From the rise of fashion chatbots to augmented reality everything, 2016 was a year of major innovation in the fashion and technology space. The year both enhanced and modified existing offerings, while laying the groundwork for emerging platforms.
Moving into 2017, experts say to expect significant growth, particularly in the realm of wearables, 3-D printing and virtual reality. Here’s a breakdown of what you can watch out for in the year ahead:
Consumers can expect wearables that put a premium on innovative design to be more inconspicuous and less ostentatious. While the earliest wearable iterations — think Google Glass — had futuristic and high-tech aesthetics, the latest styles are best described as sleek, everyday looks. The end of 2016 saw the launch of products including Snapchat Spectacles and Oakley Radar glasses (which allow users to change lens filters with the press of a button), in part because consumers are playing an increasingly vital role in product development, according to Sandra Lopez, Intel’s fashion technologist.
“If you look at the history of tech, most of it starts in Silicon Valley, and the individuals creating the technology take great pride in showcasing it,” Lopez said. “But the early adopters are going to want a more mainstream look. The everyday consumer doesn’t want to put gadgets on their body and become robotic. Make it invisible and purposeful, and make sure it’s not gimmicky.”
These early adopters have helped lead to the rise of products like fitness trackers that look like jewelry, rather than clunky silicone gadgets. Established companies like FitBit and Apple have continued to collaborate with designers — like Tory Burch for FitBut and the Hermes Apple Watch — and several new companies are gaining a cult following largely through social media, thanks to their stylish offerings. Among them are Bella Beat and MOOV, two companies designed by women for women, an increasing trend in the wearable space.
“Here’s where women are smarter than men — they want devices that hide the technology, so they’re still proud of wearing the devices outdoors and in public,” said Ramon Llamas, research manager of wearables at International Data Corporation. “And who’s going to understand a woman better than a woman. Now there are a number of devices that track ovulation and menstruation cycles.”
Bringing 3-D printing to scale
While 3-D printing may have seemed to take over the fashion world last year, it is still very much in nascent stages as brands experiment with how to leverage the technology. Namely, consumers can expect that 3-D printing will play an increasing role in advancing two major 2016 trends: customization and sustainability.
Lopez said that, while many of the major fashion houses are notoriously slow to adapt to emerging technology — particularly in the case of 3-D printing — she anticipates several will begin testing it in the new year. She said this will be a result of brands increasingly learning how to scale 3-D offerings and leverage them to enhance their businesses.
“What happens is, when there’s new technology, it takes time to infiltrate and become part of fashion’s DNA — but we’re starting to see much more usage of 3-D printing in large fashion houses,” she said. “The idea of fast prototyping becomes important because of the speed to market.”
Though the environmental impact of 3-D printing remains unclear, 3-D designers are focused on using it as a force for good. Despite boasting less waste and utilizing recycled materials, the process can still use a significant amount of power and its efficacy is largely dependent on the materials used.
“No one technology is going to be the silver bullet,” Lauren Slowik, outreach coordinator and design evangelist at Shapeways, a 3-D printing company, told Glossy in June. “It’s going to take people networking and combining the knowledge of their industries.”
Virtual fashion week
Fashion weeks in major cities like New York, London and Paris are arduously challenging to attend. Unless you’re an employee of a brand, a member of the press, or a social influencer, chances are you won’t be able to score a ticket to the runway.
However, in 2017, innovations in virtual reality may make it possible to stream shows into VR headsets, Lopez said. She said the infrastructure already exists in China, where techies can visit VR cafes (similar to internet cafes) and pay a fee to tune into demonstrations and play games. Lopez said she anticipates that this will extend into the fashion industry, allowing people around the world to see the latest looks.
“There may be an individual in Beijing who’s a big fan of a designer like Tommy Hilfiger,” Lopez said. “She or he would want to be transported to the fashion runway. Why not transport them to the experience and charge them for a ticket entry? It can create a borderless experience where you can take a fashion show anywhere.”