Last week we headed up to Sydney to see a new exhibition, Out of Hand: Materialising the Digital, as well as hear a panel discussion exploring the intersection of fashion and technology and the disruption new technologies are creating in the fashion industry.
Speakers Matthew Connell, Principal Curator (Out of Hand) MAAS; Roger Leong, Senior Curator (Fashion) MAAS; Ben Moir, Founding Member & Head of Technical Development We:Ex ; and Kae Woei, Co-Founder of XYZ Workshop explored developments ranging from the growth of smart materials and embedded technology right through to entirely new ways of producing fashion garments such as 3D printing.
Glynis Traill-Nash, Fashion Editor of The Australian, facilitated the evening’s conversation, first, calling each speaker to give insight into their background and then, second, their thoughts on disruption.
Matthew Connell, Principal Curator (Out of Hand) MAAS, on his favourite piece in the exhibition:
‘We [at MAAS] saw this exhibition as an extraordinary opportunity to bring all of our disciplines together. For me one of the most interesting pieces is the Petal dress. It’s amazing that something made of a hard material can move and operate like a piece of fabric. The petal dress is an amazing feat of mathematics, coding and technology. The remarkable thing about it as a dress is that the hinges are designed to allow for the articulation of the dress. It’s printed and folded as a single unit in one run. It then takes a lot of work to unfold it, move the hinges to reveal the dress.’
‘We have become used to the idea that there is a digital world and a material world. Disruption isn’t always evident but I think there is one happening now. The digital is now pervading the material world. Digital is disrupting the way we operate as a museum. Some of the things we acquire are biodegradable which raises questions such as to how do we store it forever? How will we present them in the future? For example can we store the code and just print a dress again? Will we only be able to present photographs of it? We will have to rewrite our Museum policies to reflect this.’
Kae Woei, Co-Founder of XYZ Workshop, on how he came to be involved in fashion:
‘There is a common link between architecture and fashion; it’s about expressing your style, form and fiction. The first thing I tried to print was a belt, which was a terrible idea. It was so hard and looked like Batman’s utility belt. We [Kae and and partner Elena Low] entered a design competition for 3D printed fashion in Singapore. We had no background in fashion but the prize money was very tempting. We made it at home in our second bedroom and sent it off to Singapore and we won. It was quite thick and inflexible.’
‘We were then invited to present something in New York. We learned from our mistakes and tried to make the dress more open and free. The piece we came up with was the inBloom dress on display in the exhibition.’
‘I think there is a certain level of disruption happening but I think it’s from the consumers and not the makers. I’m not sure if the makers have caught up to consumer demand yet. A company has made an open program where anyone can go online and adjust the program to customise it how they want. Who is the designer? Is it the person who makes the algorithm or the person who customises it? Power is shifting to the consumer.
Ben Moir, Founding Member & Head of Technical Development We:Ex, on how he came to be involved in wearable tech:
‘I’m kind of like a mad scientist who loves difficult problems. I was approached by Durex to work on a special project about connections and couples. We thought of a lot of crazy things and eventually landed on connected lingerie; underwear that could be controlled by a smart phone app and used by couples to remotely pleasure each other. We pitched the project and they went for it. They gave us half the budget in half the time but they did get me someone who works in fashion to help me with the garment. We spent a crazy three months creating the prototype.’
‘I don’t think disruption has even started yet. If you went to a group of fashion designers and asked how many engineers do you know, how many programmers do you know? It’s probably none. Similarly, if you went to the engineers they wouldn’t know any fashion designers. When all these people come together, that’s when disruption starts.’
‘We are one of 6 companies trying to put technology in garments. We have put sensors in the yoga points that can feel where the body is in space what position it’s in and it can help talk to your skin to tell you how to adjust your pose. Putting electronics in clothing has big applications. We started with yoga because of the volume of people doing it. The feedback is through vibrations. Wearable tech will be mainstream when it stops being called wearable. It will be just fashion.’
Roger Leong, Senior Curator (Fashion) MAAS Fashion, on the biggest changes he has seen within the fashion industry:
‘The fashion industry has been a very complex industry with advanced technologies for a long time. Just think of what goes into just making a piece of fabric! The biggest change I’ve seen in the industry is actually the marketing of fashion with the advent of the internet and social media. We can see runway shows in real time and we can now shop online. The consumption of fashion has changed. It’s contributed to the fast fashion mentality we have today. It’s made the fashion cycle so quick that it’s unmanageable. Designers are pulling back.’
‘All these new technologies are really just another option for designers to use. It’s disruptive in that it’s new but there are still so many other tools and options.’
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Don’t miss the opportunity to see this thought-provoking exhibition.
Until 25 June
Powerhouse Museum, Ultimo Sydney