Dubai's Predictions for the Future of Fashion
It seems like every year since 3D printing (additive manufacturing!) arrived on the mainstream scene, multiple industries have put on events to tackle the question of what the future of their industry will look like. And fashion seems to be asking the question more than others. But how long can we put on talks and panel discussions about this topic before we have definitively exhausted the conversational possibilities?
I have spoken at many conferences and trade shows around the world on the topics of the future of mass manufacturing, fashion and new technologies since 2012 and the fact of the matter is that the discussion can and should keep going indefinitely. And the reason for this is because the future of fashion could come about sooner than we think, if we choose to overlook how far it has already come.
Just because you can see a virtual 3D CAD model on the screen doesn’t mean it’s makeable.
A couple of weeks ago London College of Fashion (LCF) approached me to moderate a panel discussion on the impact 3D printing and wearable technology will have on the future of fashion and it took place in the wild, wild East that is Dubai during the Samsung-sponsored Fashion Forward Dubai (FFWD) event. The panel discussion captivated a full house of international guests and had a world-class panel of experts including director of the LCF Fashion Innovation Agency, Matthew Drinkwater, Samsung’s MENA Head of Mobile, Abdo Chlala, Disney’s VP EMEA Francesca Gianesin, and co-founder of Paris fashion accessories brand EXOCET, Yasmine Jaber.
What a well-rounded panel! Big brands, small brands, makers, managers, designers, academic innovators and inventors – all encompassed by five people.
So what was my angle as the moderator of this panel? I have one foot planted in practice and the other foot planted in academia – both well-rooted. And I am usually one of the first people in a conversation to point out that additive manufacturing technologies began to emerge over 30 years ago and the definition of “wearable tech” is highly contentious and seemingly subjective. By this I mean that I am personally critical of how the word “new” is used in the context of 3D printing and wearable tech.
I am always careful to not portray the advancements from, say, a decade ago as a recent development that could paint a picture of the future of fashion. Add to this the weight of condensing an open-ended discussion about the future of fashion – well, the future of anything! – to a 40-minute time slot and you can imagine the challenging time I had preparing salient points for the event from my hotel room overlooking an experimental stretch of Persian Gulf coastline. Especially since I can fill that time slot with my own talk. But this wasn’t about me (perhaps the biggest challenge).
Luckily, a panel discussion has a way of taking its own directions despite any prior planning. Having met with all the panelists once I arrived in Dubai, I was delighted to learn that they’re all passionate about the discussion topic and, above all, genuinely inspirational and visionary people! Once I got the go-ahead from the FFWD event organizer, the packed air-conditioned tent audience were in for a treat.
Solutions need multi-industry contribution for wearable tech to be successful.
We covered a lot of ground on the subjects of how 3D printing and wearable tech can impact the future of fashion. To keep things to the point, I’ll bring up a few quotes from the panelists to give you an idea of what the experts had to say.
Yasmine Jaber of EXOCET was the panelist that most clearly represented the opportunities of 3D printing for a young creative fashion accessories brand. She spoke of her excitement around engaging a 3D printing process for manufacturing and of the uphill battle she’s been fighting to overcome the often unspoken limitations of 3D printing – designing in 3D CAD. Knowing how to sketch, draw, paint or sculpt does not automatically mean you will pick up 3D CAD skills in the snap of a finger. Yasmine explained how she had to expand her team to include a 3D CAD modeler.
But even that wasn’t enough to hit the ground running. Just because you can see a virtual 3D CAD model on the screen doesn’t mean it’s makeable. As I have done in the past, EXOCET had to invest commercial time into experimenting with various geometries to understand what is 3D-printable and what is not. But as the current EXOCET collection will show, Yasmine and team have done a great job commandeering the 3D printing process to make their fantasy accessories a reality.
When Disney’s Francesca Gianesin imparted her wisdom from the stage, the audience seemed to be truly captivated. I wonder if the audience were thinking “what can Disney tell us about 3D printing, wearable tech and the future of fashion?” because that was one of my initial thoughts. It’s obvious that film props and consumer goods prototypes can be made with 3D printers. But considering Disney has expanded beyond its traditional target demographics with the acquisition of often-adult-themed Marvel Studios, Disney is in a position to flood the fashion market for all ages with franchise-related merchandise.
Even so, Francesca’s vision for the future of fashion revolved around something other than “fashion as merchandise”. She zoomed in on “fashion as experience”. Following up her brief recounting of an experience in Florida where a wristband let her into her hotel, booked her favourite restaurants, updated business about her arrival and so on, Francesca held that “technology is an enabler. It enables customised and magical experiences”. Afterall, isn’t this what Disney is all about? Making our lives as magical as their animated and live-action feature films?
Something terribly overlooked in the discussion of the future of fashion and embedded technologies is the consumer experience and Francesca gave us a masterclass on the subject. She believes that an important aspect of the future of fashion is how brands and manufacturers can deliver a customised shopping experience to each and every individual customer. Embedding technology into merchandise like fashion garments will connect the customer with the brand in a more real-time-personal way than can be achieved today.
Samsung’s Abdo Chlala had great perspectives on the discussion topics as well. He is one part visionary, one part make-it-happen-er. In his line of work, innovation in and of itself is not enough to develop new products to put on shelves for mass consumption. There needs to be a strong market-led business case to get lost in in innovation. So how does Samsung engage in the future of fashion? Their fundamental link is that they manufacture technologies that enable innovation in the first place.
Some of you may be hip to their new embedded tech fashion collection The HumanFit. Smart belts, connected suit jacket sleeves, and solar-celled clutches. Rather than attempting to enter the fashion accessory market, Abdo told the audience of how Samsung is more focused on creating platforms for people around the world to innovate with them. When I asked him if Samsung alone could make an impact in the global fashion market with wearable fashion tech given the scale of their operations, he poignantly replied that “solutions need multi-industry contribution for wearable tech to be successful”. In other words, collaboration. If the fashion industry and the mobile industry get together, a future of fashion can be born. So if you have a brilliant idea for how Samsung’s technologies can be applied to the development of a wearble tech product, give them a shout.
Technology is an enabler. It enables customised and magical experiences.