Fashion Technology and the Industries that Lie Within

There is often a fog of ambiguity concerning fashion technology, with people unsure of what it actually means and what industries it touches upon. Fashion Technology is the encompassing of technology into the fashion world. A rather vague statement, it’s true, however the industry is so vast and wide that it cannot be pinned to just one or two areas. Fashion is one thing, technology is another, and fashion technology is the beast that is created in amongst the two. You may not know it, but there is a good chance that you have come across fashion tech more than a couple times. Maybe you just bought a new pair of running shoes that can send real time information to your phone as you are plodding through the park, or maybe you decided to treat your partner with a nice watch, say the Hermès Apple Watch Series 4, or maybe you are too young for such extravagance and you would be much more content to turn on your PlayStation and play Fortnite with your friends as you are wearing digital clothes (or skins) that you purchased with you weekly pocket money. Fashion technology is constantly around us, whether we like it (or even know it), and it will only continue to grow.

So, since fashion technology is hard to exactly put in a box, there is no set rules of what is and what isn’t fashion tech. Keeping that in mind, we have decided to categorise each section and we will continue to organise and better the list below. In this article, we will explain each subsection, who are the main companies or people involved in that industry, provide examples, and hopefully inform you more about the different shades of fashion technology. The list is as following:

1.    Wearable Technology    
2.    Smart Fabrics and Clothing    
3.    Digital Clothes/Fashion    
4.    AR & VR in Fashion    
5.    Hardware    
6.    Software    
7.    Sustainable Fashion

1. Wearable Technology

What is Wearable Technology?

Wearable technology, or wearable fashion, are smart electronic devices that can be incorporated within a person’s clothing attire or even implanted on a person’s body. Wearable tech is often used for activity trackers, such as a smart fitness watch, and can send and receive information over the internet. Wearable tech is starting to focus more and more on the aesthetic side, which can be seen with the advent of smart watches such as the Apple Watch and the Fitbit Versa. The vast majority of wearable tech for the average consumer is to do with smart watches.

Who are the Big Players in the Wearable Technology Industry?

In Q1 of 2019, Apple had 35.8% of market share, followed by Samsung (11.1%), Imoo (9.2%), Fitbit (5.5%), Amazfit (3.7%), Huawei (2.8%), Fossil (2.5%), Garmin (1.5%), and the rest made up 27.9%. Global shipments of smartwatches grew at an impressive rate of 48% year-on-year (YoY) in Q1 2019 which was driven mainly by Apple, Samsung, Fitbit, and Huawei. Apple has done especially well with its most recent Apple Watch Series 4, which has received approval for its ECG features in 20 countries (including the UK, Germany, Italy, Spain, Hong Kong, France, and the US). The ECG features enable the watch to very accurately measure the wearer’s electrical activity of the heart using electrodes from the watch. We may yet see a slowdown in the coming year in smartwatch sales, due to the US-China trade war dispute which has affected Huawei and Apple.

2. Smart Clothing and Smart Fabrics

What is Smart Clothing? What are Smart Fabrics?

Smart clothes and smart fabrics can often be mistaken for one and other, with smart fabrics often used in smart clothes. Put simply, smart clothes are items of clothing that include technology within it to add a greater dimension of functionality than just standard clothing. While smart fabrics, also known as E-textiles or smart garments, are fabric that can (but not always) include electronics interwoven within it. These fabrics are able to react to its environment, unlike normal fabrics, and are not just limited to being used for clothing purposes only. Smart fabrics and smart clothes have been a little bit slow off the blocks, with the average consumer’s idea of smart fashion probably being limited to the light up shoes that toddlers wear. However, this is beginning to change, especially concerning runners and athletes who use their smart working out gear. The ‘Athos Core’ is a working out shirt that can monitor your muscle activity, your heart rate, and even the rate at which you are breathing the breathing. It can connect to your phone via Bluetooth and comes for the price of $390.

Examples of Smart Clothing

Fitness gear and clothing is without a doubt one of the most important areas in smart fashion. However, that does not mean that other aspects of smart fashion haven’t been explored, far from it. Below are examples of smart clothing for different uses:

  • Smart Socks
    • The Sensoria smart sock “can tell you how fast and how far, but also how well you run.”
  • Smart Shoes
    • The Nike HyperAdapt shoes that are self-lacing
  • Smart Sleepwear
    • Under Armour claims that its Athlete Recovery Sleepwear can increase the quality of sleep of the wearer as well as improve muscle recovery
  • Smart Bags
    • Louis Vuitton just released a collection of hand bags with touchscreens. If you want to know more, you can read this article.

