BY KENNETH RICHARD
The past is an open book, the now is ever present, but the future is a mystery. Bradley Quinn, Creative Director of Stylus Fashion, author, lecturer and futurist helps those looking to get a jump on fashion’s future, and solve that mystery by opening the door to a world of long-range products and concepts. Bradley is author of 15 books/publications including Design Futures, Fashion Futures, Techno Fashion, The Fashion of Architecture, UltraMaterials, Textile Futures, and Textile Visionaries. Today he runs the Futures category for Stylus Fashion, a premium research and advisory service that specializes in future forecasting and insight for the fashion industry.
The Impression sat with Bradley recently to chat about fashion’s emerging future and how brands can get ahead of the game.
Bradley, thanks for chatting with us about Stylus Fashion that launched in September, can you share what Stylus Fashion is and your involvement?
Stylus Fashion is part of the Stylus Media Group, founded by Marc Worth, which also incorporates Stylus and Decoded Fashion. Stylus Fashion itself is a subscription and advisory service that focuses on innovation and forecasting specifically for the fashion industry. We’re like an institute that addresses key issues that fashion is faced with today.
Our trends team is headed by Ruth Chapple, one of the top womenswear experts in fashion today, who is encouraging the industry to adopt a ‘season neutral’ approach to fashion cycles and gain insights into the consumer ‘tribes’ the social media is generating right now.
My involvement isn’t with the trends team per say. I head up the Fashion Futures area which does long range forecasting rooted in technology and emerging talent. Clients will come to us for help with a ten-year innovation strategy for example – and we report on new ideas, advanced materials, wearable technology, while also looking at things like changes in education that are going to shape the industry. One of the most important things we do is look at the way that fashion brands can get on board with new ideas and bring them in house in a way that’s going to give them a competitive edge over other fashion brands.
I read somewhere that you have a unique business model in that you limit your number of clients; can you tell us about how that works and what type of clients it works for?
Certainly, we have a capped membership model, so only one hundred companies worldwide can work with us at a time. Right now that is unfolding to be about 50 companies in North America and 50 in the rest of the world. Working this way we can service all the different departments within a brand such as sales and marketing, innovation research, sourcing materials, design teams, and then work to meet all their strategic needs.
You mention a ten year innovation strategy. What kinds of brands benefit from such long ranging research?
A ten-year innovation strategy would be extremely beneficial to a mainstream shopping mall brand but as it stands this kind of mindset tends to be used by those that are more performance or technology based. A brand like Banana Republic, for example, is much more aligned to a short-term trend cycle, they are working 18 months in advance – but would be wise to start thinking further out when it comes to tech.
Currently performance sportswear brands like Reebok tend to look much further a field because their research and product is actually largely born out of technology. Both brands need to track the way the technology is moving to understand and anticipate how materials are starting to evolve, and all these factors can come together to help them improve fit, performance, and durability.
What do you perceive the best in class brands are doing to get prepared now to be able to offer those technological advancements to their customers say five/ten years down the road?
Brands are starting to listen to their consumers a lot more carefully now. I think this is such an exciting time for fashion and retail because consumers have power, and are playing roles in decision-making processes they haven’t been able to previously. My mum was telling me that in the 60s and 70s, fashion was so limited, giving the example of how a season was defined by a single color or a type of motif and that’s all women wore because that’s all that was available.
Now you have all this fantastic choice because brands started understanding in the 80s that choice is very important to the consumer. Now brands are starting to realize that consumers want a slice of the pie in terms of being able to influence design decisions – this is something that is coming through via co-creation platforms. They also want to influence the brands ethical commitment to sustainability by recycling, up cycling, and those kinds of things.
You mentioned that brands are now listening to the customer and evolving, is the essence of their roles changing? What types of shifts have you seen brands go through recently?
I’ve seen huge shifts. Before I joined Stylus Fashion I ran my own consulting business for about 12 years and innovation used to be a word that brands didn’t really understand. Now pretty much every big brand has an innovation team and they’re really beginning to understand what that innovation is about – which is reflected by the growing amount of resources they’re putting into the innovation team/department. First and foremost for industry, it has got to produce things that are actionable – so innovation in terms of advanced materials, technology, and manufacturing is key.
