Première Vision, the global materials & services sourcing fair, unites fashion insiders twice a year for 3 days in Paris. The fair launched its Wearable Lab during last edition earlier this month. An exhibition with FashionTech’s best experimental pieces, a startup corner and a panel talk on the future of wearable tech, that I had the pleasure to animate, along with impressive speakers: Christine Browaeys, Hilary McGuinness, Anouk Wipprecht, Nelly Rodi and Pascal Denizart.
The overall Wearable Lab was curated by our friend Anne-Sophie Bérard, who previously curated the FashionTech exhibition last year at la Gaïté Lyrique, during the WeAreAble FashionTech Festival.
“The market is emerging, the field is still in its early stage and both artists and industrials are working on building it. In the meantime, it is a concept that still needs time before the wider public fully understand what it holds for them. When people talk about FashionTech, they tend to associate the term with gadgets, smartwatches and activity trackers. There’s still a lot of education to be done, and our goal with the Wearable Lab is to let people apprehend the subject and see how it can impact them. In the exhibition space, we’re trying to see how technological tools (be it production processes, innovative materials or interaction possibilities), how these new propositions will transform the fashion industry.” tells Anne-Sophie Bérard.
The exhibition space featured a piece from our friend Clara Daguin’s Body Electric collection, which was first presented during the Hyères International Fashion & Photography Festival; Ezra+Tuba’s Butterfly Dress, made in collaboration with Intel; Anouk Wipprecht’s Drinkbot Dress, also made in collab with Intel; Sarah Angold’s sculpural lighting accessories; Ying Gao’s interactive outfits; Nervous System’s 3D printed accessories; and Pierre Renaux’s 3D printed shoes.
Our panel talk
A dynamic and transversal talk to further understand the issues at stake in the new Fashion & Technology territory. Around the table, we had 5 experts of the subject who reflected on the brakes and drivers behind this market, in order to jointly anticipate and imagine its future.
The session started with our speakers presenting short keynotes to introduce their vision of FashionTech, in which Christine Browaeys, Engineer & Sociologist, founder of consulting firm T3nel, talked about sensitive tech and how we’re moving from virtualising to materialising.
“Textiles are a way for us to create a tangible connection to the world. Real world objects are connected to virtual ones, allowing us to connect with the entire world constantly. May this lead to an info overload?” she started. “We need to explore the implications this has on humans. Such paths include architectural and technological approaches that may widen the sector of fashion, with cross-disciplinary approaches“.
Then, we welcomed Hilary McGuinness on stage, who has been working for Intel throughout her carrier, living in the Silicon Valley. As the industries are continuing to merge, she believes that FashionTech is no longer an utopia but has already begun to become reality. In the past 10 years, there has been a movement forward, which raises new possibilities for fashion and tech industries.
“Technology has always been part of fashion (ex. glasses are based on medical necessities, clocks came to solve the problem of putting the time on our wrists, fabrics became synthetic…), and the fashion industry is already creating many innovations: Fabrics are becoming smart, accessories are becoming connected. Technologie enables our clothes to be seamless, and we have been hearing the fashion industry’s call for smaller components: our Curie chip for example is very tiny, making tech invisible.” she stated.
Hilary believes smart fabrics are at an initial place, and that we are moving into new phase of the creation of textiles. Tech must stay hidden, attractive enough, for when the tech fails the customers’ interest, the product remains attractive. She also raised the point of the product’s durability, need to be washable and secure – as it holds its user’s personal data. A subject that needs to be discussed further, by both the fashion and tech industries, in order to shape new products that respect their user’s privacy.
Right after Hilary, Anouk Wipprecht talked about her creative process and the challenges she takes as a FashionTech designer, who has been in the field for more than 12 years now. She started designing interactive garments when she was 14, noticing how clothes have started out from being completely unconnected, to the fashion industry has started showing interest to all connected and interactive things. This interest opens a dialogue between fashion, technology and materials.
Anouk has previously partnered with Intel and Audi; as a fashion tech designer and hacker, she broke down an Audi car to create a 12-dresses collection. Throughout the creation these dresses, she was wondering, how are we socialising?, to answer that question, she spotted three degrees of distance between the wearer and the public: intimate , personal, social and public spaces. Inspired by looking at animals and their defence mechanisms, she developed the Smoke dress, which is connected to the wearer’s body.
“Fashion becomes an interface, and thus a tool. If you make it open source – make and share with the community, you share one’s knowledge with the others. Such communities include fablabs, techlabs, which allow ‘common’ people to participate in a fully equipped working space, share their experiences and projects with the community.” Anouk told us.
Anouk was followed by Nelly Rodi, the world famous founder of namesake Trend Bureau, who also happens to be the co-president of R3iLab, a network of industrial companies which has been working for 13 years on connecting companies and industrials for immaterial innovation.
