Helena Pozniak
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Set the pattern for new trends

The Telegraph
Technology is transforming the face of fashion and creating a host of jobs from fabric research to retail

From “intelligent” jeans to antimagnetic jackets and photovoltaic fabric, futuristic French designer Elisabeth de Senneville doesn’t lack vision. Balancing technology with fashion, the Paris-based innovator makes clothes that aim to simplify modern life, and sound like the stuff of science fiction. Think fabrics with integrated internet connections, solar-powered clothing to keep the wearer warm, or a fine fabric woven from charcoal designed to filter dirty city air. De Senneville, who has been using computer-enhanced design since its inception, is one dramatic example of how tightly the fashion industry is allied to technology. The possibilities of technological wizardry have sent designers into a flurry of activity. In January, Google showcased Google Glass, its latest wearable computer featuring an optical head-mounted display (OHMD). At London’s Central Saint Martins, textile students work alongside scientists from institutions such as the Natural History Museum and the Medical Research Council, and lately they have been working with design futurists to grow pigment bacteria for textiles. This crossover between fashion and technology is not limited to design. Science is overturning many old-school fashion practices — from processing raw materials through to trading and after-sales care. Clever digital design and production methods, new materials and connecting easily with consumers via constantly evolving technology are all contributing to a changing job market. Fashion designers, retailers and manufacturers now need employees with hybrid artistic, scientific and technological skills. In response to these new industry requirements, fashion companies have joined forces with Creative Skillset, Britain’s trade organisation for the creative industries, to devise a couple of higher-level apprenticeships, roughly pitched at the level of a first-year degree. The training covers two different routes — technical textiles and product development and sourcing — and online retailer Asos has joined other employers within the industry to take on new apprentices this year. “Businesses ignore the digital revolution at their peril,” says Wendy Malem, director of the Centre for Fashion Enterprise, a business incubator supported by the London College of Fashion. “The uninitiated think it’s only about Facebook and Twitter, but success in the fashion industry also depends on a mastery of e-commerce, data analysis and website-applied visual design.” Digital technologies in the industry encompass the entire product life cycle, from design and realisation to sales and beyond. Consequently, a job in the fashion industry can be technological, creative or sales-based. Adoption of these technologies is happening rapidly, creating a demand for people who know how they work. Sports clothing has led the way in textile innovation, and other areas of the business are developing apace. Scientists at the National Physical Laboratory in Teddington, Middlesex, are working on technology that helps spot fakes and counterfeiting — a yearly £3.5 billion headache for the UK’s fashion industry. Within manufacturing, high-end shoe designers are “printing” heels or creating prototype trainers using he latest 3D printing technology. The likes of Selfridges are already offering interactive technology that allows shoppers to be fitted with personalised jeans by an automated machine. And it is possible to sit, albeit virtually, at London Fashion Week or take a peek backstage, with live streaming on demand direct from the catwalk. “The distance between runway and consumer is getting shorter and technology allows the industry to respond to user behaviour, creating and capitalising on desire immediately,” says Tabitha Goldstaub, co-founder of online video network Rightster. “We’re always looking for the next innovators, especially those who can combine data analytics or technological skills with an inherent understanding of the fashion world,” adds Goldstaub. Fashion is also getting “faster”; in some cases, designs are developed for production — from concept to stock in retail stores — in as little as 15 days. Technology has already overhauled traditional modes of shopping according to Kate Barron, director of Rethink Retail, and outlets need web developers and technologists to design and calibrate new tools to meet the growing traffic from online shoppers. “Outfits are increasingly hiring specialists with engineering and scientific backgrounds,” says Barron. “Retailers also want to understand the consumer, who is after a more tailored shopping experience. The need to target and personalise campaigns means expert systems need to be put in place.” According to Lucy Ireland, commercial director at BCS, the Chartered Institute for IT, fashion retailers and brands need IT skills to combat security threats, including online attacks and credit card fraud. But while IT skills are an excellent route into the fashion industry, a degree is not essential, adds Ireland. Jon Fidler, founder of design consultancy Modla, which specialises in 3D printing and digital 3D fabrication, confirms manufacturing has been shaken up. A background in engineering and a masters in rapid product development gave him the grounding to move into innovative product design. “I enjoyed playing with Lego as a kid, so doing this kind of thing as an adult is great,” he says. “I’m a creative person at heart, but my knowledge of maths and physics helped me gain an understanding of the properties of materials as well as the design software needed to create them. Once you have that base you can build on it and it’s invaluable.” Modla designs are modelled with 3D software and “printed” in physical form in materials such as nylon plastic or titanium steel. While the industry is still a little way off printing clothing — cheaply, at least — 3D could revolutionise design and preproduction. “There’s no need for large workshops, and what used to take two weeks can now be ALAMY done in two days,” says Fidler.

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