Welcome to the Glossy 50, our first annual list featuring men and women contributing to the transformation of fashion, luxury, beauty and technology.
The industries are being turned on their heads. The heat is on to ship faster, lower prices and be first to market with trends. Those driving these modern strategies are the people we’re recognizing. They’re insiders from 10 categories we cover daily — including platforms, wearables, startups and streetwear — who captured our attention in the past year.
In this feature, we dive into their contributions to their industries’ new directions. Below are the honorees in the Connected Fashion category. See the Age of E-Commerce list here.
Eric Colson knows what your closet needs, even if you don’t. He’s not a stylist, and before landing at Stitch Fix, the online personal styling service, he had no experience in the fashion industry. As the company’s chief algorithms officer, he looks at subjective style in a series of zeros and ones, using data science and machine learning to perfect a recommendations system that’s become the backbone of Stitch Fix’s service.
What makes an ‘algorithms officer’ different than a typical data scientist?
Decision-making. I put my money where my mouth is, and we figure out automated techniques that would be tough for humans to do. The conception of ideas comes directly from the data team, rather than the data being there to support an idea that already exists.
What are some of those ideas?
Computer vision. We ask customers to pin outfits they like to Pinterest because we can digitize them, vectorize them and do math with them, and make their Fixes [subscription boxes] even better. Another is Hybrid Design, which is our program that uses genetic algorithms to design clothes. The design team wasn’t asking for that; the data science team saw the need.
You were at Netflix before coming to Stitch Fix. How did that prepare you?
At Netflix, decisions are made empirically with no theory to uphold or influence from opinion. There’s a parallel: Both companies have buyers. At Netflix, it’s for content, and at Stitch Fix, it’s for clothing. For them, a mark of success is if something they bought performs well, but no matter what, it’s based on relevancy. We’re not here to sell anything. What Stitch Fix has that Netflix doesn’t is a customer that’s willing to serve up a lot of her information to us directly. She wants to share, and that’s huge.
Stitch Fix is like the anti-shopping shopping service. Will this become the norm?
Consumers’ expectations will continue to change. People will say, “Remember when we had to wander around the mall? What was that about?”
The idea for Awear Solutions came to Liron Slonimsky in college, when she was wondering about the designer behind a fellow student’s bag. Intent on creating a Shazam for fashion, she teamed with software engineer Oren Zomer, and the two launched the company in 2013. Now better described as a frequent flyer program for fashion, Awear found a niche in allowing brands to track products post-sale. Brands can then reward customers based on when, where and how frequently they wear their purchases. This summer, Awear inked a deal with a yet-to-be-announced major fashion brand, which involved equipping everything in the brand’s fall collection with its smart tags. Customers who rack up points by regularly wearing the brand will receive perks, like access to exclusive experiences.
In 2011, Aman Advani and MIT classmates Kit Hickey and Gihan Amarasiriwardena devised a way to use materials similar to those used in NASA spacesuits to create a “performance dress shirt.” Their collegiate foray into reimagining the functionality of a hyper-technical fabric paved the way to Ministry of Supply. Now, the company boasts a vast collection of temperature-regulating, moisture-wicking apparel that includes shorts, pants, jackets, T-shirts and socks. Despite the elaborate materials it uses, the company ensures the products are machine-washable, and it tries to keep prices reasonable. (For example, a men’s button-down shirt ranges from $95 to $115.) Advani and his team have continued to push boundaries by integrating 3-D robotic knitting to the production process, introducing a machine that produces blazers on demand in its Boston flagship store. Beyond tapping the emerging technology, the machine gives consumers the opportunity to design their own jackets with personal flair.
Karli Cengija has helped Intel unite fashion and technology since 2010, when she left a systems analyst job in finance to join the company as a developer for its mobile wireless group. Now, the innovation engineer spends most of her time testing new methods of “wiring for the body,” tinkering with sensors and applications that help bring garments to life. She has the assistance of a multidisciplinary team that includes mechanical engineers, user experience designers, anthropologists and mathematicians.
“Fashion and technology are perfect partners — they’re so different in many ways, but each one has what the other one doesn’t,” says Cengija, who’s collaborated with everyone from industry veteran Hussein Chalayan to upstart brand Tome to create unique wearable experiences.
At Chalayan’s spring 2017 show in Paris, that meant developing glasses and a belt that communicate with each other to identify the wearer’s stress level. The glasses used the Intel Curie module to gather biometric data on the wearer’s brain waves, heart rate and breathing patterns. That information was sent to the belt that used Intel’s Compute Stick (basically a tiny computer) to translate the data into one of five different visual symbols. The symbol was then projected onto a wall. One visual, for example, showed someone pulling on a rope — the tighter the grip, the more stressed the wearer.
These projects have also focused in on the environment. In 2016, Cengija collaborated with Tome on a bracelet and sustainable bag that tracked things like ambient temperature, toxic gases and barometric pressure. Although Cengija has no formal training in the fashion industry, she’s spent a lot of time studying how garments are designed, produced and ultimately delivered to the consumer. While designers have mood boards and swatches in the prototyping stages of their process, Cengija has hardware and software. “We all evaluate our prototypes, observe our limitations and respond to them creatively,” she says.
Although wearables haven’t taken off on a large scale, Cengija believes someday all clothing will have a tech component. Some will be more practical, like tags that track the wash/wear cycles of clothing, helping people get the most out of their favorite pieces. Others will be more fun, like shirts whose patterns can be updated based on new launches in an app-like store.
For now, Cengija and her team are just trying to one-up their previous work. “I’d like for the technology to really disappear into the garment, freeing designers to innovate on the interactions enabled by it instead of worrying about how to ‘hide’ it,” she says.