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ICYMI: Industry faces its #MeToo moment, tech hits Olympics, Vogue and Amazon Echo Look

Tom Ford - ICYMI #metoo metoo fashion week
Tom Ford

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

TOP STORIES
  • New York Fashion Week: industry faces its #MeToo moment [TheGuardian]
  • Can an app launch the fashion world’s #metoo reckoning? [Vanity Fair]
  • Olympic clothing designers try to beat the cold with technology [Scientific American]
  • Vogue and GQ will test content inside Amazon’s Echo Look [Digiday]
  • Can Christian Louboutin trademark red soles? An EU court says no [NY Times]
TECHNOLOGY
  • Intel unveils smart glasses that you might want to wear [Engadget]
  • Walmart’s tech incubator buys VR startup Spatialand [Reuters]
  • Opinion: Blockchain technology will make true luxury more lucrative [JingDaily]
  • JD.com and Fung align for AI development [RetailDive]
  • Asics Ventures invests in conductivity textiles [FashionUnited]
SUSTAINABILITY
  • Eileen Fisher, Columbus Consulting reveal details for sustainable design plan [WWD]
  • Primark publishes global supplier map showing all of its factories [TheIndustry]
RETAIL & E-COMMERCE
  • Target CEO: Our personal shoppers will deliver to ‘your kitchen table’ [CNBC]
  • Macy’s plans pop-ups to amplify discovery [RetailDive]
  • Malls are dying, but things remembered is still hanging on [Racked]
  • Tips from the e-commerce giant Zalando [Maize]
MARKETING
  • Benjamin Millepied directs Ansel Elgort and Kate Mara in a mesmerizing film for Rag & Bone [CreativityOnline]
  • Nike rolls out NikePlus membership benefits [WWD]
  • Asics personal trainers will kick your butt as you use its fitness app [CreativityOnline]
SOCIAL MEDIA
  • Instagram entices brands with new shopping-enabled ads [TheDrum]
  • Pinterest sees 600 million visual searches every month [VentureBeat]
  • Swarovski and KiraKira+ launch fashion week ‘brilliance’ filter [WWD]
PRODUCT
  • UA HOVR, ushering in a new chapter of sneaker tech innovation [FashNerd]
BUSINESS
  • Canada Goose craze continues as shoppers flock to new stores [BoF]
  • British designer Misha Nonoo is rewriting fashion’s playbook [FastCompany]
  • The cautionary tale of H&M and digital disruption [BoF]
  • LVMH Luxury Ventures backs Stadium Goods [WWD]
  • Tapestry shares rise after earnings beat expectations [BoF]
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data technology

Your future in-store loyalty program will be fed by facial recognition

Lolli & Pops is using facial recognition
Lolli & Pops is using facial recognition

Imagine this: You walk into your favorite store and the sales associate welcomes you by name. She or he lets you go about your business, but on-demand shares with you which of their latest products you would most likely be interested in.

Such recommendations, powered by artificial intelligence, are a very familiar experience online these days, but they’re also increasingly being worked towards in the brick and mortar retail world.

A multitude of different technologies lie at the heart of achieving this, but namely it’s a connection between CRM and machine learning, all with that layer of identification placed on top to deliver results for the specific customer in question.

Your mobile device usually plays a key role in making the ID part possible, but facial recognition is another such way.

Lolli & Pops, a candy store based in the US with roughly 50 doors, is one such retailer experimenting with this. A proof of concept called Mobica, which is powered by Intel, was on show at NRF’s Big Show in New York this week. Using computer vision, it’s a facial recognition loyalty scheme designed to drive VIP consumer engagement.

The opt-in experience (shoppers literally have to enrol their face to be a part of it), means anyone entering the store is recognized in real-time by an app the sales associates are using on their tablet devices. From there, they are able to tell the individual’s taste profile, know for instance if they’re allergic to peanuts, and be able to personally recommend great products to them via AI-enhanced analytics accordingly.

“It’s designed for their loyalty shopper, so about wanting to make them feel really special,” Stacey Shulman, Intel’s chief innovation officer for its Retail Solutions Division, told me. “Privacy isn’t an issue because they have such a strong relationship with their customers and are trusted by them already. It all starts with service and a connection to the customer.”