Throughout the entire life cycle of the product, companies are now dependent on innovation to inform design decisions, choice of materials, the way it’s manufactured, ethical concerns around logistics, carbon emissions, etc. Also companies are paying attention now to the way that it’s actually marketed to the consumer, sold to them, and packaged.
You and I have chatted before about nanotechnology and clothing. Can you share your role in nanotech?
What I do with brands now is help them understand nanotechnology and how they can apply it within the normal product range without making it much more expensive. A very basic question that I help answer is ‘how can embracing nanotechnology add value to the product without increasing the cost of the product?’
What would be an example of a product that utilizes nanotechnology?
There are many different levels. A lot of coatings on fabrics are derived using nanotechnology, so most outerwear that has water repellant breathable coatings, or stain repellent treatments, have been derived through nanotechnology. That’s the mainstream – but then you can go into the more pioneering fabrics, that have something like encapsulated scent. Those scents are actually bonded to the fiber using nanotechnology so they can’t be washed away.
I’ve advised designers who are exploring the potentials of micro-encapsulation technology. The technology would make it possible to incorporate sunscreen in Spring/ Summer collections that automatically releases when exposed to UV rays. Right now, they’re trying to find ways to make the price point lower so that mainstream consumers can afford it.
What changes in innovation have you seen in Runway?
The catwalk has seen a huge amount of innovation, but it still has some way to go – which is exciting.
The catwalk used to be higher above the ground then it is today, then came right down to the floor which made it feel a lot more inclusive and accessible. Following that fashion shows starting being held in alternative spaces; art galleries, rough spaces, warehouses – before seeing visionaries forgo the real for digital experiences by handing out DVDs of a show to people expecting to see a show.
Today most of the world experiences the catwalk online with apps that are enabled for you to scan clothing as they come down the catwalk that tell you more about it. That makes the catwalk even more inclusive, and being able to buy straight from the catwalk, especially before planned release, is attractive for early adopters.
From here on there will be more digital catwalks that make use of augmented reality, which could amplify the whole catwalk experience. What I see coming in the future is that brands will use completely digital avatars.
Could you elaborate on what an avatar is?
An avatar would be a perfect digital representation of you. It would be the same size, skin tone, height as you – and eventually even walk and move like you. Your avatar will provide a perfect fit so you can drag a digital version of the garments from a catwalk, or more importantly an online store, and see on the avatar if the sleeves are going to be too short or if it’s restrictive somewhere.
Sounds like a game changer, costly?
It is very expensive to produce these avatars, but I do know some brands are pioneering avatars for fashion. That said, they wouldn’t just be used on catwalks; they will be mainly used for online shopping platforms to improve sizing.
Wearable technology is somewhat of a trend now, where would you suggest a brand interested in wearables start?
For clients who want to experiment with wearable technology, but aren’t ready to invest and start embedding sensors and biometric technology, I tell them to experiment with surface technology. They can use 3-D imaging technology and connect devices to turn the garments into screens and display data that way.
Where do you see the value for the end user in turning the garment into a screen?
Think about everything wrong with the Apple Watch. You put the Apple Watch on and you have got to have your iPhone on your person somewhere to actually make the whole thing work. Now imagine you have a ‘smart pocket’ that you can drop the iPhone into, and when you get a notification or need to interact with it you can do so discreetly with a screen that overlays on your sleeve. That’s valuable, natural, and a much better way to interact with tech.
As someone who sees so much newness and innovation your threshold of being excited about something new must be a little high. So what excites you as you go around seeing new things?
Yes I see a lot! (Laughs). What I find exciting or rewarding is to see a brand that is informed by their own heritage or traditional craftsmanship taking a step towards embracing tech. That’s far more exciting to me than innovations from a brand like Nike which was founded on innovation and doing big things.
So the unexpected excites you?
Yeah, and I think its good because then I see a lasting change has been created. Then brands have something new to build on.
Thanks Bradley I appreciate you taking the time and giving us something to build on!
It’s been a pleasure.