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Robot photographers, questioning the new UK PM, is fashion-tech going to burst?

A round-up of everything you might have missed in relevant fashion, retail and tech industry news over the past week.

TOP STORIES
  • Are robot photographers the future of e-commerce? (BoF)
  • Industry questions new UK PM’s priorities (Drapers)
  • Is the fashion-tech bubble going to burst? (Vogue Business)
  • Don’t scoff at influencers. They’re taking over the world (NY Times)
  • The $400 billion adaptive clothing opportunity (Vogue Business)
TECHNOLOGY
  • This AI is helping scientists develop invisibility cloaks (Futurism)
  • Elon Musk’s robot surgeon will sew electrodes into human brains, starting in 2020 (Mashable)
  • The technology that makes the fashion Rental business tick (WWD)
SUSTAINABILITY & PURPOSE
  • How fashion is helping suppliers fight climate change (Vogue Business)
  • Bally reveals Mount Everest clean-up initiative (WWD)
  • H&M, Microsoft, PVH Corp collaborate in circular fashion initiative (Vogue Business)
  • The Ellen MacArthur Foundation wants to redesign the denim industry (Vogue)
  • Lush debuts ‘carbon-positive’ packaging (Edie)
  • As Zara announces its latest sustainability goals, three of its design team weigh in on going slower and creating responsibly (Vogue)
  • YKK leads the way in sustainability with Natulon® range (Fashion United)
  • This site will show you exactly how ashamed you should be of flying (Fast Company)
RETAIL & E-COMMERCE
  • Amazon’s revolutionary retail strategy? Recycling old ideas (Wired)
  • The toys are back in town: A reimagined Toys R Us returns (Forbes)
MARKETING & SOCIAL MEDIA
  • How Tik Tok is changing beauty standards for Gen Z (I-d Vice)
  • Fashion doesn’t know what to do with YouTube. Derek Blasberg is trying to help (Vogue Business)
  • Why brands are sliding into your DMs (BoF)
  • How will fashion find validation without instagram likes? (BoF)
  • Hermès reveals behind-the-scenes to its craftsmanship via WeChat (Jing Daily)
  • Gucci gamifies house codes in retro-style mobile arcade (Luxury Daily)
PRODUCT
  • This jewelry is a brilliant shield against face-recognition intrusions (Fast Company)
  • L’Oréal is launching a new skin-care brand with paper packaging (Allure)
  • Napapijri to launch 100% recyclable jacket (Fashion United)
  • Alice + Olivia to expand beauty and wellness with CBD partnership (Fashion United)
BUSINESS
  • Gucci growth slows but Kering still posts near 19% sales growth (The Industry)
  • Asos issues third profit warning in seven months as shares fall (The Guardian)
  • Charity shops, antiques behind surprise UK retail sales jump in June (Reuters)
CULTURE
  • Hong Kong’s entrepreneurial protesters are crowdfunding everything from doctors to legal fees (Quartz)
  • Forever 21 accused of body-shaming after giving out free diet bars with orders (Hype Beast)
  • Mr Porter commits to mental, physical health (WWD)

How are you thinking about innovation? The Current Global is a transformation consultancy driving growth within fashion, luxury and retail. Our mission is to solve challenges and facilitate change. We are thinkers and builders delivering innovative solutions and experiences. Get in touch to learn more.

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data e-commerce Editor's pick mobile social media sustainability technology

2017: A designer meets digital year in review

Chanel's spacecraft at Paris Fashion Week (Image: Vogue Paris) - space technology - space race
Chanel’s spacecraft at Paris Fashion Week (Image: Vogue Paris)

It’s always interesting looking back at the most-read stories on the site for the year – a hugely indicative view on what the big subjects have been and the direction of travel accordingly for the industry.

This year – while we’ve been living a particularly tough time for retail, with multiple bankruptcies and ongoing store closures – the lens through which we report, has only been a positive one.

There’s been a big focus on sustainability for instance, from new bioengineered materials actually hitting at a commercial level, through to the role blockchain can play in enabling greater transparency.

