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Fashion and technology collide with exhilarating results

The fashion industry is worth a staggering £26 billion to the UK economy and comes with an image of being at the forefront of new fads. It is, therefore, something of a mystery that until recently it hasn’t been particularly influenced by technology – another sector renowned for being at the coalface of advancement.

However, fashion has started to catch on to the power of using technology to impose itself, with designers and brands finally realising the huge opportunities that exist.

Matthew Drinkwater, who heads-up the Fashion Innovation Agency (FIA) at the London College of Fashion (LCF), reveals designers and brands are now starting to use technology to change how they show their garments – in particular, through virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR).

“Ultimately we use technology to help designers change the way they sell their collections,” Matthew told SETsquared Downloaded, the global number one university business incubator’s podcast.

Last September’s London Fashion Week saw a designer’s collection brought to life. After items were scanned using four HD cameras, a 3D life-size hologram model wearing the clothes suddenly appeared – wowing the crowd.

“When you can showcase your collection to consumers in their environment through AR then the possibilities are incredibly exciting,” Matthew explained, before revealing they plan on going further at next September’s show.

“We will go one step further with our virtual demonstrations at the next London Fashion Week; we are planning on using 64 cameras, a full 3D scanner, as well as adding some interactivity so you can mix and match model garments when wearing a HoloLens headset. I think you will see a real trajectory of growth of this technology even though it’s still very new.”

Matthew goes on to reveal how the LCF has always been keen to explore how AR might fit in with retail. This resulted in them showcasing scarf app Scarfy.

“We had seen a lot of virtual trial apps before and hadn’t been convinced of the quality,” Matthew said. “We wanted to see if we could do something that looked compelling and really show what garments looked like without actually having to try them on. We wanted to see what impact this had on how people interacted with designers.

“The scarf app allowed you to virtually try on the scarf collection and was so good that you were hard pressed to tell the difference between who was wearing a real scarf and who wasn’t. Suddenly consumers begin to sit up and take notice.

“These are the areas where we can use technology, test it, work with a designer, put it into the market and showcase to the public and gage reactions, therefore shaping the industry in a new way.”

But AR and VR are far from the only technological advancements in the FIA’s armoury. Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, for example, are other means with potential to revolutionise the creation process for designers and brands.

“I think the first steps for AI and machine learning will be teaching computers what is style and how to design,” Matthew said. “It’s not stretching the bounds of credibility to imagine that at some point computers will be able to figure out exactly how to design before robots make the garment.”

For an industry Matthew described as having its “head in the sand for a long time”, it’s quite an astonishing turnaround.

But it’s not just the technological breakthroughs and long overdue fusion of the fashion and tech sectors that have resulted in the huge strides made in the industry.

“I think the first real impact was through social media. You can begin to see the impact of what social has done to fashion shows after turning closed events into very public shows,” Matthew added. “Fashion shows were traditionally for press and buyers but now because of live streaming and social media consumers have full and instant access to these events as well.”

FIA is teaming up with SETsquared to put on programmes on 30 June and 1 July in London.

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