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The Next Tech: Fashion's technology trailblazers

Drapers meets four innovators responsible for fusing the worlds of fashion and technology

Tech stars matthew drinkwater

Matthew Drinkwater, head of the Fashion Innovation Agency at the London College of Fashion

I lead a small team that is helping designers and brands to use technology to change the way they make their collections through smart materials and smart processes, change the way they show their collections (virtual and augmented realities are going to becoming increasingly important in this area) and ultimately how they end up selling their collections. In essence, we’re looking at how technology can disrupt every element of the designer business model.

I started my career on the shop floor at Harrods, before moving to Japan in 1999. I spent the best part of 10 years working for Japanese retailers, so I’ve been hugely influenced by that culture, particularly their early adoption of technology. The most useful thing I’ve learnt over the years is to collaborate and co-create. The industry is just too big to navigate by yourself, so work with great people and share your experiences.

I draw inspiration from many sources, including big technology brands such as Intel and Google, and from the fashion industry. Rebecca Minkoff has been setting an important agenda. But it’s from much closer to home that I draw real inspiration: the work the London College of Fashion is doing in the field is exciting. Our newly launched Digital Anthropology Lab [a research studio that brings industry and academia together to develop a new way of making smarter technology], headed by Lynne Murray, will inspire a new generation of creators. That will be vital if these two industries are to move closer together.

Looking to the future, the internet of things will be the bedrock for successful wearables and fashion technology. Beyond that, look for an explosion in virtual reality and augmented reality applications within the industry. Personally, I am also excited by the potential for robotics and artificial intelligence.

Tech stars jenny griffiths

Jenny Griffths, founder and chief executive, Snap Fashion

I suppose you would describe me as a software engineer turned entrepreneur. I studied a master’s degree in computer science at University of Bristol and Snap Fashion started out of a natural curiosity around the way we search.

I launched mobile app Snap Fashion back in 2008 and after years of coding launched our first visual search product in 2012. It’s so hard to describe what you love about an item of clothing in words, so searching by pictures seemed natural. First take a photo on your mobile phone, we analyse it to build a colour palette, then you select the shade you like and we return everything in that exact colour from our 1 million item database.

I’m always proud to say that we were the first to do that on mobile.

The biggest thing I’ve learnt is always listen to feedback, especially from your users. When you’re designing something you want to use yourself it’s very easy to design ”your perfect product”, but the key is to listen to what your users actually want.

There are also so many fashion tech start-ups I’ve got lots of respect for. Thread do a fantastic job on personal style recommendations for men and the team at Unmade are absolutely transforming the knitwear market.

I’d love to have invented the smartwatch so I could have a completely blank canvas and add crazy “James Bond for fashion” tech into it. For me, wearables are the next big trend. I know that sounds a bit 2015, but I don’t think that they’ve been done well enough yet from a fashion perspective. As technology continues to shrink, the scope to beautifully meld tech into fashion will be great to watch.

Drapers Digital Week: The Next Tech

On Thursday follow @drapers and keep an eye on drapersonline.com to keep abreast of all the news at it unfolds from Drapers Digital Forum, which brings together the most forward-thinking operators in the digital retail space.

And on Friday morning you can see all the winners and action from the Drapers Digital Awards 2016.

Tech stars john vary

John Vary, innovation manager, John Lewis

My role focuses on creating new ways for customers to engage with John Lewis across every channel by provoking discussion about new ideas that disrupt retail, while at the same time exploring human behaviour. An example of this rapid prototyping is the interactive sofa studio we launched in 2014, which enabled customers to combine physical fabrics and 3D-printed sofa shapes, and then visualise the creation using bespoke software. In this case it was a sofa, but it could as easily have been a 3D-printed shoe.

I have also been very fortunate to work on the JLAB start-up accelerator programme for the past two years. I’m a judge on pitch day and I also offer support to all the start-ups. Last year I was really impressed with Qudini, a cloud-based queue-busting solution we tried out in the kids’ shoe department of our Kingston-upon-Thames store. The shopper receives a text to say when the department is ready to serve them.

I joined Burberry in 2008 and had five amazing years working on some exciting projects. My first assignment in 2009 was to create a technical audio visual design for the Runway to Reality initiative, which live-streamed the Burberry show to 50 global stores. We started with the screens and worked backwards, making sure the network could take the content. In the wider industry, Kevin Culley, senior director of business development, innovation at US sportswear brand Under Armour, is someone I see as playing a really interesting role in fashion tech.

For me, the next big trend will be wearable technology that is really wearable, so I’m interested to see how Google’s Project Jacquard evolves [technology to weave touch and gesture interactivity into textiles to create interactive surfaces].

Tech stars pia stanchina

Pia Stanchina, industry manager, digital acceleration: fashion, luxury and beauty, Google

I am fortunate to work with our largest fashion and luxury advertisers in the UK, advising senior management on digital. My role centres around helping them understand the huge shifts in consumer behaviour and adjust their marketing strategies and budgets in order to grow their businesses.

Historically the fashion industry dictated the terms of engagement, whereas today consumers expect real-time access whenever and wherever they are. Businesses, whether pureplay or multichannel, need to adapt to this new dynamic. Mobile in particular has added an exciting world of new opportunities, whether it’s on the branding side through virtual reality, as demonstrated through River Island and Jean-Pierre Braganza’s Google Cardboard film, to one-click in app purchases.

Even though online video is growing in its appeal it’s still largely underinvested by brands. By 2019, 80% of the world’s internet traffic is forecasted to be video and while fashion is a huge category on YouTube, only 3% of the 51 billion fashion and beauty views are brand videos. Instead consumers love conversational and shareable vlogger content. At Google, we believe brands can learn a lot from these YouTube stars. With bandwidth and processing power increasing exponentially consumers want fresh content all the time. Fashion and luxury consumers are looking for an immersive, expert perspective on what goes on behind the scenes.

My key piece of advice is to become comfortable with being uncomfortable. At Google, we talk a lot about putting yourself into situations that make you “uncomfortably excited”. While the feeling of being out of your depth and learning while doing can be unpleasant, it also means you learn faster and gain what you wouldn’t have otherwise.

There’s an interesting trend emerging from the fashion x fitness space around leveraging technology to achieve greater wellness. Whether it’s brands like ADay integrating performance fabrics into fashion or Athos, who have developed smart training apparel that monitors bio-signals and delivers actionable insight straight to the wearer’s mobile.

 

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