INTERLACED's founder, Kristina Dimitrova, hosted a fashion tech panel with an exciting group of experts at Digital Shoreditch this week
Monday started early for the attendees of Digital Shoreditch, the entreprenurial-oriented festival taking place in London, from May 11th to the 24th. Among different sessions around the latest trends in marketing, gaming and design was INTERLACED's panel, which sought to question and discuss the future of technology and fashion. Bryan Oknyansky, award-winning designer behind the 3D printed Shoes by Bryan, Piers Ridyard, CEO of Nifty and creator of the phone-charging XOO Belt and Whitney Valverde, fashion designer and blogger of Whitneyswonderland, shared their thoughts on fashion tech and where this industry is heading.
'We probably have been wearing technology for a very long time,' said Bryan Oknyasnky, who has been creating shoes with 3D printers since 2012. 'I hope its not a cliché but clothing itself is technology'. Indeed, fashion has been intertwined with technology since the invention of the Jacquard punched card loom and the commercialization of the man-made elastane fiber Lycra but over the past couple of years the interest in fashion tech has grown significantly. 'Years ago wearable tech was a sci-fi story that you would only see on some celebrities but nowadays you can see how it has shifted, and its starting to reach the people. It feels some much closer to the public now' said Whitney Valverde. Over the past year, the term wearable tech has become something of a buzzword and we have seen examples of it around the world, from rings connected to mobiles to 3D printed accessories and beautiful dresses made out of LED lights.
The technology is there and designers are on board, exploring the extents of this emerging trend. The biggest challenge, however, is changing people's perception around what fashion tech is and what it can do. 'People often seem to think, including in the fashion space, that if technology is wearable, it has to be useful, whereas I think that over the next 10 years we will see really interesting stuff that won't be about utility at all' revealed Piers Ridyard.'The future will be about fashion inspired by technology, about what is visually possible that you just can't achieve without the technology. It may be something to do with an inherent property of the clothing, to make it change the colour or something like the Tinkerbell dress. All these things are nothing about utility, they are purely about how much more inspiring I can make something when I have technology to empower that.'
Designing for consumers who might not know much about technology or might not appreciate it is also an issue that has to be addressed. 'We have been conditioned to be consumers in a certain way and with a certain stimulus from our environment that tells us to buy something and all of the sudden someone changes that and says "I've reinvented the way to make shoes and they are comfortable",' explained the designer Bryan Oknyansky. 'Unfortunately, if you look at the shoes on the internet you think "plastic" and "made in china", so the trouble is that now we have to re-teach value in a world where we make things very cheaply to sell a lot. My mission with Shoes by Bryan is to try to get people to understand new value.' Fashion tech, he thinks, needs to be touched and held. 'You need to go, touch it and try it on. That's the only way, because if you don’t try the shoes on, you won't realise that something special is happening right now.'
For the end consumer, finding a shop that retails wearable fashion can be a little bit tricky though. When a belt is a fashion accessory but also a phone charger, where to find it in a retail store can get a little confusing. 'That's a problem we have right now,' said Piers Ridyard, the creator of the XOO belt. 'We are talking with a department store and we talk about where to put our products. Do we put them in the belts section or do we put them in the tech section with the computers? There is a really interesting analogy to that with the Whiting Smart Body Analyzer scale. It’s a US$150 scale that connects to your phone and it's really great. They recently put it in the "bath and bedroom" section with the other scales and you had a US$20 scale, a US$30 scale and a US$150 scale. No one bought it. And then they put it in the wearable tech section instead, where the fitness trackers were and it actually became one of the globally best-selling fitness products ever. So where to put something has much to do with the consumer's perceptions and expectations of what they are buying. That's going to be a really interesting paradigm shift in the retail space.' 'Department stores will have to create a new section for wearable fashion,' agreed Whitney Valverde.
With technology evolving quickly and merging more and more with fashion, the expectations of what's coming next are high. 'My dream fashion tech product - and I would love to be the one who invents it - is the universal dress,' said Whitney Valverde. 'Something that I can push up, light up and loose , that can have an A line and later be a pencil skirt. That would be amazing.'
'We have never been closer as human kind to a point in history where we can take what's inside of our head and produce it as closely as we though it,' said Bryan Oknyansky. 'This is the time in history when we can do it in a way that we have never been able to do before. Of course, we are still lost in translation, but that's the interesting thing of 3D printing.'
Without a doubt, exciting times are ahead.
If you want to find out more about the future of fashion join us at #INTERLACED2015 on 3rd September. Early bird tickets are on sale now.