She presented 6 of the projects the network accompanied and invested in, working to mix handcraft and industry. It features a collab with the MIT on sustainable energy, developping a naturally sourced textile; generating gentle warmth; the development of a textile producing energy from solar energy; a connected textile with a communication tool; a corsetry accessory that transforms lingerie into a partner for wellbeing; the Bioserenity project, an intelligent clothing item; and a textile ground coating creating a sensory customised animation for sales and big event spaces.
Nelly reminded us of the key aspects to keep in mind when designing FashionTech products,
“What is the consumer waiting today? We are no longer in a consumption period, as a result customers look for valuable products. Customers also look for a surprise element; the consumer wants to dream, creating the `wow` effect, exposing him or her to new experiences.” She explained, “Consumers want social empowerment: involving young and older people, involving brands & different people, giving meaning to the product. The consumer wants to be involved in the production (ex. eco production) but he is also is interested in storyliving: not only telling ‘telling stories’ but also living with the products.”
Nelly also mentioned the subcultures trend, singularity of the product and the importance of art to increase creativity in fashion.
Last, but not least, Pascal Denizart from the European Textile Innovation Center, presented his work, from the fibre core to the heart of retail, from ideas to prototypes. The CETI works on innovating to reduce the environmental footprint of fashion, with experimental up-cycling projects; as well as smart technologies to help improve people’s lives.
“The CETI works closely with industrials and brands on R&D projects, that range from medical applications such as smart bras for breast cancer recovery, to new materials experimentations. We started helping brands with their R&D strategies, and rapidely evolved into working closely with them on global innovation strategies.” Pascal told us.
Pascal’s keynote was followed by a discussion with our speakers, that later opened to a debate with the audience.
We raised the question of different fields collaborating together, to which Anouk Wipprecht mentioned the need for more maker spaces, tech shops and fablabs for communities to meet and experiment together. These places supply access for the wider public to better understand new technologies.
“We, at Intel and in the tech space, can’t do it alone, we need the fashion industry. Were are the tech coaches and providers; but we need to know the directions, the consumers’ needs, which have to be provided by the fashion industry.” said Hilary McGuinness.
On that, Pascal Denizart mentioned the different ways of working, the differences between the fashion and tech industries not only differ on the rules, but also on their cultures, communities and way of collaborating.
Nelly Rodi raised the subject of financing FashionTech, which she believes is one of the main difficulties for the field to grow, as well as the way these products are commercialised.
Further in the discussion, we raised the issues of maintenance, washability and after-sales services: tomorrow, will fashion brands integrate after-sales services similar to tech brands? Would you imagine going to your favorite concept store, asking the salesperson for your connected garment maintenance? Just like you would go to Apple to repare your iPhone…?
The talk then opened to a debate with the public,
Sarah Angold, one of the designers of the Wearable Lab exhibition space, asked “For big company like Intel, what is the keypoint that need to be asked while working with interdisciplinary industries?
Hilary answered with the importance of aesthetics and beauty; saying the fashion industry does not really seam to take the tech world seriously. Also, technical training is important- what experience for the customer would be optimal? Challenges will be overcome with time, with more designers wanting to cooperate and co-create with tech companies. Designers push tech to produce new innovations, tech would have not been able to create /achieve that alone.
Nelly added, “However, we should also need to be conscious, that the customer is the main player, it’s no longer the designer him/herself ” mentioning the “uberisation” of business fields.
An attending asked about production vs. ecological production. Mentioning how the fashion industry sometimes sources its raw materials from violently war-filled territories, the attendee asked our speakers what they thought about that and how their companies work with such materials issues.
Hilary McGuinness told us Intel now works only with conflict free materials. An answer followed by a relevant statement Pascal Denizart made, “we change our smartphones every 6 months. That act alone – which many customers do on a regular basis, taking it as ‘fashionable’ to change one’s phone according to the current trends – is extremely hazardous and has a massive environmental footprint. Moreover, another aspect with a heavy environmental footprint is the production and use of cotton, a basic material in the fashion industry. These basic necessity is an extreme energy and water consumer. Tech itself does not necessarilyy produce more of an ecological footrptint than the current fashion industries.”
To conclude the session, someone in the audience asked about education and how academia can be included in the process,
Nelly Rodi mentioned the fablabs which are starting to appear in fashion schools, such as La Fabrique, the Paris Chamber of Commerce fashion school, of which Nelly happens to be the godmother and in which I attented a semester of courses this year. The school fully supports and continues to push forward the use and development of tech in school/ education, having a fablab in addition to several ateliers where students learn to make clothing.
A very insightful discussion that further continues to lay the bricks of the French FashionTech scene. To be continued!