You can easily imagine the same VIP concept being applied at the likes of Sephora for beauty, or even in an apparel merchant.

Other facial recognition technology on show at NRF enabled special, personalized deals to surface on screens in real-time, demonstrated a restaurant that allows customers to pay by face, and also touted broader data collection opportunities around demographics and store-traffic patterns.

It was the customer service piece that felt particularly pertinent however. As Shulman explained: “Technology today needs to not be at the forefront. It needs to be the helper at the back. When done right, it enables people to get back to the customer and back to what’s important. That’s what we see here; it’s not about the facial recognition or the AI, it’s about the experience the customer then has. The differentiator between a brick and mortar store and Amazon today is customer service. We can’t compete on price and selection anymore, so we have to go back to service. If we don’t we will have a problem.”

The Lolli & Pops facial recognition initiative will roll out to stores in the coming weeks, according to Shulman.

 

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data e-commerce technology

Four quick highlights from NRF 2018

NRF 2018
NRF 2018

NRF’s Big Show hit New York once again this week with an expo floor covering every form of technology modern retailers need today*, and big topics of conversation pointing to the future of the industry.

From a topline perspective, focus was on everything from personalization through artificial intelligence, to the need for speed, enabling a frictionless experience as well as the increasing demand for invisibility in technology.

Personalization

Artificial intelligence remains one of the hot terms in the industry today – machine learning, computer vision, natural language processing and chatbots were found left, right and center across NRF. Underlying that in terms of the reason it matters, however, was a focus on personalization for customers. Neiman Marcus’ president and CEO, Karen Katz, talked to the challenge of shifting from being a retailer that nails this in store through the human-to-human experience, and now trying to replicate that in the online world. “Online is where the next level is presenting itself for [service-oriented] personalization,” she said.

Speed

Spencer Fung, CEO of Li & Fung, talked to the idea of the industry shifting from being optimized by cost, to finding competitive advantage in speed. As an industry, the time it takes to get from ideas to stores has only extended by virtue of parts of the supply chain located further and further away. “This cost optimization model in a world where consumers are moving 10x faster is no longer valid. You can no longer make decisions today on what will sell in 40-50 weeks time,” he said. The supply chain of the future, underpinned by new technology, is predicated by speed.

Invisibility

While technology is so central to the NRF scene, the discussion for retailers is increasingly around how to make this invisible for consumers. “The most relevant future innovation platforms are ones that consumers don’t see,” said Levi’s brand president James JC Curleigh. He talked to the idea of complete simplicity on the front end, all the while there’s increasing sophistication behind-the-scenes. Intel’s chief innovation officer, Stacey Shulman, agreed with this point, telling us: “Technology should never be at the forefront from a consumer perspective, it just needs to be the helper at the back. It’s what enables sales associates to get back to the customer and back to what’s important.”

Frictionless

In the context of NRF, the word “omnichannel” is an oft-overused one. This year, however, it was the idea of making retail frictionless that was bandied about more predominantly. Neiman Marcus’ Katz talked to this as being one of the organization’s greatest challenges. Calling it frictionless retail is about having greater scope for every touchpoint, she suggested. Nordstrom’s SVP of customer experience, Shea Jensen, meanwhile, told us her focus is on providing convenience; doing things in the context of continuously solving customer problems.

*Want to know which technologies we deemed most relevant from the show floor? Our team of startup scouts combed through the innovations demonstrated, examining and analyzing those of chief importance to retailers and brands today. Get in touch to find out more.

