The Interdisciplinary Future of Fashion Technology

When industries get together to address common interests, amazing things can happen. AI and automobiles, education and digital media, sports and biometrics. Collaborations are proving to be imperative to the advancement of technology.  As we make our way into the future, with the help of tech driven ideas, I wonder what has changed about fashion? Except the spread of trends, and the channels through which things are bought and sold.

For at least the past two (plus) years, we’ve all been wondering how to define the issues facing the fashion industry. There has been a story in every major publication about the system being “broken”, citing how businesses are closing their doors, the shuttering of retail stores, the transformation of fashion week, issues of sustainability, and designer musical chairs.

Creative Collaboration

Sustainability Through Creative Collaborations

Goals have been alluded, such as investing in sustainable practices and reviewing transparency and ethics in supply chains, but without any definitive shift towards a new way of doing things. The systemic issues underlying the industry will not change as long as those goals are not set and taken seriously. This is a global issue. It involves about one of every six people on the planet: the number of people estimated to work in the fashion industry.

“Moments of inspiration do happen, but lack of follow through has proven most of the collaborations to be marketing campaigns, not strategic realignment.”

These issues have so far largely been met with more of the same behavior, repeating the cycle of cutting back through mass layoffs and misdirecting investment from where it is needed the most. Moments of inspiration do happen, but lack of follow through has proven most of the fashion tech collaborations to be marketing campaigns, not strategic realignment. In some cases, there are real resources invested in long-term initiatives, but they are happening largely behind the scenes. (Lea Seydoux still sells bags better than Initiatives for the Environment).

Also Read: The 3D Printed Future of Fashion: Overproduction & Low Sustainability 

All of this points to a short-sighted style of problem-solving. The alternative is a long-term view that involves the complex system of fashion and endless potential partnerships that could revolutionize the fashion industry.

Science and Fashion Technology are Cool

It’s been a decade-long process, but science and technology are becoming cool, and even fashion wants a piece of the action. Runway shows, editorials and marketing campaigns increasingly incorporate technology as a quick tick in the forward-thinking-brand box. If technology and innovation can be a proven marketing tool, maybe it is now easier to convince board members and stakeholders of worthy long-term investments, seen traditionally as obstacles to quarterly rising profits. Evidence is emerging of this industry shift.

The future of the fashion industry is going to rise from collaborations like the recently announced partnership between Stella McCartney and Bolt Threads. While Stella McCartney has been known for her stance against animal cruelty (no fur, no leather), that sense of responsibility to their values has evolved into a more holistic sustainability effort. Bolt Threads was founded to create new materials that can be made more sustainable, be easier to care for, and last longer. With the goal in mind to give the end product a lighter footprint throughout its lifecycle. It seems the partnership was meant to be.

Fashion TechOn the collaboration Stella McCartney shared: “This is something that I’ve been personally on a journey to find for much of my career and I just feel like there is finally a new opportunity to bring so many industries together and for them to all work as one for a better planet. It is a truly modern and mindful approach to fashion. The industry has so much heritage, but at times it can be damaging to the environment and it can also drag you in a backwards direction and for me I always want to move forward in fashion and this is truly a moment to celebrate technology and the future of fashion.” 

“The goal of every leader in the fashion industry should be to promote style, not trends, in their products, and longevity, not speed, in their process.”

While it is great that this creative collaboration made headlines, and hopefully will serve as inspiration for other companies to follow suit, the real hope is that this kind of interdisciplinary work becomes common place enough that the partnership in and of itself it isn’t news, but rather the results of their work become newsworthy.

Fashion Technology
Johns Hopkins Engineering for Professionals Materials Science and Engineering

The goal of every leader in the fashion industry should be to promote style, not trends, in their products, and longevity, not speed, in their process. One way to ensure that those priorities stay in line is to look ahead to the long-game. Staying power requires taking bold steps, continuously, throughout the life of a company. Shared resources, and shared interests across industries ensures that problems are being solved with knowledge of the whole process, understanding what is in the pipeline of innovation throughout the larger system.

The goal of every leader in the fashion industry should be to promote style, not trends, in their products, and longevity, not speed, in their process.”

To do this, we need new materials, new methods, and new manufacturing processes. This will require stepping back from the established cycle, slowing it down, or running operations in synchronized, mutually-supportive channels. For example, design is faster than research and development, once the materials are in hand. The brands that get in early, like Stella McCartney, will have an advantage on cost, quality, and consumer trust by working together with the scientists behind their raw product. Bolt Threads is equally at an advantage by bringing in a partner who can express a set of needs they are equipped to fulfill.

The future of fashion is infused with technology, yes, but it is also a matter of recognizing its role in the global, complex system, and building strategic partnerships throughout that system. The fashion tech industry needs to participate in these convergences, not just provide commentary.

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