Artificial intelligence has also been a particularly pertinent subject – ranging from the impact it’s having on personalisation, to the future of automated stores and the role of voice technology.

On the subject of the future, our ongoing fascination with space travel hit fever pitch this year too – as a society at large, and within the fashion industry itself once more – which was reflected in our long-read on the future branding opportunity that lies in spacesuits.

On top of that in our 10 most popular stories on Fashion & Mash this year was a look at augmented reality, the evolving view on the store of the future and the way in which Instagram Stories is being used.

Enjoy!

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Editor's pick product technology

Fashion’s space race: Why the spacesuit is a huge future branding opportunity for designers

Chanel's spacecraft at Paris Fashion Week (Image: Vogue Paris) - space technology - space race
Chanel’s spacecraft at Paris Fashion Week (Image: Vogue Paris)

Space travel has long been a source of inspiration to the fashion industry. When the space race between the Soviet Union and the US was underway in the 1960s, it influenced designers including Paco Rabanne, Courrèges and Pierre Cardin into all manner of both sculptural and streamlined looks.

High fashion houses since have regularly referenced everything and anything related to the galaxy, the fantasy of its contents and the way in which we could navigate it.

One giant leap to modern day and little has changed. This time around it’s the likes of Chanel and Gucci taking their cues directly from exploring our solar system and beyond.

In March 2017, the former went so far as to showcase a rocket (as above) complete with mock launch during Paris Fashion Week, while astronaut prints and lashings of metallic looks took to the runway alongside. The latter then followed up on its otherworldly Milan show with a campaign film featuring everything from UFOs to multiple Star Trek references just last month.

Accessories brand Coach, meanwhile, recently unveiled a limited edition capsule collection of NASA-themed pieces, including handbags, purses and sweatshirts. Said creative director, Stuart Vevers, at the time: “The collection is very nostalgic. There’s something about the time of the space program that just gives this feeling of possibility. The space references, rockets, and planets are symbolic of a moment of ultimate American optimism and togetherness.”

In today’s political environment, that feeling of hope may be particularly sought after once more, but the renewed interest in space goes beyond just nostalgia. Head over to Forbes to read all about the space travel on the horizon fuelled by private companies, and what that means for designers in terms of potential branding opportunities as the spacesuit for Elon Musk’s SpaceX is revealed.

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Editor's pick product technology

From the archive: 8 outrageous future tech ideas we wish would happen at fashion week

fashion tech Y-3's space apparel for Virgin Galactic
Y-3’s space apparel for Virgin Galactic

Fashion and technology are increasing bedfellows, but at no time of year do we see experimentation between these two worlds integrate more than during fashion week season. In the past, we’ve been welcomed by drones flying overhead at Fendi, virtual reality adopted at Topshop Unique, and Google Glass (ahem) walking down the catwalk at Diane von Furstenberg. More often than not, such moves are part of an elaborate scheme to generate press headlines and consumer interest as the shows become re-engineered to appeal to the public rather than the trade audience they once were.

Meanwhile, in the technology realm, corporations are turning to the fashion world to a greater degree than ever before too. Apple teamed up with Hermès to launch a special luxury edition of the Apple Watch in 2015, while Virgin Galactic announced a partnership with Y-3 (the adidas and Yohji Yamamoto line) to create the outfits for its future astronauts, pilots and passengers (as pictured above).

So all of that got us thinking: If budget were no issue and innovation truly knew no bounds in the traditional fashion houses of New York, London, Milan and Paris, what dream technology tie-ups would we really love to see hit the catwalks? Read on below for everything from artificial intelligence to Elon Musk’s Hyperloop playing a part.

Call them all a gimmick, but they beat another Instagram takeover or Snapchat reveal… no?


