the most recent examples of laudable fashion tech mergence is the drone camera live stream from the Fall 2014 Fendi runway. Of the three categories, this is perhaps the most transparently marketing based. Incorporating a high tech element in brick and mortar settings creates a kind of cache because it is still not totally main stream. Many of these efforts remain overtly gimmicky, however these practices will eventually become ubiquitous across all markets form luxury to mass market.

Burberry Shop the Runway  shows the video clip of the look on the runway with all of the items, from the outerwear to the nail polish, available for purchase or to 'like' for when it's in stores.

Burberry Shop the Runway shows the video clip of the look on the runway with all of the items, from the outerwear to the nail polish, available for purchase or to 'like' for when it's in stores.

Wearables: This is basically any kind of technology that you attach to your person. The biggest market now is in fitness and health, but there are many other directions being explored. For the time being, wearables seem limited to the categories of eyewear and jewelry items, i.e. wrist watch, bracelet, or ring, 3D printing, and wired clothing, with color changing or LED capabilities, although we are also starting to see some patches, mostly in the medical field. Because we are really in the early stages of wearables, there is a huge amount of work left to do in this category.

From Verve

From Verve

Wearables are the final frontier because of the incongruent demands of aesthetics and engineering in product design that are more easily overcome with the separation of front and back end design, and the flexibility of experience creation that simply uses technology as a vehicle. That is not to say that all the work as been done in the other sectors, as expressed above. 

Surveys have shown evidence that a great number of people abandon their wearables within three months of purchase. The current momentum will do little to advance the wearable industry if we don't begin to see some truly indispensable products on the market. the hype might actually be detrimental to the growth of the sector if the offering remains so limited.

While it is exciting that designers are starting to team up with engineers on product development, this will mean very little until the functions of the device segue into a seamless lifestyle change, possibly from smart phone to wearable.

Where do your priorities lie? Online platforms? Customer engagement on and offline? Or wearables? Do you see another frontier? We are in a period where questions outnumber certainties. It is a time when big ideas have the room to come into their own. This is the space to think outside of existing parameters, because technology is a tool where anything can be realized and fashion a state of mind where the imagination knows no limits.




Sci-fi Fashion

There is a reason that the inspiration of fashion designers from Sci Fi films appears on the runway, then gets seriously desaturated before reaching the street. Some images below are examples from research for the Fashion & Tech event planning coming up this year, and for an upcoming piece breaking down the elements that we can take home, and those we should leave at the cinema.




Wearable Tech: One, the other, or neither?

Image via  theConnectivist

Image via theConnectivist

The smart phone, now that they are owned by most of the world’s cell phone users, has begun to reveal it’s limitations as we grow accustomed to seeing more and more devices trying to attach themselves to us for a hands free, forever connected way of life. The smart phone developed in us the expectation of constant access to information, contacts, and media. But as technology allows for smaller and lighter design and services become streamlined, a hand held device seems inconvenient and detached from the fluidity of our motions during certain activities. This opens a door for some exciting possibilities of devices that become elegantly interwoven with our lives. Therein also lies the greatest hurdle.


Elegant technology does not always yield elegant design. We can accept the industrial nature of our cell phones, tablets and computers because they are products of industrial design. Apple, as an obvious example, is known to lead when it comes to beautiful encasements for their technology. But when we start to translate that approach to something that is intended to integrate seamlessly into the way we present ourselves, the industrial nature of the objects we are seeing seems suddenly hard and robotic, representative of the false predictions of design of the future that most designers, in fashion as well as industrial design, miscalculated.


Even collaborations with fashion designers have led to little improvement in the sector. I attribute this to a lack on understanding on both sides. The engineers don’t understand the aesthetics, and the designers don’t understand the technology. So how can they create a harmonious design? Take the USB bracelets for example. Not only are they aesthetically juvenile (perfect for high-schoolers or college students who tend to lose things), but the technology does not engage with the wearer or his/her surroundings. By not applying sophisticated design or forward thinking applications of wearable tech, it misses the mark from both directions.


But it’s not all on the tech companies anymore; now fashion designers are in on it, too. And think of Google Glass: check mark next to valuable capabilities, but its promotion in line with fashion week only made the suggestion of mainstreaming the cyborg design seem that much more ridiculous.


