Ayelet Ben Arav
Ayelet Ben Arav

VP BizDev at Incubit

Deep tech comes into fashion!

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The connection between fashion and technology may not be the most intuitive at first glance. Some may consider fashion to be a somewhat lighter field, which makes it hard to understand the role of science in this industry. When we think of fashion-tech, we might imagine outfits inspired by Sci-Fi hitting the runway, or images that covered magazines as the world was preparing for a new millennium back in 1999.

The truth is, however, that technology, especially what we consider deep tech, plays a major role in today’s fashion industry and is one of the most powerful forces marching fashion forward. Some of the biggest trends in fashion are made possible thanks to advanced, deep technologies, that offer new ways of dealing with long standing, complex problems. New innovations transform the materials we use, the manufacturing process, and the connection between customers and fashion brands. This article will dive into the details of several such transformations, while focusing on an exciting area: eyewear.

Trends in style

While famous fashion houses have been around for decades and even centuries, we’ve seen a few fascinating shifts in the business take place in recent years. Here are a few worth focusing on:

  • On-demand consumption: The on-demand economy has managed to make its way into the fashion world and completely change the way retailers look at stocks and collections. Companies like Nimbly form an on-demand supply chain that changes the rules of the game, the knitting supply chain in their case. In the past, retailers would prepare many garments and accessories in advance, store them in shops and warehouses for potential buyers, and then ship or sell them after a purchase was made. This increased the risk level for fashion businesses who were unable to accurately assess the number of items that would sell eventually, often leaving them with unwanted stock that required costly storage. Today, new manufacturing technologies such as digital textile printing, and 3D printing, allow the process to begin upon purchase, which eliminates waste and boosts profitability.

 ●  Personalization: Today’s shoppers are no longer interested in looking like everyone else and instead want their looks to express their unique personality and sense of style, and to match their exact measurements, body type, etc. Companies like Frilly allow users to customize every item in their closet and leading fashion brands started making significant strides in this area as well. Nike for example acquired Invertex, a computer vision startup dealing with 3D scanning of feet, for exact matching of shoes size. Also, with every outfit finding its way to social media, it’s important that it is different and interesting, as well as sends a message to the world regarding the person wearing it. Retailers that understand this trend create much smaller collections that shift according to the latest mood and trend.

  • Sustainability: The fashion industry adds beauty to our lives, but unfortunately it is also one of the most polluting industries in the world. Today’s technology addresses the environmental issues surrounding fashion, which have become more important considering new generations’ environmental agenda. The same way we want our clothes to represent our sense of style, we also demand that they stay true to the issues we care about as people. We’ve mentioned that the on-demand approach had a positive impact on the waste created by the fashion industry, and technology is indeed a great way to make fashion more sustainable. Waterless printing procedures, energy-saving and durable digital printing solutions like the ones offered by Kornit Digital, and other improvements turn the reputation of the fashion industry around and mark a new era in the field.
  • Use of new materials: In recent years the fashion industry uses many new types of materials. ‘ Green’ materials such as plant or fruit ‘leathers’ are made from waste materials. Biomimetic materials are also becoming more popular, as demonstrated by Bolt Threads, that manufactures bioengineered silk. Biomimicry in fashion, is where textile manufacturers and fashion designers are looking to nature for inspiration, incorporating, or mimicking natural processes in their own work. This field, also called synthetic biology basically redesigns organisms, engineering them to new abilities that can be used in many fields, fashion in our case. One great recent example comes from scientists at Pennsylvania State University who have looked at the protein in squid ring teeth – in the suckers in their tentacles – and discovered that this protein can be engineered in a lab for various uses, such as using it to create garments which are recyclable, biodegradable and last longer. Synthetic biology is also used to create sustainable dyes and fabrics.
  • Smart garments: Everything is smart today. Why not clothes? One of the evolving trends in fashion is that of smart clothes, where our clothes are enhanced with technology that adds functionality beyond, well, just covering our bodies. Imagine a world where clothes are so smart, we don’t really need to carry a wallet or a mobile phone with us. As the wearable industry struggles to define itself (glasses, watches, etc.), many say that high tech clothes are indeed the future of the wearable industry. There are already some great examples of smart clothes and companies such as AiQ Smart Clothing offer smart garments that remain fashionable and trendy. Items include hoodies that track when they were last used, and where they were worn, to jackets that can screen phone calls and yoga pants that can sense if your yoga posture needs refining, the sky’s truly the limit here.

As we can see, new technologies entering the fashion business answer emerging market needs, lower business risks and environmental damage, while boosting versatility and profit. 

A deeper look at eyewear

The changes we’ve discussed are also evident in the business of fashion accessories, and more specifically eyewear. In a way, this is a particular area of fashion where we would expect to see science and technology more involved, as prescription glasses or sunglasses serve physical functions that require much more than a lovely appearance. Companies that manage to connect both worlds in the eyewear industry include Luexexcel, which developed a unique technology for 3D printed ophthalmic lenses; Safilo, which takes a holistic approach to eyewear fashion by bringing together multiple independent brands under one roof; GlassesUSA, which offers the online matching and purchasing of eyeglasses, and many others.

Having said that, this specific corner of fashion-tech also presents certain challenges, since we’re used to thinking of eyewear purchasing as a process that has to be conducted physically. However, the natural bond between eyewear fashion and deep tech solutions can transform any part of the business we can think of. This includes the materials and manufacturing procedures involved in the creation of eyewear, optometry services, online matching capabilities, an improved shopping experience, and more.

One example I want to focus on is photochromic, light-adaptive lenses. These lenses, which turn regular prescription glasses into sunglasses depending on the level of sun exposure, pose a difficult challenge for prescription labs. They require a specific coating, using a chemical photochromic material that needs specialized handling and care. This is why, unlike other lens coatings, such as anti-scratch or anti-reflective coatings, which can be added independently by the lab to any purchased prescription lens, photochromic lenses require a separate manufacturing process, in separate specialized factories. This means that prescription labs and other eyewear sellers are unable to adjust existing lenses themselves and instead have to keep an additional, costly stock of pre ordered photochromic lenses, in various (yet limited) colors.

One company that is active in this space, transforming the photochromic lenses manufacturing process from analog to digital, is Ujett. The company reinvents the manufacturing process and gives labs new in-house coating capabilities that no longer require external assistance. In addition, they enable eyewear retailers to customize the lens, control the color and shade (gradient lenses, anyone?), and add their brand’s name or any other personalization element to the lense itself (not the frame).

Smart coatings are relevant to eyewear and fashion but also to many other industries that make use of smart, unique optics.

Although we are focusing here on technologies that influence the fashion industry, it’s important to remember that many of these technologies are in fact dual use technologies that have important implementations in other industries such as medical, defense and more.

The fashion industry impacts us all on a daily basis, because even less technology-inclined people wear clothes and glasses. With such a massive influence on our world, it’s even more thrilling than usual to follow the advancements in the field. We don’t know which color or fabric will dominate the runway in the following years, but we can be certain that innovation and technology will remain in style for a very long time. 

 

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