Fashion and Technology
Louis Sztayer Edwards
As we delve further into the digital age, more and more sectors of work have seen the increased implementation of different forms of technology, typically for efficiency, but one that is overlooked is its usage in the fashion industry. This shouldn’t really come as a surprise to most people, considering how heavily involved technology is in the clothes making processes nowadays, with all kinds of elaborate sewing machines available, and as well as the option for designers to be able to map their ideas out through digital art, instead of being confined to pen and paper.
However, the impact that new technological development has had on the fashion industry is now going beyond the work behind the scenes and is being embraced by many well renowned designers in order to make full use out of in this digital revolution. Much of this can already be seen in the world of fashion, with many brands incorporating different forms of technology into their runways and clothes, and even some opting to use the virtual world as a new platform, given all the surrounding noise around the metaverse and NFTs. Whilst fashion in general can take ideas and inspiration from any time period, it’s clear to see that technology has and is going to have a great impact on the way fashion is advertised, made and maybe even worn, for years to come.
Catwalks are a major part of fashion and the traditional medium for a designer to show off their works to the general public. They allowed for potential customers to see first-hand, and how the designer intended them to be worn. Over time, like fashion itself, the catwalk stages needed to expand and innovate, and become more than just a means to an end, they had to become a part of the fashion display, to truly let the ingenuity of the creative directors shine through and set the tone for the clothes that they were showcasing. Through this, catwalks have become less ubiquitous, and are constantly becoming more visually impressive each year.
The use of technology in this area has been a reason for this, as it has allowed for some awe-inspiring sets for the audience to gaze upon, and even some that interact with the models on stage too. One such example was Alexander McQueen’s 1999 Spring Summer showcase, whereby he employed the usage of two robots, which proceeded to use spray paint on one of the models’ dresses. This evocative display was one that would stay in the minds of those of saw it forever and was extremely different to everything else before it.
A more recent usage of technology on the runway can be seen in 2017, where Karl Lagerfeld set up the stage for a near-to-scale rocket ship, which at the end of the show, released smoke, and emulated a “lift-off”. Despite not being as “artsy” as the McQueen example, I think that it still did a great job of showing the potential of technology on and in the catwalk, and absolutely left a breath-taking spectacle for the audience who were in attendance.
A major issue occurring within fashion is that there has been a rise in knock offs being made, usually with cheaper materials than the original items of clothing, for the seller to make an easy profit. These fakes can spread across the internet and can easily trick an unsuspecting customer. In order to combat this, a range of different brands have implemented different forms of authentication, to make sure that their designs stand out amongst the ever-prevalent replicas. Stone island, for example have included a tag on most of their clothing that holds a QR code, which can be scanned through a mobile device, or any other kind of QR code reader, and a unique 12-digit code, which can be authenticated through their mainline website.
Whilst neither of these are completely fool proof, there is still a bright future for this type of authentication, and this can be seen through the blockchain. LVMH and Prada have already formed a consortium for this matter, in order to “provide consumers with additional transparency and traceability” ( https://www.pradagroup.com/en/news-media/news-section/aura-blockchain-consortium.html). This shows that there is a bright future for the authentication of designer clothing, and hopefully deter replicas along the way. Some sites that resell different forms of clothes have also begun to employ the usage of machine learning for them to recognize and pick out differences between authentic and knock-off products.
As with almost every other industry, the world of fashion was heavily impacted by the Coronavirus pandemic. With self-isolation and lockdown policies implemented on a global scale, not only were customers prevented or limited from going to retailers, it also completely prevented fashion shows from happening. Despite this however, some brands refused to look on this time as a period of desolation, and instead looked further to innovate and push the boundaries of fashion further than they had gone before.
One such brand was Demna Gvasalia’s Balenciaga. With the limitations of lockdown restrictions, Demna had to look for a way to show off his brands newest collection in a way that was not physically confined, and so he looked to a new platform, the virtual world. Afterworld was a game world created by Balenciaga in order to fight against the ongoing restrictions that held many other brands back. The game was created through unreal engine and used volumetric capture through a polymotion stage in order to record 50 characters modelling Balenciaga’s Fall 2021 collection. The game is set in a clearly dystopian future, where you get to walk around and experience all these characters from a first-person perspective.
