Sunday, April 22, 2012

In-Fashion today and tomorrow

Being in-fashion, what does that mean today? This is the red Thread of the In-fashion event that took place in Utrecht saturday 21st of April. Some answers are given to us in an exhibition of local talent and a mini-conference of speakers that talk us through wearables, sustainability, social media and storytelling. Fashion documentaries are shown in 't Hoogt.

So what does in-fashion mean? It used to mean being up-to-date about the latest fashion-trends set by an elite, but today's answer is much more complex. Because fashion is no longer just about making a fashion statement in terms of style, there are many other aspects to consider, technological aspects and innovations might bring trends that are of a different order than styling. That fashion is bad for the planet is a well-known fact and anybody who has been in touch with sustainable fashion knows that this is an incredible complex matter because the aspects are multi-faceted and all partners across all chains need to work together and be transparent to make that work. Social Media brings news in terms of how new designers and brands can promote themselves, and how fashionistas can share ideas and inspire each other. Social media also gives a voice to the amateur of the street, that part was not really addressed. and lastly selling fashion is about selling stories. And dreams.

The first speaker was Meg Grant who gave us a brief introduction to wearables; textiles with soft technology build-in; conductive threads, embroidered PCB-boards and different LEDs and sensors. Most wearables are still in the experimentation phase, both by haute couture designers (Hussein Chalaian), young start-up companies mostly focusing on design research (Cute Circuit) technocrafters (Leah Buechly) and hackers (like Meg herself)
Meg Grant talking about her see-thru-me shirt
The question is; what can we do/ make with wearables that is really meaningful to people? It seems to be meaningful for celebrities to wear dresses like bill-boards to attract attention to themselves (i.e. Black Eyed Peas, Rihanna, Kate Perry etc) but do normal people want to wear dresses that express their emotions? Probably not. The application of light in clothes is still being investigated by many experimental wearables designers, like Meg herself. She has applied it in a see-thru shirt, that magically reads light that is shined on the back of the shirt through to the front panel. Light can also have a very useful application such as turn signal lights, arrows pointing left or right. (Leah Buechly). and lighting-up sequins and beads can poetically communicate how polluted your environment is (Diffus pollution dress).

What's next? Could our body and clothes become a communication hub? (dream jammies) we can already pick up our biometric or contextual signals and translate these into (useful) information, but what if our wearables would recognize who's around us? and if we are close to something of interest? using our (FB) profile as a filter of choice, and use sophisticated sensors to alert us? Google glasses and Nokia tatoo that where announced this week are a step in that direction, but definitely not in-fashion... yet. The cyborg factor needs to be eliminated to make it attractive.

Next speaker on stage was Marina Toeters, who is partly consultant and communication hub between industrials, technologists and creatives and partly has her own free wearables and hi-tech textiles work. She presented work that she has been doing for the European Space Agency. If we go out into space, the conditions we encounter are most likely to be very different to planet earth. Marina had put a whole of textiles to the stress-test of environmental conditions that might be reality in the extraterrestrial (extreme heat, extreme cold etcetc). Based on this research she has created a range of textile that can stand the conditions and perhaps even create poetic reactions through the extreme impacts.
Marina Toeters

Marina Toeters
textiles put to the stress-test by Marina Toeters for European Space Agency
Fabric that blossoms in case of extreme heat by Marina toeters for European Space Agency

All of these textiles exist today (aramide, silver-coatings), but are only available to small groups of people, i.e space-travellers and firemen that work under extreme conditions. Its most likely that we will see more of these extreme textiles first in Healthcare, work-wear and sports before they eventually enter the consumer market. so look out for them, I think there are actually more of them already that we can imagine, and remember the speed by which carbon fiber suddenly conquered the world.

In the sustainable program the first speaker was Lynsey from Modevoormorgen. she talked us through the 5 angles of sustainable fashion; sourcing, making, trading, shopping and upcycling. There are many ways of living a low-impact life. But so far nobody has succeded to have no-impact, not even the no impact man Colin Beavan.  Linsey's advise is to make your choices and make a difference when you can, or as it's often said, vote with your wallet, buy sustainable when you can, it's now even possible at H&M and C&A! Buying second hand is also not bad, and swap with your friends or on the internet instead of disposing. There is one challenge still for manufacturers and retailers, the take-back program, should be installed for fashion-industry, as it exists for electronics, as soon as possible.

