I was invited by IFA Paris to be a judge on the Fusalp Futur project. A collaboration with the French brand, Fusalp, Neue lab, a Stockholm based fashion tech company, and Fredrik Timour, Head of Innovation at Swedish Fashion Council, the fashion school challenged its students to create garments and accessories for the urban consumer. The project brief was; design a 10 piece capsule collection with integrated fashion tech elements.
The students were given six months to produce a prototype using Neue’s IoT platform, a technology that gave them the opportunity to not only think outside the box but to also integrate tech functions into their fashion garments. Out of the ten groups that started out, three were selected to present their ideas. It was these three that I was called upon to judge alongside three officials from Fusalp and Johan Avoine from Neue.
Presenting today, the group had 20 minutes to tell us, the judges, about their project. First up was the Connected Jacket 2.0. Designed and marketed by six students, the jacket was inspired by street style. Their objective was to sell fashion with sports appeal and urban chic. “We want our jacket to have a connection between human and technology”, said one of the students. The non-gender collection had a tech savviness about it. Keeping to the core DNA of Fusalp, the students presented a jacket that was more garment than technology. “We wanted to make sure that we did not use too much tech for the customer. A slower approach is best”, explained the student who was from Germany.
“We wanted to make sure that we did not use too much tech for the customer. A slower approach is best”.
Notable features included the jacket’s ability to download new features to extend its lifecycle. Using social media, they explained that the features would be launched on various platforms. I liked their tech atelier approach. It gave the jacket a luxury element. The technology itself wasn’t impressive- the jacket lit up, but I was happy to hear that the students had taken the jacket’s end of life into consideration. “You can remove the technology out of the jacket to recycle the jacket. We haven’t figured out how to recycle the technology yet”, explained the students — an honest answer.
Up next was a team of four. They introduced Fusin’ a collection that was based on the following strategic objectives; sustainability, transparency, traceability and responsibility. Addressing climate change and introducing traceability, the students also wanted to find a solution to transparent recycling. They designed the functional jacket with sustainable fabric. “It is recyclable because the garment can be returned to Fusalp to ensure that it is recycled properly,” explained one of the students. Named the Chameleon 1.0, the jacket was created with a microchip, which was discreetly located in the sleeve. The technology, courtesy of Neue, was an NFC microchip designed to provide the user with information about the product.
Adaptable to more features, the students also used the technology to fight against counterfeit, which they recognised to be a big problem within the fashion industry. They also wanted the jacket to give consumers benefits like tracking. “Through the chip, you will be able to see how the jacket was produced”, explained the student from London. I liked that. They were exploring a form of transparency that has the potential to appeal to not only the conscious consumer but also to the everyday customer too. She continued; “People want to know where the jacket is from and how it has impacted the environment”. Adding; “The jacket will also have its passport a feature that will be beneficial to both the customer and the retailer.”
Aftercare was something that the students also thought about, which was great, but it was apparent that price was a bit of an afterthought. Questioned by Alexandre Fauvet, the CEO of Fusalp, about the price, the students were stumped. After some thought they agreed on 500 euros, only to be corrected by Fauvet, who stated that such a jacket would most likely cost a minimum of 800 euros. I agreed with him because producing such a highly functional jacket, at this point and time, means that it will most likely fetch a higher price tag than a ‘ordinary’ one. As the students ended their presentation, I found myself appreciating their idea of a coat designed to evolve with the wearer.
The last team to present was Fusalp Futur Co-exist. The group was made up of four students whose concept was based on seeing the bigger picture, especially when it comes to technology and sustainability. Looking to tap into the wellness market, the student’s strategic objectives were centred on uncovering the wealth in wellness.
Taking to the stage, the students started by first acknowledging how today’s fashion companies are exploring the kind of athleisure that focuses on well being and monitoring the user’s vitals. They identified that the affluent customer wants premium fashion choices that will give their lifestyle balance. “Wellness is the new status symbol,” stated the student from Australia who was giving the presentation. Using Vinaya as an example of a fashion focussed wellness wearable, I was impressed that they ventured into this space, but I wondered whether they knew that many companies, like Vinaya, have entered this space with great potential only to fail. I hoped that their research also looked into what lessons can be learnt from companies like Vinaya and even Ringly. Maybe the lesson is that people are not as interested in “switching off” and finding balance as we might think.
“maybe the lesson is that people are not as interested in “switching off” and finding balance as we might think.”
Modelled by a rather coy male model, their jacket was a typical looking ski jacket. It had an added element of convenience- it was designed to be transformed into a bumbag. The garment also had solar cells created to power up the battery in the coat, a feature inspired by Dutch fashion tech designer Pauline van Dongen. “It can harvest energy which you can use to charge tech devices”, said one of the students excitedly. My favourite feature had to be the jacket’s ability to massage your neck when you feel stressed. Fabric wise, they explored Apexa biodegradable polyester, reclaimed wool and Ciclo technology that reduces synthetic microfibre.
As the judges gave the final group a round of applause, the presentations came to an end. Of the three that showed their end product, I was most impressed by group two. I was sold on its sustainability angle. Their product was well thought out. I liked how they encouraged consumers to care about what they were buying. Imagine owning a coat that tells its own story. It will be an investment jacket rather than another throwaway item. I also like the fact that they presented a concept that uses technology to help consumers be more conscious of their purchases. Their downfall was price. They did not think it through, nor did they think about how they would market their product.
The group that had marketing down was group three. They wowed me with their marketing savviness. There wasn’t an area that they did not think through. Group one’s product was good, just not great. It looked unfinished with all the wires hanging out. That being said, I liked the fact that they thought about the end of life of their product. All in all, I was happy to see the students seeing the value of technology when it comes to fashion design. Long may it continue.