News & Views

Is Code the New Black? – Technology Innovation in the Fashion Industry

Digital Innovation Strategist and Executive Director of Vectorform Munich, Alissia Iljaitsch, reports about #fashiontechberlin – a first of its kind event to connect the fashion and tech industry at the Mercedes Benz Fashion Week Berlin.

Berlin, January 20th, 2015

Through a first of its kind cooperation between Premium and re:publica the #fashiontechberlin invited tech-nerds and fashion creators to a unique event at the Glashaus Arena in Berlin during Fashion Week. The topic of the event was wearable technology and its impact on the future of fashion. In the tech industry wearables such as Google Glass, fitbit, pebble and of course the anxiously anticipated applewatch have been hot topics for a while now. We understand the tech specs, features and the potential of all the sensors for data such as location and biometrics (human heart rate), movement and more, but we also see that in order to excite the masses wearable tech needs to excite and appeal to the fashion crowd. Coming from the technology and innovation management perspective, I was primarily interested to see how the fashion industry at the pulse of mass production for fast fashion sees the trend and which ideas the start-up city Berlin has to offer in this context.

The event, hosted in a typical Berlin factory setting, started off with a welcome by the organizers Anita Tillmann from Premium, the international trade show for high fashion, and Andreas Gebhard, the CEO and Founder of the well-known re:publica conference. The keynote speech by Fabian Hemmert from the Design Research Lab kicked off with him purposely throwing his smartphone on the floor to shock the audience and visualize the empathy and engagement with our mobile devices followed by the analogy of the evil queen in Snow White, comparing her mirror with our smartphones nowadays. As Hemmert states: “The queen does not win at the end.” and frankly these types of analogies and a broken phone is not something that is exciting for someone working in tech. However, Hemmert took an elegant twist in his story when he started presenting interesting solutions for interactive textiles like embroidered speakers for the new generation of quilts that reads personalized messages upon folding them, conductive thread and other inspiring innovations within the fashion industry.

The second speaker was a protagonist for the tech audience, a 3M venture specialist Thomas Andrae from Munich. Andrae brought us right into the innovator comfort zone and reported on 3M venture projects at Silicon Valley and MIT including another sneak peak for the future of technologies like the dead-spoken Google Glass and learning systems provided by Google acquired companies like DeepMind. In a very to the point speech –without the support of a single slide – Andrae states the key message to the innovators and entrepreneurs of today: the technology is already here and key for the success and market reach is the creation of an Internet of Things (IoT) ecosystem that brings data in relevant context of the user. It is implicit form Andrae´s speech that the creation of those relevant use cases includes the formation of interdisciplinary teams from engineers, scientists, creative and protagonists close to the consumer and market demands.

Bringing us back to the context of fashion, we were given a mind-blowing presentation by Amy Congdon, a design researcher, on growing future materials in the lab. Yes, you read it correctly; this presentation was the most memorable to me as it presented sustainable and 100% decomposable techniques to create material from living tissue or even a jacket from cellulose bacteria. Would you wear and buy that leather jacket cultivated from your own cells or that piece of jewelry from bone material?

As disturbing as it sounds at first it also opened up my horizon for wearable technology as I never thought of it before.

Cecilia Palmer from Fashion & Code did a fantastic job of pinpointing the similarities between fashion and technology. She compares coding to knitting by maintaining a pattern and syntax. She demonstrates how e.g. circuits can be embroidered in fabric and at this point it seems like fashion and technology were never disconnected.

The day continues with interesting presentations that emphasize on the connection of the process for fashion and also automotive design with a presentation by Audi Designer, Tobias Drews, who draws parallels and also differences between car and fashion design. Adidas designer Phoebe Heess presents her creative and inspired material like 3D mesh, carbon and kevlar fabric – a knife proof material in fashion that resembles armor. Start-ups present smart solutions for the social media hype and the disruption of classical advertisement vs. social media engagement for the masses.

As a concluding statement I can say that this event has inspired and brought me closer to understand the thought and craft process in the fashion industry and actually see that we aren’t so different after all. As in every industry, designing and conceptualizing a product involves passion, vision and hard work of experts from different disciplines. For all participants such as the scientists, engineers, designers, marketers or sales strategists I see strong patterns that refer back to delivering a value add user experience for the target persona (group) and the user journey. So going back to the question if code really is the new black I would say that code is already deeply embroidered in the DNA of the fashion industry from crowd-sourced product design, advertisement, word of mouth, sales and even as part of the product. As for every industry we will need to invest passion and a lot of trial and error to shape something unseen and groundbreaking.

#internetofthings #humanmachineinteraction #userexperiece

#FashionTechBerlin #mbfwb #premium

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