This idea was a perfect example of brands being innovative in order to work around difficult circumstances, and I think that Demna and the team that worked on creating the digital world did it masterfully. Balenciaga also later did a collaboration with one of the most popular video games of the last few years, Fortnite. The collaboration released a collection of Branded cosmetic in-game items, as well as some real-life merchandise also. Despite the surprise this move brought about, I believe it was a very smart one, as it opens a whole new path of marketing for them.
Another huge technological development that has blown up over the last few years has been non-Fungible tokens, or NFTs for short. NFTs are a form of data that are held on the block chain, making the NFTs unique and irreplicable, which is partly why people consider them to be so valuable. We’ve seen the development of NFTs grow incredibly fast, with many celebrities also choosing to endorse them, and many higher ups in the fashion world clearly saw this as an opportunity worth taking a shot at also. We’ve already seen household names such as Gucci dipping their toes into this trending topic, so it’s not a longshot to assume we might see others do the same soon.
However, there remains serious concerns about the energy usage the system of NFTs demand, which doesn’t look good for the fashion world, especially when it is a strong source of waste and pollution in itself.
Also related to the topic, but not necessarily NFTs, Gucci have also tried experimenting with the world of AR, releasing a unique pair of virtual trainers that can be purchased through an app, and then seen on the user’s feet through the phone’s camera, akin to a snapchat filter. On their own app they have also released a feature that similarly utilises the AR functionality so that the users can see what some of the real sneakers look like on them, as opposed to a pair that remain intangible. Whilst both the usage of NFTs and AR have their pros and cons, it shows how fashion is becoming much more willing to accommodate these changes in the technological world, and that with some polishing up along the way, gives hope that both fashion and technology will be able to grow together.
A big issue that has always accompanied fashion, but is now more relevant than ever, has been the topic of sustainability within the industry. The fashion industry has unfortunately always remained one of the most wasteful industries in the world due to the sheer amount of product that is produced, and how it is produced. For example, it is estimated that up to 92 million tons of clothing-related items are wasted every single year, and a lot of this could be due to the impact of what is known as “fast fashion”. Fast fashion relies on the idea of replicating the designs of widely renowned high-street brands and mass-producing these ideas at low cost. These replicas also tend to be created with materials that are of much lower quality, and as such are more costly to discard. These materials (which are often come in the forms of synthetic fabrics which are both cheap and durable, such as nylon), also release harmful microplastics out when washed, and this is an increasingly relevant problem, as it has recently made headlines that there have been traces of microplastics found in human blood.
The harmful nature of the fashion industry is a painful reality and will likely require heavy regulation put in place as well as the revamp of the entire supply process, but this doesn’t mean that there is no worth in trying to become more sustainable. Certain technological advancements have allowed for the promise of new, more sustainable techniques when it comes to creating in fashion. A big example of this has been 3D Printing.
As the old makes way for the new, we will see a greater involvement of technology in the fashion industry, and whilst there are obviously many benefits to be reaped, will this continued development lessen the human involvement in an industry comprised for human expression, and is this a bad thing?
I think that it’s hard to discern how it will impact the industry immediately, but I can see pros and cons for it. On one hand, it’s usage could help to decrease child labour, and stop putting people in the way of the treacherous work conditions that help perpetuate fast fashion. On the other hand, depending on how much it impacts the world of high fashion, some may argue that using AI-based machines to put together some of the avant-garde designs, takes away some of the artisanal value in place of efficiency. It remains to be seen however, the extent to which technology will be involved in the crafting process of is yet to be seen, and so it’s difficult to place any damning judgements as of now.
Regardless of how it develops later however, we can already see many positives through its development in fashion, providing alternatives to methods which are polluting and wasteful, as well as opening a brand-new environment for brands to explore from a marketing standpoint, without any physical limitations. The further technology innovates, the more the potential of the fashion industry, and all its great, creative minds within it, will be advanced, and I for one, cannot wait to see what the future holds for it.