Regarding the collaboration between the Opening Ceremony duo and Intel, there is little reason to expect a great leap forward, except that the pair of designers have been known to be able to make ‘ugly’ = ‘cool’. My cynicism, it seems, is equal to that of the tech savvy, who seem to consider wearables too focused on wearability and less on their technological value. In the case of the USB bracelets I think we’d find ourselves arguing the same point from opposite sides. Wearables’ predicament: When you try to please everyone, sometimes you don’t please anyone.



Pedestrian R&D

Having spent most of my life in major cities, I do a lot of walking. It is my preferred mode of transportation. I’m a pedestrian.

Recently in Paris, the weather has been lovely, unseasonably so. And it makes me think about how hard it can be to dress for these transitional days that can linger on before the official shift in season.

It is a red flag to pass the threshold from indoors to out and feel comfortable as you are. What it means, I’ve learned, is that in about 100 yards you will be uncomfortably warm, begin perspiration, and regret every decision you made while getting dressed and reimagining what you should have put on instead. And probably saying next time I’ll know better.

But it’s actually a science to understand how to really dress for the weather.

Since I don’t have a laboratory or my own research and development team toiling away after a solution (yet), there are low-tech solutions that I consider, always through trial and error. These are some of the things I've learned, and that always inform my designs: 

Think about fabric contentHaving one wind-blocking layer and the rest as breathable as possible, my favorite wind blockers being leather and felt. I also prefer sleeveless for the wind-breaking layer. It’s tempting to put on the wool jacket, but you’ll just work up a sweat only to open the front to let some heat out, which leaves the most vulnerable part of you exposed. If you think about it, we should actually wear our coats backwards to let the heat out the back and keep our chests protected. But the sleeveless option is probably more practical: let the heat from our core disperse to our extremities to keep us balanced.

Think about where you are layering . I find that mixing long sleeves and sleeveless are the best combination. Anything short sleeved is uncomfortable and counterproductive. You’re adding bulk in a place where it’s the most hindering to movement, and not adding any valuable protection.

By alternating sleeveless, long-sleeved, sleeveless, you might feel a slight chill on your arms before you start moving, but you’ll be thankful once your body heats up and it has a place let go of the excess, while your core stays warm.

Think about your coreBefore I’ll pull out my winter coat, I’ll pull out a crux. The piece that keeps the neck and core extra cozy, bridging the wardrobe that you skip back and forth between while the weather is decided whether to commit to winter or not. Because once you put on that winter coat, you’re committed to it. (Like the rain boots or a raincoat you wore because it deceptively rained in the morning only to clear up as you arrive at work)

But this is now. There are possible hi-tech solutions that could do incredible things to solve this and other sartorial problems.

Starting with fabric contentImagine garments of natural fibers that have the same technical qualities of the synthetic fibers we wear at the gym and in extreme environments. Just because it’s cold in the city doesn’t mean you have to dress like you’re in the mountains. Think of a cashmere coat that is both waterproof and breathable. A long-sleeved knit of natural fibers that wicks sweat. A super lightweight wool that keeps you cool when it’s warm (this last one already exists, called Cool Wool, and is used in the Spring collection).

In layeringImagine a system that has just the right density over precise parts of the body to maximize on the bodies internal regulatory system. Imagine a personalized body map that generates your customized layers with notes on how to combine them for a range of different temperature conditions. And these won’t be star trek uniforms; they’ll be the timeless, refined garments of a confident and mature consumer.

And finally, an accessory that takes its shape from a combination of aesthetics, ergonomics, and biology to show the potential for fashion to take new form in the future. We call it the crux.

These are the kinds of considerations that Fashion Designers will need to reflect on and act on in the years to come. This approach is on the fringes of the fashion industry as it currently operates. But it has a voice that’s coming up through the concept of sustainability and research and development in textile mills globally. Eliminate waste, and maximize effectiveness.

Always, fashion comes first; as without aesthetic credibility, the ideas can’t catch on. There are still many ways that technology isn’t ready to be applied in a commercially viable way, and many designers who don’t consider these issues a part of their job. Until these two can meet, the exploration of low and hi tech solutions for the here and now will help us to continue to ask the right questions and develop the answers over time.

And so, I’ll keep up my pedestrian experiments and offer solutions via Starkweather that will carry women through the seasons into the future.