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wearable technology


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.



Can Fashion Tech Surpass Novelty?

CuteCircuit Jacket

CuteCircuit Jacket

The more buzz that disseminates about the mergence of fashion and technology, the more evidently we see the current priorities of this shift. While we should all be grateful for the brave few who take risks to experiment with the possible directions, most efforts to date feel more like novel ideas than timeless design breakthroughs. It seems that all futuristic designs that come down the runway are either interpreting costumes from Sci-Fi movies, or superfluously incorporating wearable technologies. By treating technology as a novelty, designers are skewing the expectations of what future fashion can be.

So often, directional aesthetics recall too literally the stereotypes of an imagined future. This has been evident over time, as aesthetics of the future evolve with industrial advancements. When new materials are introduced into the market, imaginations take off. Costume design in films is an excellent example of this phenomenon. When lycra was invented in 1958, it became a ubiquitous choice for all superheroes, space travelers, and citizens of the future. Plastic, whose versatility was greatly explored over the course of the 20th century was another protagonist in the aesthetics of the imagined future. Suddenly industrial designers were able to achieve forms and develop constriction methods impossible with natural materials and manual construction methods.

Fashion reflected these changes with the outrageous aesthetic of the space age that I discuss here, but also, in some cases, with subtle acknowledgment in refined, timeless design. This will be design made possible by new fabrics, new finishing techniques, and new closure technology (think about the revolutionary invention of the button! the zipper!) In timeless design, the innovation is in service of the design. In novel design, the design is in service of the innovation. For the most successful, the innovation will be invisible. It will only be recognized through the quality of the experience.

Most of the technology we see in fashion today is anything but invisible: It is overtly tech-y. Of the novel things we see today are wearable light shows on the runway: Dresses with pixilated images glowing from the surface and jackets with color changing shoulders (see On Aura Tour Vu Spring 2014 Haute Couture and Cutecircuit RTW). There are mood-sensing garments, changing color when you’re angry, happy or embarrassed. Even within the realm of novelty the effects of literally displaying your emotions seems like a questionable concept. These capabilities could be valuable for specific purposes, including R&D, but will have a hard time becoming mainstream. Even Google glass is too tech-y for it’s own good.

If anything, designing for the future will be about editing, minimizing and streamlining. If we’ve learned anything from the sleek appeal of modern glass architecture, the pleasure of engaging with well-designed user interfaces, and even the aesthetic success of apple products, it is that less is more. The impetus is not for designers to run out and plug in all of their dresses, then film them with drones. The idea is for designers to employ technology to improve the customer experience from discovery to purchasing through to use of the product. We should be thinking of the future needs of the consumer and incorporating that into better practices so that technology is applied with purpose, not superfluity. Put simply: technology should simplify our lives. For the time being, fashion tech is just ‘stuff,’ but if we shift our priorities and think long term, we can tackle greater mysteries and reap greater rewards. 

*As a fashion pragmatist, my main prerogative is to understand and interpret fashion as it is intended for every day use. And so while I use examples of runway fashion, it is with the understanding that these garments are intended for commercial use and to communicate on brand identity. I purport simply that this superficially futuristic aesthetic is misleading and ultimately wasteful. And while I am a believer in the purity of a design vision, I believe that the validity of any design is achieved once it finds it’s audience (paying customers), and not before. (In this, I distinguish fashion from art for art’s sake).



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.



Why Fashion of the Future will never be the Fashion of the Future

Every sci-fi costume designer has the challenge of imagining a world that has yet to become. Designers like Pierre Cardin and Paco Rabanne made careers of a futuristic vision well enough in line with the Mod era to be part of the zeitgeist. But, even now (many years into the future from 1960) those designs are classified more as relics of the past than visionary ideas of fashion yet to come. Over a decade past Space Odyssey: 2001 we are still dressing like the earthlings we are.

In fashion, just like in society, we tend to get ahead of ourselves. We work out the logistics of an intergalactic future while still working out the logistics of bringing roads, electricity, and running water to underdeveloped countries here on Earth.

As far as when things will change, we enter into the future every day. And we’ll get there one day at a time. Just as fashion has evolved through subtle changes year to year, so will evolve the fashions of the future. New technologies appear and aspire to be game changers. The introduction of the zipper was not the death of the button. As designers we appropriate available resources to our taste, and the demands of the time. We are always building on what we know to take a step forward. You cannot predict a creative evolution without the phases in between. Only in looking back can you witness the change. That bodes well for the future of fashion: that we will never actually have to wear what those Sci-Fi movies predict for us. For it to work in fashion, technology can’t look like technology.  

Take the example of Google Glass, straight from the futuristic spread of Vogue’s September Issue. It is the epitome of why a futuristic design will never actually represent the designs of the future. Too mechanical, too metallic, too industrial: until technology is at a point where it can be adapted to aesthetic demands, it will never break into the commercial sphere.

When we imagine wearable technology, it’s in the image of a cyborg. Chips and digits and wires. How do you market this to a customer of Ralph Lauren or Lanvin? It will be necessary for engineers to create their technologies in an unpackaged way. Leave it up to the designers to make it wearable. Let the technology be adaptable. Not like an iPhone can be dressed with a case, but where the form of the iPhone could be undefined. This is when fashion can meet the future. When fashion doesn’t have to bend to the constraints of the technology, but when the technology is flexible enough to bend to the aesthetic whim.

For designers, and engineers, that is the next and wonderfully exciting frontier.