Maeve Millwood writes:
As head of the London College of Fashion’s Innovation Agency, Matthew Drinkwater stands at the crossroads of fashion, technology and retail, working hard to converge the three for the better of the Fashion Industry as a whole.
“In a nutshell, the college has given myself and the team a remit to go and explore emerging technologies and how they impact on the fashion industry. Specifically we look at any emerging technology that changes the way that designers either make their collections…or the way they show their collection.”
Honing in on the latter, Fashion Week has always made for an excellent testing bed for Matthew and his team. Back in September 2014, they were able to use the event to showcase a fibre optic dress that the agency collaborated on with the late Richard Nicoll. Inspired by Kate Moss and the simple elegance of the slip dress silhouette, Richard and the Innovation agency created an item labelled by Forbes as “the first example of truly beautiful wearable tech.”
“We wanted to create that moment of desirability, and begin to build an emotional connection to the garment. One very highly powered LED created this incredible silhouette. The moment it went down the catwalk at Fashion Week was quite extraordinary; it felt like a really big moment where technology could genuinely intersect with fashion.”
Though Matthew recognises that a fibre optic dress will always be a niche item in the world of fashion-tech, its production allowed him to highlight the importance of collaboration to the industry, which he strongly believes needs to be more open to innovative collaboration – no matter where that may come from.
“If you want any new generation to come out and have the skillset to build new experiences, they have to be exposed to technology.”
Fast closing the gap he felt was a lot wider when the Innovation agency was first formed over six years ago, the team will run another incubator with students this year with the same aim in mind.
As an avid gamer and someone who spent part of his early career in Japan’s technology boom of the nineties, it’s clear that Matthew is passionate about tech. When questioned on whether he sees any downside to an increased use of it in the industry, he responds:
“No, I genuinely don’t. I think it’s a reflection of where society is at. That any industry can feel separated from technology, to imagine that it sits aside from what you do on a day to day basis is traditionally what this industry has done, but it is something that is enabling entirely new ways of making.”
The massive upside to an increasingly tech-enriched industry are the quantum leaps that can be made in making it more sustainable.
“A more intelligent fast-fashion model is inevitable…The way in which fast-fashion is currently produced is incredibly damaging…There is far too much discounting on the high street and that is based on an industry that is simply guessing how much it might sell year to year. There is a smarter way to do that and the advancement of robotics into supply chain is going to allow for production much closer to market, for retailers to understand their consumer so much better that they’ll be able to produce what consumers want, when they need it.”
Jump forward ten years from now and Mathew has promising predictions for the future of the industry.
“You’re going to see a much more personalised experience, more bespoke, on demand. On a more overarching, technological viewpoint, there will be a digital layer to everything around us. The way that we access that could be through a mobile device, could be through a pair of headphones or glasses, but that is the technology path that we will see…The AR cloud will be all around us and that will allow us to create really extraordinary moments through immersive experiences.”
“Getting designers to virtually prototype would be a hugely positive thing for the industry to adopt; it would cut out so much wastage in the supply chain.”
Finally, when asked if he thinks the fashion world is gearing up adequately for the shake up to come, Matthew responds.