Examples of Smart Fabric

Smart Fabrics, or smart textiles, can be broken down into three different classifications. The following classifications are from an incredibly interesting paper written by Md. Syduzzaman, Sarif Ullah Patwary, Kaniz Farhana and Sharif Ahmed of the Bangladesh University of Textiles, which you can read here. The classification is as follows:
  1. Passive Smart Textiles: “The first generations of smart textiles, which provide additional features in a passive mode i.e. irrespective of the change in the environment. For example, a highly insulating coat would remain insulating to the same degree irrespective of the outside temperature. Wide range of capabilities, including anti-microbial, anti-odor, anti-static, bullet proof are the other examples.”
  2. Active Smart Textiles: “The second generation has both actuators and sensors. Textiles which adapt their functionality to changing environment automatically are active smart textiles. Active smart textiles are shape memory, chameleonic, water-resistant and vapor permeable (hydrophilic/ nonporous), heat storage, thermo regulated, vapor absorbing, and heat evolving fabric and electrically heated suits.”
  3. Ultra-Smart Textiles: “Very smart textiles are the third generation of smart textiles, which can sense, react and adopt themselves to environmental conditions or stimuli. A very smart or intelligent textile essentially consists of a unit, which works like the brain, with cognition, reasoning and activating capacities. The production of very smart textiles is now a reality after a successful marriage of traditional textiles and clothing technology with other branches of science like material science, structural mechanics, sensor and actuator technology, advance processing technology, communication, artificial intelligence, biology etc. New fibre and textile materials, and miniaturized electronic components make the preparation of smart textiles possible, in order to create truly usable smart clothes. These intelligent clothes are worn like ordinary clothing, providing help in various situations according to the designed applications.”

3. Digital Clothes 

What are Digital Clothes? What is Digital Fashion?

Digital clothing, or digital fashion, is the intersection between fashion and the digital world. Originally just limited to 3D renderings, digital clothing has come alive within the last 18 months or so, with people being able to purchase digital clothes, such as Carlings’ Digital collection. In the most basic sense, purchasing a digital clothing item can mean varying things. With Carlings’ collection, the customer could purchase a piece of digital clothing, send in a photo of themselves, then Carlings edits the digital clothing on to the image that you sent them, and then Carling sends you one copy of an image of you with the digital clothing. This all comes for the price of between €20-30. On the other hand, The Fabricant and Johanna Jaskowska auctioned off a digital dress stored on a blockchain for $9,500, which you can read about here. Ultimately, digital clothing is very much in its infancy and it remains to be seen in what direction it will go, with it having a lot of potential in the VR, social media, and video games world.

Who are the Big Players in Digital Fashion?

With digital fashion firmly in its youth, there is yet to be big players so far. However, there are some individuals and companies that are emerging, such as the following:
  • The Fabricant
    • A digital fashion house that partnered with Johanna Jaskowska to sell a dress at auction for $9,500. Read more about it here.
  • Carlings
    • Created a digital only clothing collection that sold out within a week
  • Epic Games' Fortnite
    • A free game that generated revenue of around $80 per player from purchasing skins (clothing) and accessories within the game
  • Individuals
      • Johanna Jaskowska
      • Janis Sne
      • Catty Tay

4. AR & VR in Fashion

What is Augmented Reality (AR) doing with Fashion?

Well, first of all what is AR? Augmented reality is an interactive experience in which the real-world environment is enhanced by computer generated perceptual information. Still unclear? You know those face filters on snapchat and Instagram? Yeah, that’s augmented reality and its being applied to fashion.  One of the biggest companies using AR in fashion is Zara. In their stores, customers can hold up their phone to the front shop window and they will be able to see all the different pieces from the latest line on the models. Though this is certainly pleasing to the eye for the customer, it is also a convenient way of showing as many different products from the line without having to take up physical space. Additionally, Zara uses AR for customers who buy online as well, with the packaging of the order showing the online customer the different outfits that they could still buy.  

Examples of Augmented Reality (AR) in Fashion?

Augmented Reality is fast becoming part of the retail business in fashion, and this is how it is being used:
  • Gap's DressingRoom
    • The AR app lets customers try on clothes anywhere if they have a Google Tango-enabled device. The customer is able to customize an avatar based on your body type and see how the different pieces of clothing will look from different angles. Once the customer has found what they are looking for, they can purchase right then and there.
  • Smart Mirrors
    • These are mirrors that use augmented reality to alter your appearance in a multitude of ways. We speak about smart mirrors later on under the ‘Hardware’ section.
  • Wanna Kicks
    • Wanna Kicks is an app that uses AR, so that users can see how shoes look on them. You can even see how the shoes look as you walk all from the comfort of your own home.
  • Sephora's Virtual Assistant
    • Sephora partnered with ModiFace to bring the Sephora’s Virtual Assistant app. The app uses the smartphones front camera so that the user can see how different makeup shades and combinations.

What is Virtual Reality (VR) doing with Fashion?

Virtual reality, much like blockchain, is very “in” these days, especially among fashion tech. In simple terms, virtual reality uses computer technology to build a simulated environment. It’s similar to augmented reality (AR), but it’s much more immersive and definitely gives you a more holistic experience in comparison to AR.

Examples of Virtual Reality (VR) in Fashion?

