5 Things You May Have Missed This Week

By Georgia Buchanan

1. FashTech Talk: My Dream About AI

Last night FashTech Talks ventured to entrepreneurial members hub, Second Home, for a brilliant presentation from AI extraordinaire Martin Peniak. Dubbed “the Good Will Hunting of the robotics department” by Andrew Merrington of Plymouth University, Peniak has had a less than traditional route to his final profession, and his presentation last night on his life and work was fascinating.

Martin has very kindly written a recap of the night’s topics, both for those who came and for those who couldn’t make it down…

“Hi guys,

Thank you for coming yesterday, I had a great time talking to you about some of the stuff I’ve been involved in.

Here are the few takeaways from last night:

I talked about how I came to UK with very little money, no English, no job and no place to sleep. The only real thing I had was my motivation and perseverance. I guess the takeaway message is best summed up by Theodore Roosevelt: "Believe you can and you're halfway there."

Since a lot of my research involved parallel computing I explained the differences between serial and parallel processors (CPU vs. GPU). While the CPU is great at processing serial tasks, the GPU excels on data parallel tasks.

Many, if not most, of the computational problems in cognitive robotics and computer vision are a perfect fit for modern GPU architecture. The main reason for using GPUs for computing is to accelerate time-consuming tasks. Some tasks that could be for example done on GPU in 1 hour could take months on CPU so it becomes quite clear why we have lately seen a revolution in this area where GPUs have become notorious. So if you ever need to solve time-consuming computational problems then remember that GPUs can be very helpful!

The core of my talk was about my research that I have done at Plymouth University, at European Space Agency and at NVIDIA. I showed you how I created complex artificial neural networks with thousands of neurons to enable the iCub humanoid robot to understand simple language and execute complex motor actions using 51 degrees of freedom. I also talked about the biologically-inspired vision system that learned to recognise 3D objects by using an artificial retina that would saccade from one place to another. The interesting part here was the fact that this system was not pre-programmed to do this task but rather it was autonomously evolved using genetic algorithms that attempt to mimic the process of natural evolution.

I mentioned that I currently work at Cortexica, which is the world's leading provider of visual search technology. We have developed an extremely optimised system leveraging GPUs that is able to find visually similar images based on the original image that you sent to us. The implications of this technology are vast because we are providing a service that can save companies a lot of time, it can enable our clients to develop novel solutions and innovate their existing products and workflows. You know the saying that one image is worth a thousand words… well that's why I am a great believer in visual search as it enables us to search images better and faster. I showed you some of the work I have done where I created a virtual reality environment where you could use this visual search in real time. Simply put, look at a product and we will show you what the most visually similar products out there are.

Dream big!”

To see Martin’s full TED Talk, click here. You’ll need to enable subtitles at the bottom right hand corner of the video.

2. The Met Gala: Couture x Technology

I wrote about the unveiling of the Manus x Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology exhibition at the Met earlier this year and now we return to it in the aftermath of its annual Gala; possibly the most highly anticipated fashion event of the year. Speaking of the exhibition, which comes at an important moment for the industry with disposable fashion currently dominating, the Costume Institute’s curator Andrew Bolton said: “Sometimes the artistry of fashion is completely lost in a world that is obsessed by fast fashion, consumerism, celebrity disposable fashion. That was one of the ideas. And I wanted to show how the proximity to prét-â-porter and haute couture is diminishing.”

The exhibition brings some of the world’s most cutting-edge fashion together to examine the relationship between couture and technology, both hand-created and machine-made. In a time when the fashion world is in a state of flux, it is exciting to see such a widely renowned museum as the Met bringing the discussion to the forefront of everyone’s minds. When I mention fashion tech to people outside of the industry, the term is often met with a face of confusion (“So what exactly is that?”), but with the likes of Taylor Swift, Zayn Malik, Kanye West, Madonna and the rest of the Hollywood elite taking to the theme of the “fashion Oscars” with such enthusiasm, it will hopefully help to spread the word more accessibly - even if they’re just doing it for the fun of fancy dress.

