Wearable devices will help you take decisions over the next five years and clothes will be able to collect data in real time, thinks the Head of the Fashion Innovation Agency.
The beginning of this year was certainly busy for Matthew Drinkwater, the head of the Fashion Innovation Agency. Staying ahead of the curve is important for the non-profit creative agency based at the London College of Fashion, which is why Drinkwater has been barely in one place during the first months of 2015. First stop was Las Vegas, to visit the colossal international technology fair, CES. Next was London, with its London Collections: Men, where wearable technology debuted at the runway with Casely-Hayford’s collaboration and the phone-charging XOO belt, a partnership managed by FIA. Finally, it was the turn of the Digital-Life-Design conference in Munich, which networks science and culture businesses with opinion-formers and influencers. All this just to start a year that promises to be huge for wearable technology, with the launch of the Apple Watch paving the way and every second technology brand releasing their own fitness wristbands or trackers.
How do you describe the current scenario of wearable tech in fashion?
It is still very early days of wearable technology, this is only the beginning of what will be a revolution. Right now there is a big amount of products being created but there is a huge gap between what is being produced and what is desired by the wider population. I think that a lot of the consumer brands which are producing products are concentrating on what a device can do rather than how it looks. And ultimately for a product to be successful it has to be able to combine both functionality and form. So what will happen over the next years is that you will see a huge number of partnerships between technology companies and fashion companies trying to breach that gap and trying to design products that are much more aesthetically pleasing.
What exciting new products did you see at the International CES in January?
What I saw was a lot of wristbands. If I see another fitness tracker I think I’m going to kill myself! At the moment wearables are almost entirely stacked around the health and fitness angle, which is really limited. I think something like 80 per cent of all wearable wristbands are being disused after one year and this is because it’s simply not enough for that technology to tell you what you are doing.
More interesting were the developments around the technology that will allow us to create more products. I think that the problem that is holding the industry back is that the technology has some battery issues at the moment. And as the technology becomes more adaptable and more able to be built into materials and fabrics, then you will see these things start. So at CES Intel released their new processor called Curie, which is really interesting. If we can get a hold on that and play with it, it will allow us to do more interesting types of things.
Like what kind of things?
Well, for wearable technology, its ability to connect what’s around us is very important and its relationship with the internet is crucial. Until we become a much more sensor-focused environment, when there are more sensors around us enabling the products to connect to more things, then wearables will begin to move forward much faster because they will be able to do more. I think what devices will have to do over the next 5 years is become much smarter and rather than just telling you what you are doing, they will start to guide you in your decision making. But they will only be able to do that when they begin to pick up data and use that data from lots of different touch-points.
What are your predictions for this year?
Inevitably you will see a huge amount of devices, like wristbands and smartwatches. Now that’s not particularly exciting, but it’s an area where every manufacturer is producing something. I think more interesting are head-based devices, like hearables, but personally I am more excited about pushing forward with our smart clothing projects.
During Fashion Week in September, FIA unveiled its up until now most beautiful project: Richards Nicoll’s Tinkerbell dress, produced in partnership with Studio XO and Disney. Made from fibre optic material and including built-in LEDs, the gown glowed in the dark with a magical pixie dust effect, producing a wild reaction on the public.
How did the project come about?
When we made the Tinkerbell dress, our starting point was how to use technology to make it beautiful. A lot of people were asking us: what does it do? And it lights up! It was just a very simple material but we used a couple of techniques to create this effect. Certainly for smart- garments it will have to be about how it looks and obviously fashion is about people’s perceptions so ultimately you are going to have to want to buy that product. You have got to fall in love with it, it has to have an emotional connection.
Why aren't more designers exploring into the realm of tech-infused clothes?
I think at the moment a lot of people are looking at wearable technology being just one device that you will be using, but it won’t be that. Technology will be built into garments, allowing them to connect to each other and to the environment around it. That technology is being used right now but its very performance based where there is a need to see some kind of results. And that’s where the industry in terms of fashion is stopping at the moment because, if people don’t see a direct need to have it, the product isn't going to production. At the Fashion Innovation Agency we are working in some really interesting projects at the moment around connected clothing and being able to deliver content to your clothing in real time.
Do you think this type of clothes that can change their pattern with the push of a button will become mainstream in the next 10 years?
Yes I do, certainly within ten years. But no consumer wants to look like a robot, so we need be able to find ways to integrate new features to our clothing in a more natural way. And ten years from now, your clothes will be able to do more and that will become the standard way of going about your life. Actually if you think about it, our clothes can do a lot now. We talk a lot about wearable technology but look at what Uniqlo is doing with heattech for example. That technology is built into clothes already and nobody really knows about it, they just accept that the clothes are like that. And that is how I think the future will be.
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.