  • Virtual Runway Shows
    • In early 2018, luxury brand Coach installed VR headsets to some of their strores so that customers could see and experience the Coach runway show
  • Virtual Fashion Stores
    • Retail stores are suffering, which has led to some companies looking at reinventing what a clothing store should be like. Virtual fashion stores are being created so that people can online shop from home but have a greater experience by feeling as if they were in the actual store. 
  • Virtual Fashion in Simulated Worlds
    • In the online simulated world of SecondLife, fashion is of the upmost importance. That’s why 3D designers are creating clothes for simulated realities, with this only just being the beginning. Be sure to check out the ‘Digital Clothes’ section if you want to know more about this topic.
  • Virtual Reality Companies/Start-Ups to Look Out For:

5. Hardware

In this section we will speak of hardware with fashion on a broader basis. It would take an age to talk about all if the different hardware used in the fashion tech world, so instead we will concentrate on two main products: smart mirrors and 3D printing.

What are Smart Mirrors?

Smart mirrors are a two-way mirror with an electronic display behind the layer of glass. This enables the mirror to act as a display to use apps and to show different sorts of information (such as the weather, the time, and the news). More specifically, it is being used in the retail world to aid consumers in making the best possible decisions for them, such as which dress to pick, which colour, and even how would it look in the evening light.

Who is making the Smart Mirrors? And who is using them?

Neiman Marcus’ MemoryMirror is changing the game for brick and mortar retail stores. The mirror is able to show a 360-degree view of you wearing outfits, drastically cutting down the time that it takes for costumers to physically try on different items of clothing in the changing room. If you are still unsure about that shirt you just tried on and you need another pair of eyes, you can share photos of yourself with friends over social media, so that they can lend their opinions. There are a multitude of labels that are using smart mirrors for their stores, especially in the US. Lululemon has a more community focused mirror with a community board encouraging people to engage with one and other, while Ralph Lauren’s mirror is located in the fitting room with the ability to change the lighting of the room as you flick through clothes to try on. Companies with similar versions of smart mirrors include H&M, Amazon, and Mango, and we expect the list to grow exponentially over the next 12 months.

What is 3D Printing? And how does is involve Fashion?

3D printing is the process in which material is connected by computer control to make a three-dimensional object. Though it has been around for around for a decade now, only in the past few years has 3D printing been used in the fashion industry. It has been hailed as one of the future pillars in technological development of the fourth industrial revolution, with costs being cut and efficiency increasing. It’s unclear how far 3D printing can go, with it being limited to ‘printing’ only certain fabrics, however more and more fabrics are being added to the list of ‘printable’.

Who is using 3D Printing in Fashion?

Below is a list of companies and people who are using 3D printing for fashion:
  • Heisel is a design lab makes 3D printed clothing and experiential fashion, including zero waste 3D printed compostable clothing
  • VOJD Studios in Berlin is a high-end 3D printing Jewellery studio, which has worked with labels such as Alexander McQueen
  • Danit Peleg (Israeli) and Melina Looi (Malaysian) are individuals to look out for in the 3D printing clothing industry

6. Software

Software in fashion is fairly self-explanatory. It is the lines of code that enable a dress to be most efficiently sent from point A to point B, or the processing of data which enables labels know exactly how they should market a new line. Software in fashion technology is truly endless and it is evolving every day, and due to that we can only include a limited number of apps or software on the list.

What are examples of Software or Apps in Fashion Tech?

The list goes as the following:
  • Productivity/Efficiency
    • Sourcify
      • Sourcify manages and organise your entire production process within a single platform
  • Business-to-Business (B2B)
    • Techpacker
      • Techpacker helps with tech pack optimization for fashion designers, by making the tech pack system much easier, friendlier and more of an efficient process
    • Shopify
      • Shopify has helped so many people enter the e-commerce world, especially those in fashion.
    • Makers Row
      • Helps you find the best manufacturer for you in the US, by comparing nearly 4,000 apparel and accessories related manufacturers
  • Business-to-Customer (B2C)
    • Instagram
      • This may be an obvious choice, but Instagram has changed the game when it comes to labels interacting with their customers. Instagram users can now directly buy clothes from Instagram posts by influencers and labels.

7. Sustainable Fashion

What is Sustainable Fashion?

Sustainable Fashion has been a huge wave in the fashion industry, much of it due to a backlash against poor industry practices in the fashion industry, both luxury and fast fashion. Issues like cheap labour, over stocking inventory, environmental misconduct, and mass production are causing unwanted financial and environmental costs, which are becoming impossible to ignore for companies and consumers. Fashion tech startups have begun to flourish across the world to help combat these costs, with most of the initiatives being woman-led.

What are examples of Sustainable Fashion in Fashion Tech?

As mentioned, startups in sustainable fashion have been flourishing and one such example is Project Cece, founded by Noor Veenhoven and sisters Marcella and Melissa Wijngaarden. Project Cece is a search engine that helps customers find sustainable fashion brands and their clothes, something that is not as accessible as one would think. The Dutch fashion-tech startup is available in Germany, Holland, and (now just recently) in the UK too. They hope to help customers find fashionable clothes that are sustainable, not just any piece of clothing that is made sustainably. You can read more about them here. In addition, it’s not only startups who are involving themselves in sustainable fashion. Industry giants, Gucci, is beginning to introduce artificial intelligence to its supply chain so that it can combat waste. To read more about what Gucci is doing here.


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