The dress code assigned by the invitation was “Tech White Tie”, so fairly open to interpretation, but most celebrities opted for a general retro-future feel in shiny, metallic, robotic looks; silver accessories and hair, bodices, armour, latex, glow-in-the-dark dresses. Whilst some were more on-theme than others, the stars and designers undoubtedly put their all into their creations, and a true example of fashion tech innovation was present in Marchesa’s design, who actually employed a robot to design the gown. The fashion brand fed IBM’s cognitive computer system Watson hundreds of images of past designs, so it could learn the Marchesa look. The result was a beautiful romantic gown modelled by Karolina Kurkova, true to Marchesa’s form with layers of tulle, a nipped waist, and a pretty deep V neckline. The dress also included discreetly woven through LED lights which lit up with colour in reaction to Twitter activity surrounding the Met Gala. Another standout of the evening was Zac Posen’s design for Claire Danes; a ballgown which had fibre optic-woven organza lights laced throughout it, turning it from a Cinderella baby blue in day light to a phenomenal glittering gown in the dark.

Another red carpet addition of note was Tory Burch’s crystal innovation with Swarovski, as modelled by Emma Roberts, Freida Pinto and Mindy Kaling. Roberts’s chiffon dress was embellished with heat-sealed crystal rock fabric and Pinto’s bonded crepe dress was finished with colour-changing crystals, which you could also see embedded in Kaling’s clutch. Meanwhile, Calvin Klein collaborated with the Green Carpet Challenge to create three eco-friendly and sustainable looks for his stars (Lupita Nyong’o, Emma Watson and Margot Robbie), incorporating fabric woven from yarn made from recycled plastic bottles, zippers made from recycled materials, a bustier crafted in organic cotton, and a dress made of organic silk.

Whilst many designers took the theme in a slightly more superficial direction, with space-age silver and robo-models, the names listed above were among a select few who rose to the challenge of showing the world exactly what the future of fashion and technology is capable of. 

3. Gucci’s Digital Strategy

The luxury fashion industry is going through a lot of changes at the moment and some brands are failing to keep up with the fast-evolving digital landscape. Gucci is not one of those brands. Thanks to creative director Alessandro Michele, the brand is demonstrating that “an unwavering point of view, aesthetic and aspirational story is more critical than ever” (Hilary Milnes, Glossy).

Being wholly inexperienced in the world of digital, many high end brands have little strategy in place to adapt the way in which they market and sell their products to a newer tech-savvy consumer audience. A large number believe that if they are present across all platforms then that is enough to keep up. “But it’s not enough to be present - it’s about what creates the dream. Ultimately, what Alessandro has done is build an authority that exists in popular culture” said Ian Schatzberg, president of Wednesday, a digital creative agency that has advised brands like Mr. Porter and Calvin Klein.

In the 18 months that he has been creative director, Michele has created high-fashion clothes that actually sell, and has thus sparked a 3.1% increase in Gucci sales, assisting the brand in bringing in $4.4 billion last year. What has become very apparent over the recent months, is that the way to succeed in the millennial generation is to create an experience - a dream - a lifestyle that your consumer wants to be a part of and wants to buy in to. This is what Gucci has done so brilliantly; creating and telling a story, which then transpires into sales.

“E-commerce is a strategic priority for Kering [Gucci’s parent company], not only for the business the Group’s brands conduct online but also because it influences demand across all sales channels,” said a representative in the company’s 2015 annual report. This point links back to my piece last week on the convergence of online and offline shopping and how much the former can affect the latter. Gucci’s digital strategy “reflects a brand first, channel second mentality that results in a visually engaging, fully functioning e-commerce store with full product offerings on sale, and a social media strategy that does what it needs to do without overreaching” (Glossy).

By placing its most recent ready-to-wear collections next to its lower-priced items like bags and accessories on its e-commerce site, Gucci manages to create an online experience that is totally reflective of its runways, selling the pieces as parts of an overall outfit that appeared on the catwalk. “They’ve tapped into something that is emblematic,” said Shatzberg. “They have brought to life their world - it’s curated in a way that it represents the life of the Gucci woman in a very smart and subtle way, while still making the consumer feel that they want to live in this world.”