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business digital snippets e-commerce product social media Startups sustainability technology

What you missed: Wang’s text-to-buy line, Stitch Fix to IPO, activism from outdoor brands

The Adidas Originals by Alexander Wang line launched via text message
The Adidas Originals by Alexander Wang line launched via text message

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


TOP STORIES
  • The second Adidas Originals by Alexander Wang line launches via text-to-buy event [Racked]
  • Stitch Fix has filed confidentially for an IPO [Recode]
  • A call to activism for outdoor apparel makers [NY Times]
  • How Reebok, Adidas and Y-3 will dress future space explorers [Fast Company]

BUSINESS
  • Jimmy Choo bought by Michael Kors in £896m deal [BBC]
  • MatchesFashion.com could enter stock market [Fashion United]
  • Bangladesh to digitally map all garment factories [JustStyle]
  • Fashion must fight the scourge of dumped clothing clogging landfills [Guardian]

SOCIAL MEDIA
  • Vogue takes ‘hub and spoke’ approach to Snapchat editions in Europe [Digiday]

MARKETING
  • Why Helmut Lang hired an editor-in-residence in place of a creative director [Glossy]
  • Amazon and Nicopanda launch LFW ‘see now, buy now’ range [Retail Gazette]

RETAIL & E-COMMERCE
  • China’s store of the future has no checkout, no cash and no staff [BoF]
  • Saint Laurent to launch online sales in China [WSJ]
  • You will soon be able to search eBay using a photo or social media web link [CNBC]
  • MatchesFashion.com’s Tom Chapman: Amazon’s missing the ‘magic’ of high-end fashion [Glossy]

TECHNOLOGY
  • Walmart is developing a robot that identifies unhappy shoppers [Business Insider]
  • For the first time ever, you can buy your own 3D-printed garment online [Fashionista]
  • MIT’s living jewellery is made up of small robot assistants [TechCrunch]
  • Intel axed its entire smartwatch and fitness-tracker group to focus on augmented reality, sources say [CNBC]

START-UPS
  • John Lewis unveils retail tech start-ups for JLAB 2017 [The Industry]
  • Spider silk start-up spins into retail by buying an apparel company [Fortune]
Categories
business data e-commerce Editor's pick technology

Intel to invest $100m in retail tech anchored by IoT, data-led platform

Intel demonstrated next-generation Internet of Things technology at the 2017 NRF Retail's Big Show
Intel demonstrated next-generation Internet of Things technology at the 2017 NRF Retail’s Big Show

Intel is planning to invest over $100 million in the retail industry over the next five years, it announced at the NRF Retail’s Big Show in New York this week. At the heart of that is the Intel Responsive Retail Platform (RRP), an Internet of Things solution that it says will “take retail to the next era of highly efficient and personalised shopping”.

Through RFID, video, radio and other sensors, it will enable easy, holistic integration, help to deliver a 360-degree viewpoint of retail from the store floor through the supply chain, and deliver real-time, actionable insights, the press release explains.

Intel is looking to transform the industry through this platform – driving operational efficiencies and creating new and exciting customer experiences, both online and offline.

Brian Krzanich, CEO of Intel, said: “The retail platform collects multiple data streams to connect digital and physical environments. With the goals of lowering costs and increasing sales, the platform helps optimally place inventory, deploy employees and other resources, and track inventory – through the supply chain to the store door. It provides in-the-moment information about what customers are buying, what they want and how to manage inventory so it arrives just in time for customers to take it home.”

He added: “Our technologies can see what items are not in their correct location and the up-to-the-minute store inventory, including what’s in the back room. They can even tell what items go in to changing rooms, but never make it to the cash register.”

Data is the critical factor, he explained. “At Intel, we believe that increasingly retailers will be separated by those who have data and use it to grow and optimise the shopping experience, and those who don’t and make their decisions based on ‘experience’ and subjective observations.”

Virtual reality and artificial intelligence features will also become a part of the platform in the near future, Krzanich added. He nodded to Alibaba already empowering customers to use VR to shop from their homes, calling it a potential “game changer” for retail. “The immersive technology is opening doors for retailers to creatively reach new customers and markets,” he explained.

Meanwhile technology like robots and artificial intelligence will free up employees, enabling them to better focus on the customer and improve the store’s performance, he added. “We’re developing technologies that will help transform the shopping experience in the near future. By bringing together virtual reality and the power of data, we’ll help create the store of the future – one that is smart, responsive, connected and secure.”

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Editor's pick technology

5 cool tech things that happened this fashion week season

fashion week rebecca minkoff virtual try-on tech
Rebecca Minkoff at New York Fashion Week

It was an interesting fashion week season – a mixture of new names at big design houses, new go-to market strategies at others and a bevy of tech initiatives thrown in for good measure.

