The future of dressing.
Did Alexander McQueen know something we didn’t in S/S99 when he put Shalom Harlow on stage with two robots? As the machines danced while spraying dye all over Harlow’s dress – encapsulating McQueen’s typical flair for the dramatic – the moment seemed to foreshadow what was to come.
More than two decades later and the idea of robots taking on human job roles isn’t such a crazy thought – it’s happening. And as technology looks to help us solve future crises across sectors, we get to grips with some of the latest innovations, and find out how tech is changing our industry right now.
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What is blockchain?
One buzzword that has the fashion industry aflutter at the moment is blockchain; purported to solve myriad problems across the industry, from logistics to supply chain and even counterfeit products. But what exactly does it mean? We caught up with Joy Aljouny to explain it in laymen’s terms. Founder of Bonfaie, a company that was acquired by fashion e-commerce giant Moda Operandi, Aljouny also co-founded Fetchr (the online delivery service), raising $41 million for the company and vastly responsible for its financial success. “Blockchain is really simple when you simplify it; blockchain is information,” she explains. “So you no longer need third parties, that is all it is. For example, all the records people have stating where a garment has been made, where the fabric has come from, who bought the fabric, all this information will sit in a cloud and will be accessible to anyone who has an internet connection. It will put the customer at the forefront of everything we do and there will be absolute visibility.”
This transparency in fashion will treat both luxury and high street brands alike, in that they are all similarly accountable for the processes of making a garment. This breakthrough in technology is exciting and terrifying all at the same time. For brands not practicing ethical processes, blockchain will show us who is following protocol and who isn’t. It comes as no shock that the likes of H&M and Gap are yet to join the innovation, whereas LVMH has already created its own blockchain system which will help it to authenticate goods, due to a rapidly growing counterfeit market over the last five years.
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Technology is impacting not only transparency, but how – or if at all – we purchase clothes. As we have become so habituated to living our lives via social media, as the mantra of Instagram goes, “If it didn’t happen on social media, it didn’t happen at all”. This concept has been taken to the max by digital retailer, Carlings, which produced a digital collection made up of 19 pieces last year. Customers were asked to supply an image of themselves, with designers then using 3D technology so the garments appeared to fit the clients perfectly via the ‘gram. After hiring several social media influencers to advertise the collection, the $11 to $35 collection sold out within a week of the campaign going live – despite the clothes only ever existing in a digital format. Although it remains to be seen whether this concept will catch on, it received impressive results; after all, what’s more sustainable than wearing clothes that aren’t even real?
Amber Slooten, owner of digital clothing company The Fabricant, is one such supporter of the digital fashion movement. “At the moment the fashion industry is the fourth most polluting industry in the world,” she says. “Clothes are not being sold and then are just destroyed, because the second hand market makes the brands worth less. Influencers get packages sent to them to wear on Instagram only once, and then it ends up on the pile of waste that is getting bigger by the minute. But the influencer who wears our pieces never wears them in real life; after all, maybe 100 would have seen her, compared to the million people that saw her wearing it online. Nowadays, our online identity is even more important than our identity in real life. If we can digitise this entire process, you can wear whatever you want, be whatever you like, and explore the creativity of identity without wasting anything but data.”
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And then there’s Cryptocurrency
Cryptocurrency, the child of blockchain, is another example of how the fashion industry can be reshaped by tech. The purchasing of goods online, it is being used as actual currency and works in synergy with the blockchain movement. Says Aljouny: “The crypto-currency means the banks won’t be as relevant anymore, which is why a lot of people do not want this to take off. Because it means big problems for the banks. Fees from banks to transfer money that might be $12, on crypto currency would be a matter of pennies and that scares people, especially people who work in banks. Is this great for e-commerce? Absolutely. It will put the customer at the forefront of everything we do and there will be absolute visibility.”
To add more power to the movement of digital fashion, the Ethereal Summit in New York saw a digital garment auctioned off for $9,500. The virtual item was named ‘Irridescence’ and was auctioned on the Ethereum cryptocurrency blockchain. Too many confusing words? Us too. Slooten, who created the garment, breaks it down. “The whole chain is ‘checked’ by a network of decentralised computers that make sure every transaction is correct and can be traced back. This is very different from traditional systems in which a bank can hide all of its transactions. This also makes ownership of digital items possible, because the transaction proves that you bought it at a specific time and place and everyone can see and check that. The garment has a unique code that is only specific for the new owner, and no one is able to copy or hack it because it is entirely theirs. This person can also decide to trade it and sell it for whatever they think it is worth. They can even destroy it. It is no longer owned by us.”
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So who is buying into this trend?
“Instagram face filters are a huge trend; people follow you because they can wear your mask,” argues Slooten. “It is a form of digital identity, which is done with face tracking. When body tracking becomes available, anyone can wear our garments from anywhere in the world. Virtual fashion has existed in games for years, where people dress their virtual avatars up in the craziest outfits. The game Fortnite brought $ 1 billion in revenue from in-game purchases alone in 2018. These are incredible numbers for something that ‘doesn’t exist’. In the future we see a way that everyone will be wearing one suit, skin-colour, that is super comfortable and will keep you warm, and over that you can wear a virtual layer of expression that can be seen with a lens or with glasses. If you ever feel underdressed at a party, you can just download a new outfit with the click of a button… we believe in putting the message out there that alternatives to physical clothes exist – and it is far more creative, since the materials are completely different. We are no longer bound to the limitations of the physical world. If we want to make a dress that is made out of light or water or flames that is all possible. It’s endless exploration.”
Living your life almost akin to a computer game is now partially possible. Instagram’s premise is to invent and create illusions of the ‘picture perfect’ life online, so what’s one more fantasy to add to the list? Virtual garments, although seemingly obscure, could have a place in the market, especially when social dysphoria is at an all-time high, with people spending more and more time in the lives of their screens. But there are some that are cautious of this trend. Says Aljouny: “People don’t know how to communicate anymore and are lonelier and disconnected now than they ever have been. People have ‘friends’ but do they have real connections with people? Social media has become an addiction and relevance is estimated by likes which is devastating.”
Though negative impacts of technological advances that blur our real and digital lives are undeniable – as the sustainable conversation increases, this could effectively be a new model for many luxury designers to combat fashion’s ecological footprint.
From the July issue of Emirates Woman, available now.
Media: Instagram, Supplied