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Can Emerging Designers and Technology Reimagine Fashion’s Creative Processes?

BoF speaks to four emerging designers who are experimenting with Microsoft technologies to innovate their creative process with regards to waste, aesthetics and product.
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 LONDON, United Kingdom — Selected by founder of sustainability-oriented magazine More or Less and former British Vogue Creative Director Jaime Perlman, four emerging designers were invited to reimagine their creative process using Microsoft Azure and Azure Spatial Anchors, as part of Microsoft's Augmented Atelier programme.

“I wanted to find four designers that each had a kind of unique point of view — something slightly different to bring to the table,” Perlman tells BoF.

Queen Elizabeth II Award-winning sustainable designer Bethany Williams, Fredrik Tjærandsen, Phoebe English and Fashion East-backed Rottingdean Bazaar were each asked to experiment with Microsoft technology to power the creation of real size mixed-reality garments that exist only in a virtual showroom.

“My focus was on this up-and-coming generation, [designers] who prioritise sustainability as well as concept, ingenuity and innovation. [Sustainability] didn’t gel for a long time within the fashion industry. It’s taken a while for us to view sustainability as something that is fun, digestible – a way of being creative with fashion,” continues Perlman.

Jaime Perlman By Fernando Jorge | Source: Courtesy

Perlman believes the application of Microsoft Azure Computing has the potential for wider industry improvement and can be realised across  the value chain, from design to presentations and retail. "As we move forward into an increasingly digital medial landscape — Fashion Week is heading pretty much online — [the industry] needs to learn to embrace technology. This is an exciting experiment.”

While the application of technology such as Microsoft’s Azure programme and spatial anchors in fashion’s design processes is still in its early stages, the emerging designers share that, accumulatively, the technology was effective in enabling them to rethink their design process, move past creative constraints, achieve more sustainable workflows and practices, and unlock potential for positive industry impact across the entire fashion value chain.

“This project will demonstrate to a lot of people the capabilities – or plant some seeds of ideas in certain brands’ minds. If [brands] are struggling with mass production, with factories not operating, then this technology is a way to collaborate with its audience online and create something made on demand as a move-on from ready-to-wear,” says Perlman. “Bespoke design rather than mass production could be a more waste-efficient option for brands in the future.”

Indeed, the production and demand for virtual fashion — or digital only products — is growing. Both Nike and Gucci have made inroads into the market, which would allow shoppers to keep up with trends without having to worry about fashion's sustainability issues, yet still earn coveted social currency through social media.

Now, BoF sits down with the four designers to learn more about their experience, and the potential they believe technology has to help reimagine fashion’s creative processes.

Phoebe English | Source: Courtesy

Phoebe English — Reducing Reliance on Raw Materials

Her eponymous label was founded in 2011 and now aims to repositioning itself as a brand working towards less wasteful practices and solution based design within the context of our planetary boundaries.

What challenge did you seek to overcome using the technology?

There's a lot of conversation within design aiming for sustainability by minimising waste, and the use of precious raw material and resources. The challenge that intrigued me most was, without the use of raw materials, without physical paper […] what possibilities lay in terms of design development. It was an intriguing exercise to see how technology could be used. There's a huge amount of fabric use within the initial trialling and toile process.  The use of Microsoft technology has the potential to help reduce this, if used efficiently.

How might you use the technology moving forward?

There’s a tendency to think of [technology and craft] as opposing forces, but there is potential to see them as complementary. For example, making handmade textiles is a laborious task and, with the use of technology, it could be trialed and tested out in an augmented way before having to commit to the physicality of it.

What relevance do you think that digital-only product could hold in the future?

Working on Zoom is starting to relate to how we are dressing — how you adorn yourself as a human. As time goes on we may rely on it more — maybe there will be a [digital] dressing up box? The possibilities are endless.

Without the use of raw materials, […] what possibilities lay in terms of design development?

As cultures and nations, our digital lives, capabilities and potentials are growing. We’ve only used this digital technology for a nanosecond – we’re not even touching the tip of the iceberg.

Rottingdean Bazaar by Dexter Lander | Source: Courtesy

Rottingdean BazaarUnlocking Digital Aesthetics and Product

First showing under the Fashion East umbrella, the artist duo successfully engaged the industry through irreverent aesthetics and witty references to mundane objects. Creative direction and styling has allowed the duo to express further conceptual ideas in a variety of formats and media. They also lecture together at universities including Central St Martins, Westminster and HEAD in Geneva.