While the biggest shift surrounded those moving towards the “see-now, buy-now” initiative – countering the “broken” system of showcasing six months before product is traditionally able to buy – others used the past month as an opportunity for a more experiential type of marketing.

Across New York, London, Milan and Paris there were tech and digital launches spanning wearables, mixed reality, chatbots and more. Head over to Forbes for a wrap-up of five of the coolest from brands including Burberry, Tommy Hilfiger, Chanel, Hussein Chalayan and Rebecca Minkoff.

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business data digital snippets e-commerce social media Startups technology

What you missed: luxury data, Mr Porter and Apple TV, the store of the future

Mr Porter Apple TV fashion digital data
Mr Porter on Apple TV

On to Paris Fashion Week and things have certainly been quieter on the digital and technology front. The furore around bloggers and editors continues (yawn), while a little ray of hope shines through in Intel’s partnership with Hussein Chalayan.

On top of that this past week has been everything from why the store of the future doesn’t want to actually sell anything, the new Mr Porter x Apple TV app launch, and the fact even Chanel and Hermès are struggling in the current climate.


TOP STORIES
  • Private data is the ultimate luxury good [Motherboard]
  • Mr Porter launches ‘first of its kind’ shoppable Apple TV app [The Drum]
  • Intel brings wearable technology to Hussein Chalayan’s Paris Fashion Week show [Forbes]
  • Why the store of the future actually doesn’t want to sell you anything [LeanLuxe]

BUSINESS
  • Ralph Lauren maps out ‘way forward’ for global growth [BrandChannel]
  • Even Chanel and Hermès susceptible to current climate [BoF]
  • ASOS investigation claims to expose the ‘true cost’ of fast fashion [Huffington Post]

SOCIAL MEDIA
  • How Garance Doré and the street style revolution upended fashion with a camera and a blog [Wired]
  • This Snapchat game from Under Armour turns you into a NFL star [AdWeek]

ADVERTISING
  • Kevin Hart and David Beckham take a fun, disastrous road trip for H&M [AdWeek]

RETAIL
  • More than 50% of shoppers turn first to Amazon in product search [Bloomberg]
  • New York is full of shopkeepers who swear by cash registers that are little more than glorified adding machines [WSJ]
  • How marketing automation can help your omni-channel strategy [The Industry]

TECHNOLOGY
  • Every Fossil Group designer wearable launched in 2016 so far, including Michael Kors, Kate Spade and more [Wareable]
  • Long Tall Sally creates mannequin based on 3D scan of actual customer [The Industry]

START-UPS
  • Where to invest in fashion technology? [Luxury Daily]
  • Armarium and Net-a-Porter team to pair clothing rentals with purchases [Glossy]
Categories
Editor's pick technology

Intel brings wearable technology to Hussein Chalayan’s Paris Fashion Week show

Intel Hussein Chalayan wearable technology
The Hussein Chalayan and Intel connected accessories on the runway at Paris Fashion Week (Image credit: Intel)

Technology isn’t normally the first thing you think about when it comes to Paris Fashion Week. The home of the most traditional of luxury brands, it remains the slowest on the uptake of much in the way of both digital and technical innovation, instead sticking with more conventional collections and catwalk shows.

Unless you turn to Hussein Chalayan that is.

The Cypriot-British designer has long experimented with the relationship between his garments and the role technology can play. He has introduced looks that changed shape thanks to microchips and animatronics, dresses embedded with 15,000 LEDs to recreate a pixelated screen and even a coffee table that turned into a skirt.

“Only with technology can you create new things in fashion. Everything else has been done,” he has previously said.

Turn to today then, and he’s partnered with Intel to bring something new in the shape of wearable tech to his spring/summer 2017 fashion week show. Head over to Forbes to read all about it.

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business e-commerce Editor's pick social media

Digging in to Reddit: does it work for fashion brands and retailers?

reddit

Late last week, Intel’s Sandra Lopez teamed up with Rebecca Minkoff for a conversation on social news site Reddit. The “AMA” (Ask Me Anything) encouraged users to pose questions about the roles of fashion and technology intertwining, as well as the opportunities for millennial women in STEM fields.