Burberry and the invisibility “poncho”

fashion tech - blue Morpho butterfly
A blue Morpho butterfly (Photo credit: YURI CORTEZ/AFP/Getty Images)

Wearable technology has been pretty disappointing from a fashion perspective thus far. Smart watches and fitness tracking devices aside, the only thing that’s ever really stood out is Hussein Chalayan’s animatronics-based show in 2007, which presented the idea of clothes that changed shape. The question on everyone’s lips now then, is when will tech advancement actually hit the design of our clothes? Fibre science is the key, with smart textiles evolving so they’ll eventually be able to do everything from alter colour to indeed shift shape as Chalayan imagined. The one to really be excited about though? Scientists are exploring the way refracted light creates the bold colour of the Morpho butterfly in a bid to understand how we can create that much-desired invisibility cloak. Given the success of Burberry’s monogrammed ponchos, our first technology wish would be for such a collaboration on the London Fashion Week catwalk. Magic.


Alexander McQueen’s global holographic show

Speaking of illusions, we’ve seen a number of holograms being used in fashion shows in the past, from Polo Ralph Lauren’ 4D water projection for spring/summer 2015, to Alexander McQueen’s Kate Moss trick (as per the video above) in 2006. But these concepts are improving all the time. What if we took the idea further and had tele-presence technology in place so that when McQueen’s show occurred in Paris, it could also be seen in Shanghai, Dubai, Moscow and São Paulo at the same time – with a different audience but the same models, looks and experience portrayed. A win for VIP customers around the world.


Louis Vuitton as sponsor of the Hyperloop

fashion tech - Buzz Aldrin, Sally Ride and Jim Lovell in Louis Vuitton's Core Values campaign
Buzz Aldrin, Sally Ride and Jim Lovell in Louis Vuitton’s Core Values campaign

Transport around fashion weeks is constantly troublesome for attendees. Heavy traffic, poor weather not to mention high heels makes for a laborious experience, especially if you’re in it for the full month of shows. If only there were some speedy way to get from one venue to the next? Or one city to the next even. Elon Musk is who we need, and more specifically, his vision for the Hyperloop – a high-speed transportation system enabled thanks to a reduced air pressure tube that could carry pods at up to 700mph. Originally imagined to run between Los Angeles and San Francisco (with an average travel time of 35 minutes), we quite fancy a short version of it like the High Line in New York to take us from say Milk Studios to the new Hudson Yards. Or from Milan to Paris perhaps. As far as luxury travel goes, Louis Vuitton inevitably springs to mind. Even more appropriately, it already ran a campaign with Buzz Aldrin some years ago (as pictured above), so has an interest in space travel, meaning its team is bound to get along like a house on fire with Musk, who does of course also run SpaceX.


Alexander Wang and data visualisation

fashion tech - The Unseen's EIGHTHSENSE scupture
The Unseen’s EIGHTHSENSE scupture

Last year, fans of Swedish designer Ida Klamborn were able to watch her Fashion Week Stockholm show from home via virtual reality using Google Cardboard. Better than that, they were also able to leave feedback on their favourite looks, providing data that showed in real-time on robots put in place to represent them on the front row. Those sorts of insights are hugely valuable for a brand, but what about if they could be gleaned from the audience of influencers actually present too? London-based science and design company, The Unseen, unveiled a sculpture called EIGHTHSENSE in 2015 that changed in colour based on the wearer’s brain patterns. Created in collaboration with digital studio Holition, it read EEG data through a headset and reflected different signals accordingly. That sort of sentiment analysis could make for a beautiful visual feast during a fashion show (albeit potentially a controversial one), if the audience were looped up in the same way. This one’s got Alexander Wang written all over it.


Gucci’s downloadable dreams

fashion tech - Gucci's spring/summer 2016 show at Milan Fashion Week (Photo credit: Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images)
Gucci’s spring/summer 2016 show at Milan Fashion Week (Photo credit: Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images)

While we’re on the subject of the brain and data, dream reading is another science being explored. What could we do if we could not only understand dreams and be able to re-watch them, but also share them from one person to the next? By monitoring electrical activity in the brain it’s not impossible we’ll get to that stage; even a future where we can interact with what we’re experiencing too. Apply that to fashion week and perhaps we’ll have a future show taking us one step on from virtual reality and instead able to enter the dream of the designer and eventually manipulate what they see. We’ll take an Alessandro Michele at Gucci dream tonight; perhaps a Miu Miu one tomorrow.


