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

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