It was a strong example of something that worked on the platform – native to how its users operate, and filled with personal responses (from how Lopez and Minkoff got started in their careers, to how they managed their work/life balance, and why men never get asked that question).

Self-proclaimed as ‘the frontpage of the internet’, Reddit has a reported 202 million unique visitors a month. During 2015, it saw 82.54 billion page views across 88,700 active subreddits (sub forums). There were 73.15 million submissions, with 725.85 million comments made by 8.7 million total authors.

Risky business

The Intel/Minkoff example is one of many AMAs, but it’s still one of few of fashion brands and retailers really getting involved.

The uncensored and unpredictable nature of the site goes some way to explaining why. The platform was designed to be a space where like-minded individuals communicate without interference. Reddit is open source and moderated by unpaid volunteers. Users, known as “redditors”, create threads called subreddits, which other members with similar interests can join.

Initially the company had just five rules: “Don’t spam; Don’t ask for votes or engage in vote manipulation; Don’t post personal information; No child pornography or sexually suggestive content featuring minors; Don’t break the site or do anything that interferes with normal use of the site.” The lack of rules and regulations, fostered an “anything goes” culture that still defines Reddit today.

For a brand, therefore, entering a community like Reddit can be risky.

RedditAMA_Intel_RebeccaMinkoff

Frequent changes of senior management has done little to improve Reddit’s volatile reputation. Three different leaders have been in place over the past three years: Yishan Wong, Ellen Pao and Steve Huffman respectively, all with very different objectives. Pao’s 2014 strategy to clean up the darker side of Reddit and remove the less savoury elements for instance – like banning subreddits “fatpeoplehate” and “hamplanethatred”, which focused on shaming overweight people – angered core members who felt Poa’s intentions went against the free-speech ethos of Reddit.

But needless to say, this did make it more appealing on the brand side. Around the same time, Nordstrom created Nordstrom1901, the official Nordstrom subbreddit, to communicate with customers after noticing increased activity surrounding the brand on the platform. Nordstrom’s first post encapsulated the relaxed, genuine attitude Reddit users appreciate. “We are Redditors at heart and can’t wait to get to know the communities better. We’re here to help so questions, comments, etc. are all welcome,” it read.

Focusing on service and avoiding aggressive marketing, Nordstrom received a warm Reddit welcome. AMAs proved particularly popular. Real-time feedback also allowed Nordstrom to navigate any minor issues before they escalated into larger problems. Their venture onto Reddit appeared fruitful, so it’s unclear why Nordstrom1901 has been abandoned (the last official Nordstrom1901 post was 11 months ago). Often such moves come down to the advocate for a specific platform no longer being in the business, but it’s also likely a change of strategy was at play; if ROI wasn’t proving fruitful from the platform, resources could easily have been allocated elsewhere.

Ensuring authenticity

One brand that has converted conversation into revenue through Reddit is Uniqlo. Speaking to Marketing Land, Uniqlo’s e-commerce manager, Arielle Dyda (who manages the retailer’s Reddit involvement), explained that it now drives more traffic and revenue for the retailer than any other social channel.

Its efforts started on the platform in 2012 after traffic from Reddit crashed the soft launch of its e-commerce site. Today, 5% of its referral traffic comes from social media, with 64% of that from Reddit. Of the 3% of monthly sales from social media, 64% is also from Reddit. On a day when Dyda posts about a special deal, it can drive up to 20% of their online sales.

One particular subreddit – r/MaleFashionAdvice – is particularly fruitful, and Uniqlo isn’t even the most mentioned brand on there:

Reddit_malefashionadvice

The key to Uniqlo success surrounds authenticity, transparency and excellent customer service, says Dyda. She focuses on being real, but also on being playful. It helps that she uses her personal Reddit account, midnight1214, tagged as an official company representative.

“So just being able to be a genuine person is important. I joke around with them, I post memes. I’m savvy with the Reddit lingo and that makes me one of them. I’m not just Uniqlo, I’m midnight1214, and I understand the jokes and I understand frustrations, but I’m going to be here to help you when you need it,” she explains. She also leans on the community’s moderators for help so as not to seem too promotional at times.