Net-a-Porter and the 3D printer

fashion tech - Net-a-Porter
Net-a-Porter

One of the most concerning issues with fashion weeks as they stand, is the distinct separation between the digital experience consumers have with such events, and the lack of ability to buy the actual products shown. Usually it takes up to six months for the collections to hit the shop floor, by which point the hype generated at the reveal has all but died. Numerous brands are now looking to release items in-season in a bid to capitalise on the engagement achieved, but it’s a complicated model. Which is why 3D printing could be interesting, particularly as such tools become more able to create materials as soft and supple as what we’re used to wearing. Imagine a future where Net-a-Porter, as the luxury e-commerce giant in the space, can offer looks from the catwalk (rightfully gained from the designers) ready “for print”. Customers would be able to download their styles and customise them as they go.


Tommy Hilfiger’s shared deep learning

fashion tech - Models backstage at the Tommy Hilfiger spring/summer 2016 show at New York Fashion Week
Models backstage at the Tommy Hilfiger spring/summer 2016 show at New York Fashion Week

One thing always missing from fashion weeks in my humble opinion: live commentary of the shows, preferably from the designer themselves. Short of ruining the experience of the event – the music, the set, the lighting – a lot could be achieved by sharing the thoughts of the creative director relevant to each piece as it comes out, especially if such insights could be personalised. Enter artificial intelligence. If Hermès is working with Apple and thus perhaps they’ve got Siri, then how about Tommy Hilfiger and Google Brain? Imagine a process of deep learning enabling the machine to understand what every audience member has bought, featured in their mag, mentioned on social media, reviewed positively or otherwise in the past. From there, it would be able to temper its commentary accordingly. By knowing the new season inside out too, it would be able to provide live intelligence to the viewer via in-ear headphones as the show takes place, helping them do their job better and enjoy the experience all the more as it goes.


Chanel’s robot plant

fashion tech - Alicia Vikander as AI in Ex Machina
Alicia Vikander as AI in Ex Machina

We’re used to elaborate and theatrical sets during fashion weeks – with everything from a supermarket to casino or airport terminal playing out at Karl Lagerfeld’s Chanel in recent years. In a well-rounded view of future tech, and one step on from its data centre last season, the French fashion house will turn to robotics for it’s next endeavour. Imagine a robot plant ready to create the dystopian future of man versus machine we’re so used to seeing from Hollywood. Conveyor belts would circle around the floor churning out next generation robots created as lifelike as in film Ex Machina, but this time kitted out in next season Chanel of course. There’d be the Cara, the Kendall, the Baptiste… even the Karl. While this sort of humanoid artificial intelligence is somewhat of a controversial move (have you seen the end of that movie?), there’s a lot to be said for also having a robotic version of Lagerfeld’s cat Choupette. It doesn’t, after all, get more Instagram-worthy than that.

This post first appeared in Forbes in 2016.

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business digital snippets mobile social media Startups technology

What you missed: endangered fashion unicorns, Dior’s YouTube moves, Facebook marketplace

fashion unicorns
Fashion ‘unicorns’ have become an endangered species

This week’s round-up of relevant fashion business, digital comms and tech news neatly sums up a series of things to be tracking at present: the evolution of social media businesses into greater advertising and commercial retail opportunities, the role customer service and messaging apps play together, the explosion of all things virtual and augmented reality, and an ongoing bevy of start-ups to know about.

Meanwhile, also worth reading this week is detail on David Lauren’s promotion to the role of chief innovation officer over at Ralph Lauren, Dior’s catch up strategy on YouTube, and the growth of physical stores by online players including Warby Parker and Bonobos.


