Where Will Technology Take Fashion?

By Timothy Parent, April 5, 2017

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Timothy Parent Fashion Column

Timothy Parent is the founder of China Fashion Bloggers and has followed Shanghai Fashion Week for 15 seasons and Fashion Now in Beijing for six seasons. In his latest Fashion Column for That’s, he talks about the ways technology will influence the fashion industry ahead of Shanghai Fashion Week.

Shanghai Fashion Week is just around the corner, and the theme this season is technology. But technology is more than just a theme, and could alter the very fabric and foundation of fashion.

There is so much fashion tech that already exists but isn’t widely available to consumers: hydrophobic clothing that repels all liquids, meaning you’ll never have to worry about stains or rain again; materials with chemical coatings that neutralize pollution, which turns you into a walking air purifier; shoes that harness kinetic energy, meaning every step you take helps generate power that can be used to charge your phone or any other electronic device.

And although these technologies already exist today, consumers are mostly being shown gimmicky versions of the tech-fashion combo, like bags and dresses that have been outfitted with strands of LEDs. Sure, lights are cool, but technology shouldn’t be simply added on top of garments. It should be truly integrated.

Fashion technology

At the height of the integration with fashion and technology is surely Iris van Herpen, the Dutch designer known for 3D printed garments that have earned her a place on Paris’s Haute Couture calendar. But China has its own fashion-tech darling, Vega Zaishi Wang, who used electroluminescent panels in a collaboration with Intel’s Creators Project to create dresses that light up evenly across the surface of the fabric, creating an illusion that the garment itself is breathing and alive.

But Vega, who is at the forefront of this movement, isn’t optimistic about technology’s role in fashion; she believes technology seems to be pushing designers to be more commercial and less creative. With the democratization of access to fashion through the internet, there is now even more competition from brands made purely for commercial purposes, and consumers are falling for it. So even though tech certainly enables creativity, it may also be a double-edged sword.

"Tech will help to generate new methods of showcasing fashion” 

Babyghost is another local brand that is leveraging technology to enhance fashion. For their Spring/Summer 2017 show, they integrated NFC, or near-field communication, into their work so that the clothes could communicate with a range of electronic devices… and the possibilities are nearly endless! But the design duo believes the real potential comes in enhancing the way clothes are “advertised, interacted with, and sold.” So even though technology can change both the form and function of fashion, in the short term it is more likely to revolutionize the way we perceive fashion… and that seems to be just what Shanghai Fashion Week wants. 

“I think tech will help to generate new methods of showcasing fashion,” statesLandon Du, the head of communication at Shanghai Fashion Week. “Both B2B and B2C will benefit from the application of technology in fashion.” How exactly this will manifest is yet to be seen, but one such project fromBeyond the Bund and CFB called “Fashion For All” will livestream the runway shows from Shanghai Fashion Week so that the general public can enjoy them in real time. 

Fashion is as exclusive and elitist as ever, but Candy Li, the founder of Green Code, believes that technology will force people to rethink the very definition of fashion. Technology has already paved the way for fashion to become greener, and sustainability is yet another way for it to become more technology-driven. By optimizing production and sales, introducing biodegradable fabrics, and creating a closed-loop system, technology can make fashion more environmentally friendly.

But this is literally the tip of the iceberg. In the future our clothing may be completely digital and projected onto us. Tech-enabled clothing could also bring us nano-fibers that bend light and make us invisible. The possibilities are virtually endless, but the tech/ fashion dichotomy usually ends up leaning one way or the other, which is why it hasn’t really ever worked for the average person. Consumers would surely love to see tech giants like Tencent and Baidu throw their hats into the fashion arena, but will something truly transformative ever come out of this interplay between these industries, or will fashion tech forever be relegated to the headlines of wishful writers?

Timothy Parent can also be found at www.chinafashionbloggers.com. See more of his Fashion Columns.

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