How did the technology allow you to innovate in your creative process?

Often, we have ideas for things that aren’t well-suited, or feasible, or we don’t feel like making in the physical world. It’s interesting to think about other possibilities for us […] an image, a film, or in this instance, a 3D digital object. Our kind of work is often digested online, through these [mediums]. As time has gone on, we’ve become more and more interested in image-making, and we often think about how the physical pieces we make are seen through digital media. Even 3D work becomes 2D again, when it is seen as an image or video.

How might you apply the technology in your business in the future?

We’re very interested in thinking around fashion and costume […] the relationship between the two. In a digital space, we can bring them together — make something that can behave like a filter, that is temporary, momentary and can change. The project made us think, “if you are let loose in a digital landscape, what [could] that look like?”

What relevance do you think that digital-only product could hold in the future?

It was exciting for us to think about it as a new medium to work in. One that has potential as another way for people to interact with fashion. We probably can't even think about what could be done eventually.

Bethany Williams by Amber Nixon | Source: Courtesy

Bethany Williams —Reimagining Materiality

The designer founded her label in 2017 and chose to source book waste, second-hand denim and hand-woven textiles to create 100 percent recycled garments for her projects. With only three collections under her belt, the newcomer has quickly gained recognition from the likes of Anna Wintour and Nicolas Ghesquière for her work with homeless shelters, foodbanks and recycled garments co-created by prison inmates.

What industry challenges did you seek to overcome

When we create samples, we do a sketch, create a pattern and then make a toile to test the fit, but the toile is not created in the exact fabric of the end garment.

This 3D element can skip steps and eliminate waste from the design process. Through [Microsoft technology], you can see exactly how the end material would behave and drape, eliminating the need for a toile.

What creative opportunities did the technology enable you to tap?

We were [able] to get a feel for how it could exactly drape on the body. For this project, the material is made from waste books taken from a publishing house. It replicates the way it’s going to behave, so it could eliminate waste in this way too.

How might you use the technology in your business moving forward?

My collections are textile-driven and feature handwoven materials. [Buyers] like to come to our showroom to see and touch. It would help to be able to digitally showcase craft.

It would help to digitally showcase craft to buyers.

Technology is going to produce new materials, as well as provide a new age deconstruction of original garments. We need to keep traditional craft alive, and technology is a way of showcasing those crafts. I am still a massive believer in “slow.”

Fredrik Tjaerandsen by Carlos Jimenez | Source: Courtesy

Fredrik Tjærandsen — Richer Connections for Consumers

His 2019 Central Saint Martin’s graduate show scored him rapid media attention with inflatable ‘balloon-style’ dresses, setting the precedent for his boundary-pushing, explorative approach to design.

What creative opportunities did the technology unlock?

With the help of Microsoft experts, converting our 2D designs into 3D models allowed us to implement new ideas almost instantly. The technology broadened the creative [design process] beyond the typical material and logistical restrictions that can be costly, time consuming and wasteful.

Moving Photoshop designs directly into the Microsoft technology provided 3D views of digitally manipulated garments, adding new experimentation and presentation aspects to this stage of the design process.

This project [emphasised] the limits to physical designing, particularly in regard to how many ideas can realistically be attempted.  Material restrictions are easily eliminated through the technology at hand, as are wider physical limits like gravity and size.

How might you apply the technology in your business in the future?

Through the technology, a lot of shipment and buying of material could be eliminated, thus speeding up the design process massively. It would make [the process] a lot more streamlined, efficient and sustainable.

Material restrictions are easily eliminated and wider physical limits like gravity and size.

Customers could get a better idea of the product they are purchasing, just by seeing the designs displayed digitally and maybe even trying the garments on virtually — a lot of excess buying, returning and, again, wasting resources would be reduced.

What potential do you see for further digital-only product?

Digital-only product is something I’m keen to explore more, as technology advances further and people spend more time in the digital space. My clientele is also very open to these technologies as well — it’s so relevant to [find ways] to connect better with people via digital platforms and [consumers] obviously want to be dressed for the occasion, trying hairstyles and accessories alongside digital clothes.

This is a sponsored feature paid for by Microsoft as part of a BoF partnership. 

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