TOP STORIES
  • Fashion ‘unicorns’ have become an endangered species [BoF]
  • Dior’s borrowing Chanel’s strategies to catch up on YouTube [Glossy]
  • Mastercard launches ‘selfie pay’ [FT]

BUSINESS
  • LVMH to buy majority stake in Germany’s Rimowa for $716 million [BoF]
  • Swarovski, maker of all things bejewelled, refashions itself as a tech company [NY Times]
  • As their incomes rise, Chinese consumers are trading up and going beyond necessities [McKinsey]
  • Ralph Lauren promotes founder’s son to chief innovation officer [Bloomberg]

SOCIAL MEDIA
  • Facebook launches Marketplace for local buying and selling [Reuters]
  • For young brands, is the Instagram opportunity shrinking? [BoF]
  • Pinterest Promoted Video lands in the UK with Hunter on board as a partner [The Drum]
  • Snapchat users are spending 78 seconds on average playing Under Armour’s Cam Newton game [AdWeek]
  • An inside look at Snapchat’s new advertising API technology [AdAge]

ADVERTISING
  • Reebok adds Gigi Hadid to #PerfectNever campaign [MediaPost]
  • Farfetch inspires consumers to find the perfect product in new #TheOne campaign [Luxury Daily]
  • Google, Facebook become focus of holiday digital campaigns [MediaPost]

RETAIL
  • Warby Parker, Bonobos have big plans for physical stores [WSJ]
  • Shopify adds Facebook Messenger direct sales channel [Retail Dive]
  • Salesforce launches LiveMessage to provide customer service across messaging apps [VentureBeat]
  • Cocktails, cinemas and concierges: Malls weave a web of their own to entice customers [Financial Post]
  • Now you can sign up for a “.shopping” domain name [Apparel]
  • The Outnet launches first android app [Fashion United]

TECHNOLOGY
  • Japanese brand Anrealage hosts augmented reality fashion show [Glossy]
  • Mark Zuckerberg’s VR selfie is a bigger deal than you realise [Wired]
  • Will Google’s ‘soft and cozy’ approach to VR headsets make the space more mainstream? [AdWeek]
  • The mainstreaming of augmented reality: a brief history [HBR]

START-UPS
  • Venture capitalists invest $56 billion in start-ups so far in 2016 [Reuters]
  • New app co-created by Elon Musk’s estranged wife could be a game-changer for retail [BGR]
  • Online fashion retailer Grana raises $10M led by Alibaba’s entrepreneurship fund [TechCrunch]
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technology

A look back at SXSW Interactive – key takeaways for the fashion industry

This article first appeared on The Business of Fashion

Elon-Musk-SXSW

AUSTIN, United States With some 30,000 people in town for the 20th annual SXSW Interactive conference, not to mention hundreds of keynote talks, panels, exhibitions, meet-ups and parties to both participate in (and get distracted by) each day, you’d be forgiven for feeling completely overwhelmed by the whole affair.

The festival aims to provide a “view on the future” and is predominantly focused on the technology space. This year’s conference was headlined by Elon Musk, a South Africa-born, American engineer and entrepreneur who co-founded the groundbreaking electric car company Tesla, as well as payment system PayPal, and is the founder and CEO of SpaceX, the world’s first commercial company to deliver cargo to and from the International Space Station. Musk spoke about a manned mission to Mars and shared a video of a reusable rocket that could, for the first time, land back on Earth with the accuracy of a helicopter. Former American vice president Al Gore, likewise, touched on all manner of big ideas, including the genetic engineering of spider goats. Meanwhile, there was tremendous buzz surrounding Grumpy Cat, the real-life meme with whom conference attendees queued up to have their photograph taken.

But for the fashion industry from which there’s a growing contingent that comes to town for the event how much was relevant? The answer is lots.

Part of the beauty of SXSW is, of course, meeting up with digitally-minded people from across the sector. But, without doubt, the most powerful insights are gleaned by stepping outside the fashion bubble and learning from other industries. The challenge is being able to distill down the key takeaways. So here goes.

The Maker Movement

This year’s festival was opened by Bre Pettis, CEO of New York-based 3D printing company MakerBot Industries, who said that cheaply available and easy-to-use desktop fabrication tools would give rise to “the next industrial revolution.”

“We’re empowering people to make stuff, faster and in more affordable ways,” he said, announcing the MakerBot Digitizer, a machine which can scan any physical object between three and eight inches tall and replicate it. Think of it as “a real-world copy and paste,” he added.

