Let’s Not Waste the Power of Fashion, Let’s Innovate [Road Trip Series]

This Road Trip series, we meet up with Marina Toeters, the other half to designers, brands and researchers looking to collaborate with an industry expert successfully bridging the gap between fashion and technology.

Muchaneta Kapfunde
Founding Editor in Chief at | editor@fashnerd.com

Founding editor-in-chief & WearableTechStylist of FashNerd.com has worked in the fashion industry for over 14 years. She is currently one of the leading influencers speaking and writing about the merger of fashion with technology and wearable technology. She also contributes to other digital news sites like Wareable.

Marina Toeters is someone who we have had on our radar for a while now. Educated as a graphic and fashion designer, Marina finished her Master of Art cum laude at MaHKU Utrecht before gaining a reputation as one of the talents successfully bridging the gap between fashion and technology.

Now fast forward ten years, and Marina has not only become the driving force motivating students to explore the possibilities within fashion tech, she has also become the other half to designers, brands and researchers looking to collaborate with someone who knows the industry as intimately as Marina knows it.

As we all attempt to grasp an understanding of the ever evolving fashion tech space, Marina’s skills, in this field, continue to gain momentum. On meeting her, we learnt that she is a woman who wears many hats that include being a Wearable Senses coach at the Eindhoven University of Technology and a lecturer in Fashion Ecology & Technology at the University for Art and Design Utrecht. That is why we were super excited to sit down with her and really pick her brain about what she really thinks about the merger of fashion and technology.

First Impressions

Mano and I arrived on time at Marina’s studio in Utrecht. Knocking on her door, we were greeted with a big smile and a strong handshake from Marina. Stepping into her studio, she graciously offered us a cappuccino, which we happily accepted. Leaving us alone in her workspace we decided to have a little nosey round. As we took it all in, I loved how her studio gave us a peek into her mind. Messy in a kind of “I am working here” way, we felt right at home among Marina’s textile samples, machinery, drawings and her lovely intern student Julia. As we made ourselves comfortable at her table, situated in the middle of the room, Marina came back with our coffee. Making herself comfortable in a chair next to mine, we got down to business.

Marina, The Connector and The Pusher

Taking a sip of my cappuccino, I asked Marina to fill us in on her background. She was not shy about telling us about herself. As we listened, we learnt that she is a woman driven by innovation. She is somebody who describes herself as the “connector and pusher”. Wondering what she meant by this, she explained, “I work a lot with students. I try to bring their ideas to light. I do this by pushing them to achieve their potential whilst also helping them make the kind of connections that will lead to collaborations.”

“Students entering the fashion industry do not have the power to make a change.”

Impressed by her passion to encourage her students, I asked her what was the common thread in her teaching, smiling she said one word “adoption”. Marina believes that as an educator, her impact with students is short lived because, in her experience, it takes graduate students only 3 years to lose their vision. In her own words she described this process as “brainwashing”. She thinks that this occurs due to the fact that students entering the fashion industry do not have the power to make a change and therefore in order to progress in their career they naturally adapt to their environment.

Talking innovation, FashNerd founder Mano ten Napel with Marina Toeters
Talking innovation, FashNerd founder Mano ten Napel with Marina Toeters

Fashion Lacks Long Term Vision

Moving on to fashion’s relationship with technology, I asked Marina about her thoughts on why she thinks fashion brands are not really investing in R&D departments. Pulling a face, she sighed and said that when it comes to R&D, fashion brands mainly care about how they can make something cheaper than their current pricing. I must admit that I found myself agreeing with her point of view. It made sense. There is no denying that the bottom line is always the main drive for many fashion brands. So should we be surprised that they are more likely to invest in retail tech than fashion tech? Mano did not think so. Adding to the conversation he said that the problem is that the fashion industry lacks long term vision. His point sparked up a passionate debate between the three of us, which brought us to the topic of which fashion tech designers are successfully bringing positive attention to the space.

