Usually found on stage talking about the convergence of fashion and technology, we managed to pencil in a meeting with Matthew Drinkwater at the Department of Coffee and Social Affairs on Carnaby Street, London for a informal chat on the #FashionTech movement.
Arriving with a friendly smile and a confident stride, we stood up from our table to shake hands with the man who heads the Fashion Innovation Agency at London College of Fashion. Once seated and settled, a natural flow of chat quickly commenced over some ‘real’ coffee and posh tea.
Named as one of the 100 most influential in the world of Wearable Technology, it seems that everyone in the fashion technology industry wants to get to know the head of the well known non-profit agency. This should come as no surprise, since Drinkwater is the man at the forefront, creating groundbreaking brand collaborations that deliver the latest tech innovations across fashion, retail, lifestyle, cultural and digital industries.
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As the three of us, Drinkwater, FashNerd co-founder Mano ten Napel and myself nursed our hot drinks over pleasantries, it wasn’t long before friendly chatter turned into a passionate debate on the need for a #KillerDevice. Drinkwater argued that “there will be no killer device, function or wearable, because they are all so different”, to which ten Napel contended that the outcome needs to be the creation of the #TheKillerDevice. With our full attention ten Napel continued “A killer device will be something like the iPhone, a technology that broke the mould. It will be something fresh and new. Think simplicity and usefulness”. As I listened to them each state their case, I found myself enjoying this back and forth discussion. It is this kind of banter that I feel is missing in the current fashion technology and retail technology community. There should always be a need for an open conversation.
Talking about Fashion Tech in-depth, Drinkwater, who sits on the advisory board at The Centre for Fashion Enterprise (CFE), was quite matter a fact about the direction the industry is moving towards. He identified fundamental issues that need to be addressed in order for fashion tech to be adopted by a wider audience. He firmly believes that “engineers supporting designers is key”. I really couldn’t agree more. There is a strong appetite to make this happen, but unfortunately there is also a disconnect between the two industries which in turn is slowing down the inevitable.
The talk of disconnect led to the discussion of whether collaborations have the kind of influence that would engage the everyday consumer. On this Drinkwater shared that “collaborations drive innovation and creativity.” True, but I found myself pointing out to him that many brands, especially luxury brands, seem to embrace technology more for column inches in the press than the need to contribute to the development of the industry. Smiling, he confidently stated “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 bridge that gap and trying to design products that are much more aesthetically pleasing.”
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His words rang true and if anyone should know, Matthew Drinkwater should. After all, he was the one responsible for the collaborations that delivered the world’s first digital skirt for Nokia and wireless charging clothing for Microsoft. We can only but hope that it will be through collaborations that wearables will be ‘normalised’ to the point of consumers feeling comfortable wearing technology in their everyday life. Before that can happen, it is imperative that there is clarity. We need to first make sure that Fashion Technology is defined correctly and not confused with Retail Technology. This is something that I have been quite vocal about, so I was curious to know Drinkwater’s thoughts on this constant misperception.
On this, he first cleared his throat, before confessing that “yes it can be quite frustrating” but the fact is that the industry is still in its infancy and is still finding its voice. Although I agreed, I stood my ground. I wanted to pick his brain on why he thinks many continue to refer to retail technology as fashion technology, because to be quite frank it is not. I feel that this lack of clarity will only further confuse those unfamiliar with the growing industry. Holding Drinkwater’s attention, I stressed that we need to understand what we are before we know where we are headed. As my passion showed on my face, it was Matt’s knowing smile that stopped me in my tracks. It was in that instant that I knew I was speaking to somebody who understood where I was coming from. I was conversing with a man who, as technology drifts into the fashion world, has transformed many indiscriminate fashion industry insiders into fashion tech believers.
Drinking the last drops from our mugs, Drinkwater concluded that “fashion tech should not be separated from fashion”. With those words our informal 2 hour chin wag came to an end. As we stood up to leave I noticed that Mr Drinkwater adorned an AppleWatch. As I admired his arm candy, my first thought, as we said our goodbyes, was now there is a man staying ahead of the curve.
Matthew Drinkwater is currently working on global concepts in wearables, fashion technology and IoT.