In another talk, Peter Weijmarshausen, CEO and co-founder of 3D printing marketplace and community Shapeways, said: “3D printing is so incredibly quick that what we’re doing is design-manufacturing.” Indeed, soon we will be able to not only buy an item online and print it out at home, but manipulate it first, to create a truly personalised product. Though the textiles aren’t quite there yet, a dress that’s downloadable in different fabrications and, better yet, a perfect fit, isn’t that far off.

Mike Senese, a senior editor at Wired, expects brands to swiftly take hold of this opportunity. NASA, Ford and Nokia are already doing so, while Nike, without the large official presence it had last year to launch its FuelBand, was quietly using the networking effects of SXSW to spread news of its new Vapor Laser Talon shoe. Created for American football players, it features a lightweight 3D printed plate, crafted using Selective Laser Sintering technology (SLS) and designed to improve acceleration.

Kimberly Ovitz, who featured 3D printed jewellery in her Autumn/Winter 2013 New York Fashion Week show, this February, was also on site at SXSW. She said that, for the fashion industry, the beauty of the technology at this stage comes down to timelines. Not only can she better keep up with consumer demand by delivering her jewellery within a two-week timeline, but she’s also that much further ahead of the fast fashion outlets who copy her.

Digital Meets Physical

Importantly, hardware dominated the discussion at this year’s SXSW, marking a major move away from the app-focused conversation of the past (SXSW was the launchpad for both Twitter and Foursquare in 2007 and 2010, respectively).

Unsurprisingly, Google Glass got a lot of airtime, with a number of individuals spotted trying out the augmented reality headsets around the festival’s convention center and a live demonstration hosted by Timothy Jordan, Google’s senior developer advocate, who showcased third party apps from companies like The New York Times and Path and introduced the tech crowd to Google Glass’ Mirror API. Expect much more on this front.

Google also introduced a talking shoe (that reminds wearers to be more active) in collaboration with adidas as part of the tech giant’s “Art, Copy and Code” initiative. It was prime example of the so-called ‘Internet of Things,’ the trend towards everyday objects becoming networked. Although still just a concept, the trainers feature sensors that track a user’s speed and performance and speak to them directly (via a speaker) or their phones (via Bluetooth) to encourage movement.

Leap Motion, meanwhile, was widely called “the Nike FuelBand of 2013? in terms of the buzz it generated. A device about the size of a USB stick that plugs into any Mac or PC, it allows users to control a screen with hand gestures alone. Technically, it’s a step on from Microsoft’s Xbox Kinect for the precision it allows. The device can track individual finger movements with accuracy up to one-hundredth of a millimetre. It also retails for only $79.99 and will ship in May.

Collaboration

Amidst all the new technology launches and cross-pollination of big ideas, came a call for greater collaboration. For Elon Musk and Al Gore, that meant fostering collaboration amongst institutions to solve major problems that no single company could address alone. For many brands, it meant embracing their consumer communities.

The team at Lego shared their focus on being “fans of our fans.” With the launch of its crowdsourcing site Cuusoo, the company is empowering their most engaged customers to design their own products, the best of which are actually manufactured. Peter Espersen, head of online communities for the Lego Group, said there was value, not only in listening to your consumers, but setting goals on what you hope to achieve from them.

PepsiCo hosted a similar panel (the company’s fans have helped produce ads for the Super Bowl and create new flavours of Lays Potato Chips). “When you give people a forum to express themselves, you unearth things you never expected to find,” said Jen Saenz, Frito-Lay’s senior director of brand marketing. She addressed the idea of creating a circle of advocacy that could likewise apply to any fashion house: sourcing information, doing something with that information, feeding that back to fans, listening to their reaction and acting upon it.

Not surprisingly, data was a big part of this conversation. In particular, Saenz highlighted the deep level of insight Frito-Lay now has about its customers’ flavour preferences across geography, information it would never have been able to source at such scale using traditional methods.

But despite the focus on crowdsourcing, the importance of powerful storytelling (beyond what the facts, figures and feedback might show) rang throughout the festival. Ultimately, breaking through the noise, said Gary Goldhammer, senior vice president at H+K Strategies, means adding something remarkable and unexpected. “What makes for great storytelling is 1+1=3.”