Fashion Tech Goes Dutch

Who doesn’t know the name Iris van Herpen? Not many. Who is unfamiliar with Anouk Wipprecht‘s work? Very few. As we talked about their work, I asked Marina whether she thought that it was a coincidence that both Iris and Anouk were Dutch. She smiled at my observation, so I continued. I told her that I wrote an article for FashNerd.com that explored whether Amsterdam could be considered the Silicon Valley of Europe, and before I could continue she said, “Iris and Anouk are not from Amsterdam. Most of these fashion tech designers, including Pauline van Dongen and Maartje Dijkstra are not from Amsterdam.” Corrected but not deterred I asked Marina to share her thoughts on the impact that she thinks Iris and Anouk are making in the industry. After taking a sip of her coffee, she explained that Iris is successful because she has been adopted by the fashion industry. This was a statement that made me wonder whether Iris was fashion’s token fashion tech go to person.  As for Anouk, Marina praised her talent for knowing how to push the limits. Nodding my head in agreement, one only has to look at the spider dress to understand her point of view.

FashNerd founder Muchaneta with Marina Toeters in her studio in Utrecht
FashNerd founder Muchaneta with Marina Toeters in her studio in Utrecht

As the conversation flowed, I asked Marina again, whether she thought it was a coincidence that many of the fashion tech designers happened to be Dutch. Taking a pause, Marina concluded that maybe it was because the Netherlands has a long history of being influenced by high tech. She continued, “Dutch designers easily develop their ideas because there is not much of a hierarchy between students and teachers. What this means is that students have the kind of freedom that makes it easier for them to communicate their ideas.”

“Dutch designers easily develop their ideas because there is not much of a hierarchy between students and teachers.”

When the Student Becomes The Teacher

Talking about students, I turned towards Julia van Zilt, a student of Marina’s, who had been sitting quietly in the corner working on a project. I asked her what her thoughts were on the current merger of fashion and technology. Smiling shyly she shared, “I think that when it comes to fashion tech, the technology needs to make sense.” Taking a moment to gather her thoughts, she continued, “I  think that it is important that fashion tech products be accessible to everyone. This means that we need to design with people in mind. We need to look at how we can improve each individual item of clothing by asking people what do their clothes mean to them.” As the three of us, Marina, Mano and I, nodded our heads in agreement, she finished off her answer by adding, “We need to not worry about seamless technology, because if it is visible it simply needs to be pretty.” Smiling at her way of simplifying our need to design garments with seamless technology, I had to agree with her. Maybe we should think of seamless in the context of how it should fit into our everyday life rather than the technology itself. Just some food for thought.

Julia van Zilt, Marina's Toeter's student
Julia van Zilt, Marina’s Toeters’ student

Technology Should Be about You

As our visit came to an end, Marina shared that she would love for clothes integrated with heating to become the norm. She explained that such an advancement would mean that we would not require to use so much energy, such as heating, because our clothes will warm us when we are cold. Could you imagine owning such a garment?

Marina’s ideal combination of fashion and technology triggered Mano to ask her whether she thinks that such a garment would easily be washed in a washing machine. To this Marina joked, that all we need is an e-tech washing program on our washing machine. As we all laughed at this impromptu joke, Mano made an interesting point. He said that maybe the solution is fashion tech designers working with washing machine designers. They can present the problem and maybe those in the washing machine industry would know how to eliminate the problem. On this Marina commented that too many people use the fact that not all fashion tech garments are washable as an excuse. “Tech people are capable of making the garments washable and therefore it should not be viewed as a hurdle that we cannot jump over.”

“We will never be comfortable with technology because it is forever evolving at such a fast pace.”

As we got ready to leave, Marina shared that she recently started reading a book by Kevin Kelly. It was this book that helped her realize that “we will never be comfortable with technology because it is forever evolving at such a fast pace” but that should not take away from the fact that “technology should be about you.” With those insightful words, we said our goodbyes with 3 kisses on the cheek, as done by the Dutch, and parted ways.

Share Your Tips & Corrections

The FashNerd team’s Road Trip Series takes readers on a journey that explores the person behind the accomplishments. Be sure to catch up on previous articles.