Next was Carlien Helming from JUX, a short but impact-ful presentation about the vision and motivation of JUX. Jux makes fashion in Nepal, and often forgotten spot on the map now when most textile production is happening in China and India. Nepal also offers particular logistics challenges which make it a difficult place to produce. JUX has it's own factory which make it possible to oversee and decide on production methods that are sustainable and fair.

What's so interesting and inspiring about this brand that it's two people that had a vision and went out into the world and realized it. They simply believed in it. Carlien's advise is that if you want to make a difference, go out and do it, start today.

After the break the mini-conference was continued with two speakers explaining how fashion communication is changing through social media.

Uri Roos from Fortress Social Media Branding showed us his top-seven brands that had made succesfull use of social media in the last year, such as G-star. He has a number of provocations hidden in the slides; "in the future clothes will only be sold, discussed and tried online". enough to make a couple of retailers in the room slightly nervous and start to think loudly about how they are going to incorporate social media in their strategy.

The conference immediately started brain-storming about whether or not it was a valid statement, does this really also count for fashion? Or is fashion too social? Is fashion-shopping too much of an experience? Is buying fashion so intimately connected to the body that it can't work online? I think there are too many success stories for anybody to be able to deny that it can't work; i.e. pioneers like Yoox, net-a-porter, Oki-Ni have good business, and with Augmented Reality around the corner, many of today's short-comings can be solved, such as Uri showed in a smart shopfloor mirror video. AR it will also improve shopping from the couch with a Pad. The question should be reversed; what should the brick-and-mortar retailers start doing to retain their business? They could for example start to design their shops to be more like social hang-outs where like minded people can meet to have a good time and exchange ideas (about fashion) and browse their favorite lifestyle items (not just fashion). Good examples of this kind of cross-selling hang-outs in Utrecht are Revenge of the Lily and Village Coffee.

After this Joost Nauta from Fashiolista suitingly took over the floor to tell us about true friendspertise; social shopping and recommendations online. Fashiolista connects with your social networks like FB after the installment of the Fashiolista like button you can like any item (from a shop or not) and all your friends/followers will see it. This adds the inspiration and "girlfriend" element to online shopping that so many people have been missing. Social online shopping has been explored by many such as OSoYou and Nuji which was recently launched by Nalden. Why this is only for girls surprises some of the men in the room, Joost reassures us that it's only a focus issue for now, in the near future men's profiles will be added to Fashiolista. The business-model is more of  a value exchange model or a pro-ratio click-through percentage of sales rather than generation of traditional revenues. The combination of personal data (from a FB profile) and liking an item (from a retailer) offers interesting new business perspectives. Perhaps in the future insight reports can be generated and sold/exchanged with retailers.

\pictures from the exhibiton in Dom Hotel

I-did Slow fashion
laser-cut ply-wood shoes by Winde Rienstra
laser-cut card-board shoes by Winde Rienstra

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

New Fashion Order

The power-houses of fashion are facing competition. For ages fashion has been dictated by an elite of taste-makers, their whims being watched and instantly copied to become affordable fashion for everybody. But why is it that you would let somebody else dictate and decide what you find beautiful? Of course for a long time being in-fashion gave your personality status, but nowadays in the crowded urban environment more important to have a personal signature and style. One that is recognizable and distinguishes you from the crowd and not easily copied.

So why not make your own fashion? And I don't mean behind the sewing machine, I mean behind the computer. There are some small new businesses mushrooming that truly let you build and create your fashion the way you want it.

Take Knittedonline they offer customized knittings made according to your wishes and creativity. The basic white canvas models can be used as a starting point for your pattern design to create cushions, mittens, hats, tea-cosies, baby-covers. The only limit is your fantasy. You can also order an already existing pattern. Knittedonline is also a community of knitwear designers and other self-taught creatives. You can upload your pattern and if it starts selling you will earn a 5% commission, which eventually could create a small-scale cooperative of knitwear designers, each owning a stake in the success of the company/site.

Unitedstyles is another website let you design your own fashion to stand out from the crowd. The basic principle is quite similar to knittedonline. you choose a white canvas model and then style it by modifying details and adding color and pattern. The prices are very reasonable and competitive with high-street fashion shops. The company structure of Unitedstyles is a typical late capitalistic one; successful entrepreneur at the head of a strong international creative crew.

