INTERLACED’s 2015 edition kicked off with a very fundamental question, one that seems to be often forgotten. What is fashion technology and what falls into that category? As the events guests enjoyed the morning’s first cup of coffee and a butter croissant, the panel led by Interlaced’s co-founder Kristina Dimitrova discussed the many meanings of the term ‘fashion-tech’.
“There is a difference between wearable technology and fashion technology, but if you google ‘wearable technology’, you will basically get a lot of different results”, said Cristiano Carciani, Head of Fashion Design and Professor at the International School of Design and Architecture (EIDA) in Puerto Rico. The rest of the panel, composed of Claire Duke-Wolley, Fashion Tech Analyst at Beecham Research; Camille Baker, Artist and Wearable Tech Researcher; Aniela Hoitnik, Founder of Neffa and Cristiano Carciani agreed: there is wearable technology built for medical purposes, for art purposes and as state of the art. Then there are sports devices, electronics woven into textiles and electronic accessories such as smart-watches. The list could go on. Is wearable technology the right term for a fashion audience?
Is ‘fashion-tech’, a term that is often used to describe techy accessories, 3D printed devices, led gowns and innovative pieces, much better? “Because of the confusion these words create, we are introducing the concept of ‘tech-couturism’”, said Cristiano Carciani. “It comes from the word “tech” and “couture”, which adds a value of craftsmanship to the mix” he said, explaining how fashion designers such as Hussein Chalayan and Iris Van Herpen are leading the movement.
“The term ‘wearable technology’ really makes sense for technology companies, but from a PR perspective, it has more of a bad image,” said Claire Duke-Woolley, Fashion Tech Analyst at Beecham Research. “It is very difficult to approach consumers who are fashion-orientated and talk to them about ‘wearable-tech’. It’s not a sexy word.”
Terminology, however, usually comes naturally and forcing it might be difficult. “We need multiple terminologies, but we also need a simple that everyone can identify with,” added Camille Baker, Course Leader of Digital Design Communication at London’s School of Communication Design.
Wearable technology - wearable computing, that is - may have been born around 1980s, when mass production of microchips allowed people to create smaller computers and explore with their possibilities. Projects began to appear that involved wearable cameras, a "cheating" shoe for gamblers, timepieces and more. History has quickly evolved, with now more wearable devices available than ever. According to CCS Insight’s Wearables Forecast, Worldwide, 2015-2019, the wearable tech industry will treble over the next five years, reaching 245 million devices being shipped in 2019.
But are these estimations too hopeful for the 'smart tech' market?
“What I have seen as a researcher is that people have wanted to find a way to brand what they were doing, and ‘smart fashion’ was an interesting word to describe it, but I don’t see it at the moment being smart nor fashion in any way,” said Camille Baker. They are not ‘smart’ from an ethical point of view and they are not ‘fashion’ as they cannot be worn on an everyday basis and can’t be used to make a statement on someone’s personal style, explained the researcher.
“People are a little concerned about having electricity around their body, so we are not even there yet to consider fashion technology as an everyday product”, affirmed Aniela Hoitnik founder of the consulting firm Neffa. Some of the prototypes that have been developed already might not even be intended for sale, or might be sold at a very high price point. A pleated silk chiffon dress that features hundreds of tiny led lights by London-based fashion firm CuteCircuit costs from £2,500.
“The market is not very viable yet”, agreed Claire Duke-Wolley. “There is a lack of consumer knowledge and consumer acceptance, and designers aren’t really aware of what this technology can add to their products”.
Collaboration is key, agreed the panel. Building partnerships between engineers and designers is crucial for the market to grow, and for products to become more wearable, more fashionable and smarter. People in the technology industry and designers speak different languages and address different needs, so joint efforts between the fields will result in wearables consumers will want to wear.
The market is ripe for these devices. According to CCS Insight, fitness trackers and smartwatches will take the largest share in 2019, accounting for more than half of shipments and revenue respectively. If fashion designers want to stay relevant, they will have to find a way to face the challenges going forward.
For more from INTERLACED 2015, check our video playlist here.