Amanda Cosco, a proponent of fashion technology, founded Electric Runway in 2015, pioneering the digitalization of the fashion industry. She has only one goal: a mission to provide inspiration and insight to help push the fashion industry into the future. The idea of Electric Runway sparked when Amanda received an overwhelmingly positive response from the audience at the Future Fashion Runway show, which she curated, during the Maker Festival in Toronto. When asked to put together a wearable-tech runway show, she instead proposed the idea of a fashion technology show.
“By kind of having a really generous, open definition of what fashion-tech meant we were able to pull together a show no one's ever seen in Toronto before. What I noticed from this was that I was connecting people who needed one another in order to further their businesses. At the same time, fashion needs technology because fashion is in a place right now where it needs to be thinking about efficiency, about re-inventing itself. I thought I landed on an interesting area and I wanted to pursue my gut instinct. So Electric Runway was born. We started as a blog and now we’re a consultancy where we help brands to understand and anticipate the future of fashion.”
In this age of digital revolution, technology has begun to seep into the seams of fashion, propelling the consumer demand by creating a profusion of choice. From manufacturing to marketing, technology plays a crucial role in all parts of the process. This digitalization has led to the coalition of fashion and technology.
What are the most important digital technologies currently used in fashion?
The most important technology will be the technology woven into textiles because this is how we’re going to connect to the internet of things. For example, if you have a jacket that can measure your heart rate, or an undershirt that can tell you about your activity, this could supply useful information. This isn't important for you personally but where it gets really interesting is when we have collective data on thousands of people. If we think on a broader scale, it doesn’t have to be the textile in clothes only, it could be the textile in our couch, our chair and how they’re going to understand our preferences. They could potentially be communicating with our clothes and this might offer us a dynamic environment that shapes around our life preferences.
Platforms can use AI technologies to make appropriate business decisions and improve the supply chain, going as far back as packaging or R&D. So do you think using AI technology will become a norm in this industry?
I think AI is placed to transform all aspects of the industry from manufacturers to consumers, creating efficiency on the packaging side, manufacturing side and on the consumer side as well. It's a shame the websites I visit do not know me better. I know it intimidates people to know that when they Google something, they are being tracked and followed by a bot, but I’m actually angry it doesn’t do a better job at understanding who I am, what I want, and what I am going for with my shopping habits. So it’s one of those technologies that is really going to change the way we understand everything from consumer behavior to manufacturing processes.
A lot of the stuff that AI can offer is already being done in a very efficient way, like personalized pricing and special discounts for returning customers, so how much further progress do you think AI will bring and will it be necessary?
Yes, I do believe AI will be necessary once it has evolved more, and can play an essential role in the consumer experience. When you go to the mall here today, you get to see these leading technologies but you don’t get to see them widespread. What I think is going to be really revolutionary is when we have our own AIs. It's not just smart assistants like Siri but your own artificial intelligence, which knows you and can make purchasing decisions for you. Maybe they can even style consumers depending on what they’re looking for. So I think that there’s still a lot of imagination and room for growth on the consumer side.
The implementation of fashion technology in the manufacturing sector is a huge and expensive investment. As a result, businesses may be slow to adopt these technological advances. Do you think this might hinder our international competitiveness?
New technology is going to improve efficiency and give customers what they want. It makes business sense. I think what needs to start happening more, and I noticed it when I was in Bangladesh; the factories are actually working with the clients to tell them what the consumers want by providing insight into the purchasing process. Collaboration is very important in the industry and targeting the consumer’s demand is necessary. To have an edge in the international market Bangladesh needs to consider the added value that it can provide to the retailers, as well as the consumers. There’s a huge opportunity to add this value not only by employing advanced machineries, but also by focusing on data regarding consumer behavior and purchasing patterns. That is how Bangladesh transitions from a labor economy to an intelligence economy, which is ultimately a boon on its own, since it will also propel Bangladesh’s international competitiveness.
So blockchain is predominantly used by the digital currency market but it has other functionalities as well for example, it can be used in the fashion industry to access the general history of the product and also to verify the originality of the garment. All this information could be accessible via a smartphone, and could help prevent counterfeiting and theft. What are your thoughts on the utilization of blockchain in fashion technology and what tangible benefits do you think it can bring to the table?
Blockchain is this important new technology that was initially developed for the digital financial sector; it is buzz-worthy, but we still have to understand how it’s going to hit home for our industry. However, I think you're absolutely right in talking about verifying the originality of products, which is a big challenge. So as a consumer I’m standing in Zara and I see a pair of pants that I like and I want to buy them but how do I know whether the production process was ethical or not. Let’s pretend that I don’t know about manufacturing and I’ve never visited a garments factory, so I’m completely uninformed of how the workers were treated along the way and if there’s basically blood on my hands. This may be an extreme example, but it’s like purchasing meat in pristine packages when in reality we’re very far removed from the slaughtering of animals, just as we’re removed from the actual making of the clothing. This is an interesting parallel that truly shows the disconnection between manufacturing and retail sectors. But tragedies like Rana Plaza that transpire make us more conscious, and due to the internet uniting us in this digital age, we are more aware of not only what’s in our food but also who makes our clothes and where they come from. So because blockchain is a universal digital ledger that can verify things and is incorruptible, we could have a better sense of where the products come from. I also think that there’s an interesting storytelling opportunity for whether its journalists, marketers, or brand experts, to say that we’re not afraid of taking you inside the factory; we’re not afraid of having you meet the seamstresses. Blockchain allows us to reduce the exploitation of workers due to the transparency that it provides. I think that is where the industry needs to go.
I know it intimidates people to know that when they Google something, they are being tracked and followed by a bot, but I’m actually angry it doesn’t do a better job at understanding who I am, what I want, and what I am going for with my shopping habits
What do you think is next for wearable technology?
I still think we’re in the very infancy of wearable tech. We’re seeing a lot of experimentation in costumes and concept pieces that make sense for the stage or for an art gallery but what I would like to see is something that is more commercial, like a connected hat or an accessory that you can get at H&M or Zara. I would love to see what’s going to be the next Fitbit and I don’t think it’ll be something you wear on your wrist, but rather a t-shirt or something more to do with the fabrics. We are moving away from gadgets and moving towards the seamless integration of technology into the textiles. This has an enormous potential but there’s still a lot of work to be done on how that integration happens. Because textiles and wires don’t exactly go hand in hand, we need to start thinking about how to make them work together and how we can manufacture that in volume.
Factoring in the capabilities that modern technology offers, the fashion industry could witness the seamless integration of fashion tech and retail tech. The simultaneous use of thriving technologies such as Artificial Intelligence, Blockchain, Virtual reality and the internet of things can render a perfect fashion industry. Even in the context of Bangladesh, with substantial investment, technology could be integrated into the clothing we manufacture. There is rising demand in the world for connected clothing, such as self-tying shoes, color changing dresses, light up clothing etc. If our firms are equipped well enough to produce these on a mass scale, it would elevate our international competitiveness to the next level. Incorporating Blockchain into our RMG sector could serve as a valuable addition to the production line, as each piece of clothing would be engraved with a unique code, referring back to the story behind how it came to be. Once the scene shifts to the retail side, shops with interactive trial rooms, floor to ceiling panels, and virtual reality environments will be introduced. When the average customer picks up a piece of clothing, he/she would have access to a plethora of data, flowing in from Blockchain or other mediums, telling them what they’re really buying.
Although fashion and technology may seem like two immiscible components, especially in Bangladesh, stitching them together is how we make headway in the international market. Only by embracing technology can we venture out into the future of fashion.