To read the full article on Digiday’s new FashTech-specific publication Glossy, click here and to find out more about luxury in the digital space from some of the industry’s most influential thought-leaders, be sure to check out our next FashTech Talk “Luxe in Flux” on our website here.

4. ASOS: the next Big Brand to Venture into Fashion Tech

Following on from last week’s article on ‘Top Pitch’, Topshop and L Marks’s newly launched innovation programme for emerging tech companies, we now have a new fashion tech accelerator in our midsts, courtesy of ASOS and Telefónica’s Wayra.

The companies have joined forces to create an 8 month-long accelerator, which will be searching for “mature startups with a proven track record” from within the fashion tech space, with the aim to find an emerging company who can hopefully work alongside ASOS’s existing online fashion retail business to improve the online experience of their giant world-wide consumer base.

Both ASOS and Wayra will invest a combined £34,000 for an equity stake in the range of 5-10%. The shortlist of startups will then be placed in Wayra’s London academy for 8 months of mentoring and business development support from both Wayra’s and ASOS’s staff and mentor network.

“ASOS has always been known as a digital leader and this partnership will help us continue to serve the needs of our customers as they evolve,” says Cliff Cohen, ASOS CIO. “There are specific areas where we would like to accelerate innovation, but we are also excited to hear what ideas come back from the startups themselves. The potential here, for ASOS, our customers and the companies we end up working with, is huge and Wayra UK is the perfect partner to work with on this search.”

With both Topshop and ASOS, two of the largest retailers in the Western world, venturing into the fashion tech world, it is clear to see just how prominent this industry is becoming. The fashion world’s awareness of technological developments is at an all time high, and with powerhouses like the afore-mentioned identifying the importance to seek out and source new technology, we can see how vital the intersection of fashion and tech is becoming.

5. What Will We Be Wearing in 20 Years’ Time? FashTech Founder, Alex Semenzato, discusses with the Telegraph

In the wake of Monday night’s Met Gala, the Telegraph was curious to know how fashion will evolve over the next 20 years, so asked two fashion tech experts, Matthew Drinkwater, Head of Fashion Innovation Agency and our very own CEO, Alex Semenzato, for their predictions.

Alex began: “Biocouture is going to be a big new development coming up soon. We’ll be able to use bacteria to grow fibres in labs.” This was an area of conversation that was covered widely across our two day Summit, with insightful words from Debera Johnson of The Pratt Institute’s Brooklyn Fashion + Design Accelerator and Sasha Ternent of the Sustainable Clothing Company. With awareness of our suffering environment at its peak at the moment, the issue of eco-friendly materials and sustainability are rife at the moment. “It’s also useful because of the self-healing properties which biocouture will have” added Matthew. “So if you rip your t-shirt, it will grow back together.”

Another development in the fashtech world which Alex believes is set to go mainstream is 3D printing. “We’re not that far off from being able to order something on ASOS and print it out at home, meaning you can go from browsing to wearing in 30 minutes.” And another which some people may not be quite so keen on in principal, is that we’re approaching a time when we can actually interweave technology into our clothes, such as buttons taking on the role of an “intelligent chip”, meaning that everything we’re doing can be tracked, creating data simply from wearing your favourite jacket out and about.

A more visible and fun possibility in the works of wearable tech is the ability to alter a piece of clothing for different situations (day to night/ work to party etc). “You could wear a black jacket to work and then switch it to a different colour or print to liven it up when you leave to go out for the evenings” said Matthew.

A favourite designer and technical fashion pioneer mentioned by both Alex and Matthew was Lauren Bowker, founder of The Unseen. She uses “multi-sensory chromic colour change inks” which react to changes in atmospheric qualities, similarly to how Netherlands-based Studio Roosegarde created a dress which becomes transparent when it detects arousal.

Some more good news? Nanotechnology could soon mean that “clothes will wash themselves” and new advances in tech mean that most clothes should soon be waterproof.

Finally, and perhaps most significant, is augmented reality. “Augmented reality is set to be the area which has most impact on fashion” says Matthew. How? Find out here in the full Telegraph article.