Spending time getting to know the platform, answering questions and contributing, without imposing corporate strategies or marketing campaigns, distinguished Uniqlo from other companies entering Reddit. Dyda adds: “I think if another band wants to jump in, they really have to take the time and learn and understand first of all what are people saying about your company [on there].”

By comparison, US-based, outdoor apparel company REI, conducted insufficient research when they attempted to join the platform. Misjudging the importance of authenticity, CEO Jerry Stritzke started the conversation by highlighting REI’s decision to close on Black Friday. Seemingly unaware of the distain of brands using the site for advertising and marketing, he wrote: “Hi Reddit. I’m Jerry Strizke, CEO of REI. You might have heard about us recently when we announced that we would be closing all of our stores on Black Friday this year. We’re paying our 12,000 employees to take the day off and we’re encouraging them to opt out of the Black Friday madness and spend the day outdoors with loved ones…Ask me anything!”

His comments were interpreted as a publicity drive, prompting a dramatic backlash of negativity. Redditor phD_in_Random said: “I’ve never even heard of this company and I hate it already. We don’t have one in my city and I hope we never do.”

Strizke also missed a number of contentious questions from current and former employees surrounding a membership sales scheme the company runs. Strizke failed to grasp that leaving the discussion early, didn’t mean the conversation was over, but rather gave the impression he was avoiding tougher issues. One comment in particular got so blown up (there were some 5,000 responses on the AMA in total), that he had to return to Reddit later to address it.

Unsurprisingly, there’s been no further activity on Reddit from REI.

Native advertising

Steve Huffman, one of the original founders of Reddit, returned as CEO in July 2015, shifting the focus from imposing a level of moral decency to expansion. He is in charge of the business side of Reddit, while co-founder Alexis Ohanian concentrates on editorial aspects like Upvoted, Reddit’s new publication.

Here, a small team of editors sifts through the most interesting posts, rewriting stories worthy of further development. It aims to put a spotlight on all the hundreds of conversations that otherwise get lost in the noise of the platform. It also proves an opportunity for Reddit itself to monetise, by offering brands a safer way to enter through its native advertising scheme.

Sponsored posts are likewise written by the editorial team, and designed to fit with the nature of the content rather than through traditional advertising banners. In the interest of transparency, Reddit made its intentions clear from the off: “We will be working with brands on sponsored content, all of which will be visibly distinguished as such.”

Going forward, the introduction of Upvoted reflects the positive changes at Reddit. There’s a deeper understanding that if the site is to reach its full potential, management must act responsibly. Initiatives like providing a help section with advice on “Brandiquette”, for brands thinking of advertising, makes the site much more approachable.

Brands in other industries including food, literature and music have accordingly reported positive results (case studies available). With that in mind, fashion brands and retailers will also look to consider Reddit as a suitable advertising partner in the future.

Needless to say, for any brand thinking about stepping into the Reddit world in the meantime, operating within the context of the site is paramount. With such a large audience available to tap into, and proven revenue drivers at play when handled correctly, the opportunity is almost too good not to.

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Blocks Editor's pick technology

Six things your clothes will be able to do in the future

A version of this post first appeared on Fashionista.com 

paulinevandongen-PHOTOGRAPHER_LiselotteFleur
Pauline van Dongen

Spending on wearable technology is expected to reach $53 billion worldwide by 2019, according to Juniper Research. Sound a bit surprising? Rightly so. At the moment, the wearable tech on the market is seemingly designed for gadget geeks or fitness fanatics, and not much else. Even the Apple Watch leaves little to be desired in the fashion department. So where’s all the good-looking stuff we actually want to, you know, wear?

Fortunately we’ve seen the future, and we can tell you it’s not all going to be about smartwatches, pieces of jewellery that flash when our phone rings or virtual reality goggles. The launch of Ralph Lauren’s PoloTech T-shirt in August is evidence of the kind of appealing connected technology that is slowly moving into the apparel realm. This one might still be geared towards the athletic market first and foremost – it allows the wearer to capture biometric information including heart rate, breathing rate, steps taken and more – but it’s a good move forward.

