Two years ago, on a day early in June, a design trailblazer from a leading British fashion education institution and a marketing pioneer from a renowned American computer and electronics corporation met in Sweden and hatched a plan. Matthew Drinkwater, Head of Fashion Innovation Agency, London College of Fashion (LCF), had just given a presentation at the 2017 Fashion Tech Talks in Stockholm. As he stepped offstage, he was approached by Maruschka Loubser, Director of Brand Partnerships and Campaigns, Microsoft. She had been struck by Drinkwater’s conviction that technology is essential to disrupting and compelling forward the best fashion and design innovations, and she thought Microsoft could help. She was right.
The inaugural LCF course that Drinkwater and Loubser went on to build in 2018 was so successful that this year they have expanded it as the “Accelerating the Future of Fashion” initiative. In this iteration, the program challenges LCF students to not only imagine new applications of Microsoft technology including Artificial Intelligence and Mixed Reality across every level of the fashion industry but to do so with functional prototypes and actionable business models—and in barely three months’ time, a single season. Fashion does run on seasons. The students might as well get used to the feverish pace of their chosen profession.
Get used to it they have. This year’s resulting projects are smart and exciting and include Ashwini Suhas Deshpande’s inspiration to use Microsoft Azure cloud computing to envision her software program, Art-Z, which reduces excess fabric waste at the pattern-cutting stage of garment creation. Using Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning, her prototype analyses the amount of offcut material in a designer’s garment pattern and offers a series of alternative and less-wasteful seam suggestions. Her ambition to develop a “zero-waste” pattern is not only environmentally sound but both time and cost efficient, proving that technology can be a powerful means of providing space, money, and opportunity for more creativity and innovation, not less.
On the other end of the spectrum is the vision of Adul Haseeb Azizi, Julia Karolina Frey, and Noelia Fernandez Galiana. Together they are the force behind Brick & Pixel, which explores not the birth of a new pattern and garment-to-be but its eventual realization as a piece of clothing to be tried on and experienced by a consumer in that tiny, private space we all know so well: the fitting room. This student team recognized the time a consumer spends in the dressing room has been largely ignored by designers and retailers alike, and so they cleverly decided to try and capture this untapped niche. Using Microsoft Kinect technology, RFID tags, and smart mirrors, their resulting Brick & Pixel envisions a future in which consumers, visiting a brick and mortar store, will have the opportunity to try on an article of clothing while simultaneously learning about the garment’s designer, creation, style, fabric, and care through a series of narrative photographs, videos, and captions displayed on the fitting room mirror. Consumers would further be able to control the size and sound of the content as well which pieces of information they want to engage in more depth with and which they don’t. In other words, no longer must a brand be limited to whatever facts they can squeeze on a garment’s small tag.
Whether or not these concepts or any of the other ideas from this year’s program ever make it to the sewing machine, factory, or High Street, the students working on these projects have demonstrated that Artificial Intelligence, Mixed Reality, and Microsoft HoloLens, Azure, and Kinect Camera can be utilized in revelatory and infinite ways. Drinkwater and Loubser had no idea what they were unleashing—not to mention the engineers, programmers, and coders who originally created and built these revolutionary technologies. Who knew academia and tech would ever look so fashionable?
– Victoria Loustalot