Both examples naturally remind me of Threadless or NikeID who where the personalization pioneers. NikeID is more of a promotion model for Nike than an actual money-maker, or at least I have never heard of any profit generated by NikeID. The difference is that for Knittedonline and Unitedstyles this is their core business.  Threadless is a great grass-root t-shirt company with it's core in graphic design and print with an avant-la-lettre participatory and competitive element.

I believe these companies are answering an essential need for post-modern people living in crowded urban areas, and the internet is the facilitator and enabler of a new kind of business, Affordable customization on demand. It might change the fashion system.

Monday, April 9, 2012

The new Cooperative

The current state of our economic system or as some people says the failure of capitalism, calls for us to think of new alternative economic models. Perhaps that's why the UN has called the year 2012 the year of the cooperative.

Egoism, greed and dubious incentives is making money flow away from cooperations and companies and into the pockets of management, shareholders and hedgefonds. Really to make cooperations and companies sustainable and profitable in the long run, revenues need to stay inside the company, it needs to be used for investments that will benefit the future of the company. So it's quite clear by now that many of us have concluded that the model is outdated, malfunctioning and needs renewal.

The big question is; is the cooperative a good alternative? And if yes, do we then simply mean the early capitalistic kind of cooperative that farmers used to unite and fund bigger projects in the 19th century? Do we mean the cooperative that family owned businesses often get close to? Do we mean the kind of cooperative that has evolved from the FlowerPowers generation's attempts to build equality, fairness, eco and non-profit into their businesses? Or is there a new kind of cooperative possible in our times, with the means and enablers that we have now?

Young creatives are experimenting with alternative ways of funding their creations to stay independent from monetary driven interest.

The band WuLyf has deliberately started a non-for-profit foundation where people can sign-up for a small fee and become members. Being a member will give them certain privileges such as sneak-preview access to new music and possibly influence through voting or opinion in selecting the music that will make it to final release.
Wu Lyf membership page

This is actually not too different to how International Film Festival Rotterdam, IFFR is trying to survive the current austere cultural sponsoring policy. They are asking people to become friends of the IFFR. For a modest sum you will get privileges of first-buy option and reduction on activities through the year.
IFFR zoekt vrienden

Groupon could be said to be a kind of cooperative, it harnesses the power of the crowd to buy in bulk and get reductions.

Young start-ups now have plenty of opportunity through social media and crowd-funding websites like Sellaband, Kickstarter and Tenpages to plea their idea and get connected to sponsors, which may very well be individuals and not big investors.

So did Liamolly raise money for a knitting machine to bring manufacturing back to US on Kickstarter, the Obama administration could be very pleased.
Also Fabienne placed the call on her site for people to buy her limited edition knitted bottle cooler, so that she could buy a more advanced knitting machine from the revenue.

So is this the New Cooperative? then it's a decentralized peer-to-peer model where individuals make a micro-investment against a value exchange that is often consisting of a one-off product, a privilege. And friendship. The persuasive power of the pitcher is very important, his/her offer needs to really stand out and be different to catch enough interest and attention to get sponsored. Of course social media can be used to spin it.

With some creativity and perserverance it might be able to bring back manufacturing back to areas that have lost it (Europe, Richmond, Detroit etc). I would like to think of that as a new kind of manufacturing, more sophisticated, new tools and coding, small-scale and made-to-order.

Is this the new Cooperative?

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Etsy Showroom

The most fun shopping experience on saturday 30th of March in Utrecht, was definitely the Etsy marketplace in De Ruimte de Echt Waar Bazaar. It was the first time that Etsy organized a showroom in the Netherlands. It was impressive to see so many Etsy sellers with the real deal in the real world, because of course in the end it's always better to see and touch, than only watch from a screen. The long tail economy or peer-to-peer sales seems to be gaining momentum . So many people seem to find it rewarding to make stuff themselves, and perhaps also making decent revenues. However about the latter I still wonder. For the buyer it's all about uniqueness, having something special that nobody else has.
Etsy Showroom, Echt Waar Bazaar, de Ruimte, Utrecht

Etsy Showroom, Echt Waar Bazaar, De Ruimte, Utrecht
I'm pretty sure that in the long term the retail landscape is bound to change due to the fact that we actually don't need that reseller anymore. How are the retailers going to compete with this? The online world has a wider offer, is free from buyers blocking interesting (and perhaps risky) new offers, the variety and uniqueness is bigger and business is often more fair. It's clear where the money goes, no board, stakeholders of logistics system that need their share of the profit.
Some Etsy sellers though still need to become more professional in their craft. Being a craft person myself I sometimes wish quality was better.
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