And there’s lots of other work being done in science and technology that will change the way we dress further. Whether it’s about controlling devices through the cuff of a sleeve, or quickly shortening the length of our skirts for a night out, here’s some of the clothing-related technologies you can look forward to in the future.

Items that change colour

This one is a no-brainer. Why wouldn’t we want our white T-shirts to change to a darker grey if we spill something on them, or a polka dot dress to shift to stripes when we spot someone else wearing the same one? In the future, being able to change the colour of your look will be easy;  at the moment there’s lots being worked on in this realm to make it so. Most of it is similar to the Global Hypercolor t-shirts from the 80s and 90s – remember those ones that changed color when they got hot for instance? Look out for the likes of The Unseen, a London-based brand fusing science and design, which is already experimenting heavily in this space.

TheUnseen
The Unseen

Jeans that communicate

Walk into a tech conference, and you’ll see lots of people speaking into the Apple Watches on their wrists, a la Inspector Gadget. But interactions with the items on our bodies are about to get even weirder. Next year, Google will launch Project Jacquard with Levi’s, weaving conductive yarn into jeans to allow touch interactivity on the fabric itself. The idea is to provide simple functionalities that will free us from using our mobile phones all of the time — like being able to request an Uber, silence our phones, take a selfie or even turn a lightbulb on or off. A prototype saw the same idea embedded in the sleeve of a jacket made on Savile Row. It might sound wacky now, but more seamless interactions are the way of the future.

Clothes that charge your other devices

Garments that feature solar panels and a small portable battery that you can plug the likes of your phone into to give it a little more juice, have been out in the market for a while. Last year, Tommy Hilfiger launched a jacket designed for the great outdoors with solar strips attached to the back of it, while Dutch designer Pauline van Dongen has a great looking T-shirt that does the same job. In the future, designers will also harness kinetic energy from our bodies for a charge.

tommysolar
Tommy Hilfiger

Jackets with body temperature controls

Speaking of energy, in everyday clothes, we’re often hot one minute and cold the next. Wearable tech’s future will be about being able to control your body temperature through your coat. Ever sat in one of those cars with heated seats? Imagine something like that, but far more stylish. If you’re after even more technology in your life, there’s no reason why you couldn’t then connect your body temperature information from your outerwear with your thermostat at home so your apartment is just the right temperature once you walk in, too.

A wardrobe made to measure

There’s an ongoing amount of work being done around making sure clothes really fit us through 3D body scanning and detailed algorithms. Imagine being able to customise the size of everything you buy, whether it’s from Asos or J.Crew, and not just a high-end designer name. Knowing that a dress is going to be made to perfectly fit our body shape, or the drama of purchasing jeans is going to be completely seamless, will make the click-to-buy button all the more tempting. Start-ups like Acustom Apparel, which uses the latest 3D measuring technology to digitally tailor menswear, is just one in a long list of companies exploring this space. Others like Orpiva, which launches this autumn, are also incorporating ideas such as being able to snap a photo of someone on the street in an item you like in order to seek out similar looks online. From there you can then virtually try them on too.

Styles that shift in shape

Shape-shifting styles are a bit further away in the future, but they’re not a complete pipe dream. A video released by Lacoste in 2012 set the tone (see above), showing clothes that shift colour, sleeves that lengthen and silhouettes that grow slimmer. This kind of technology is based on complicated fiber science — i.e. changing the molecular structures of textiles — but it’s something that researchers at the likes of OMsignal, the technology company behind that PoloTech shirt from Ralph Lauren, are working on. Pauline van Dongen is also exploring how 3D printing can be used to achieve such changes, adapting structural flexibilities so items can be more tightly woven at one point, and more open at another. And sportswear label Chromat just revealed a dress in collaboration with Intel during New York Fashion Week that features a carbon fibre framework that expands and collapses based on the wearer’s body temperature and stress levels.

It’s not impossible to imagine a future where a perfectly-fitting dress could change colour, sleeve and hem length depending on the occasion; maintain the right temperature in response to the environment; and be used to charge a dying phone battery or send a message to a loved one, too. In the future, we’ll be surprised just how little our clothes once did for us.