What is the Future of Fashion-Tech? A Q&A With Raw Finery Studio’s Creative Director, Benjamin Tang

Benjamin Tang, creative director of Raw Finery Studio
Benjamin Tang, creative director of Raw Finery Studio
Q. Tell us about your background in fashion. When did you start becoming interested in fashion-tech?

A. I started modifying clothes around 13. At the time I thought of clothing as more of an art piece, so I wanted to be more of a character than wear functional clothing. I started working in the fashion production world when I was a teenager. That’s how I learned about the logistics of the sewing world. When I graduated high school I felt like it was a natural fit to study fashion.

Fast forward to how I got in to fashion-tech. I always thought it was weird that clothing was clothing and technology was technology and the two never met. When I found the maker community, it was Site 3 CoLaboratory, and they introduced me to micro-electronics and various forms of circuitry. I was working with them on a Burning Man project called Super Street Fire which is a gesture controlled gaming experience. That’s where my first experience with fashion-tech came to be.

After that I’ve been doing collaborations with makers, hackers and coders on various projects over the years.

Q. You work with 3D printing at the Toronto Public Library’s Digital Innovation Hub. How is 3D printing affecting fashion design and other industries?

A. Additive manufacturing, which 3D printing is a part of, is changing a lot of industries because now with a bit of help from a CAD program and 3D design skills people can envision and create any shape that they can dream of. So suddenly every industry now has new toolsets–literally. I’m looking forward to seeing what sorts of objects and combinations people can come up with with new tools.

Q. How is industrial design influencing fashion, and how is fashion influencing the tech industry? What other industries are joining forces that were once very separate?

A. With 3D printing you would need a design file created with software used traditionally for mechanical or industrial designers. When we incorporate wearable-tech or fashion electronics into garments suddenly you’re bringing an entire new production chain or workflow into the fashion design production line. By combining the two you have to have the know-how of both and how they interact with each other.

Technology is becoming smaller and smaller and people are carrying their technology with them all the time. Like your cell phone, most people do not let it leave their side ever. So in essence it has become a part of them. Very much like fashion, it becomes an expression of self.

Q. You recently attended two conferences, FITC and Digifest. Tell us about those.

A. Both have a similar value, which is trying to bring together and celebrate design of all types from different industries. Raw Finery echoes that, in that we believe industries should be brought together.

One of the FITC themes this year is experiential design, which is the art of designing interactive environments or objects as a branding and marketing tool. In many ways fashion is experiential design. Clothing is something that is wrapped around you. People’s perceptions of you change based on the clothing you wear, and when people talk about fashion shows or the meaning of brand they really do mean experiential design in its purest sense, which is how to convey an emotion or message to an audience.

I was amazed by all the talks from industry experts. FITC recorded some of the talks and they’re putting them up on Youtube.

Digifest had a lot of focus on branding and experiential design but also on virtual reality and tech integration. With VR there is a lot of experimentation starting. In New York Rebecca Minkoff now has a virtual reality experience.

It is also interesting to see George Brown college displays in fashion-tech. Vitruvian Power by WonderKitchen Designs is a solar powered dress that charges various devices. It’s a design collaboration with EDF (Électricité de France). I thought it was really neat.

It was interesting to see different people’s approach in fashion-tech. Another really great thing I was able to attend was an Anouk Wipprecht workshop on fashion-tech. It was eye opening hearing different perspectives on fashion-tech design and to compare notes on how collectives are formed at various locations around the world like the Netherlands, San Franciso and London.

Master class with @Anoukwipprecht

Q. Fashion-tech has been in the news lately with the Met Gala and Claire Danes’ light-up dress. But what practical applications does fashion-tech have beyond pure aesthetics?

A. Fashion-tech actually covers a huge area. For example, on the production side, integration of various industry production methods like CAD design and 3D printing into the traditional fashion design workflow is a form of fashion tech. So is use of laser cutters or digital fabric cutters that print out fabric pieces, which eliminates some of the steps of fabric blocking and cutting.

Fashion-tech includes new ways to visualize and conceptualize the design. For example, with a virtual reality controller you can see a garment and move it around. You can see a garment in virtual reality vs. actually creating the garment itself.

There is also performance fashion-tech, for example outfits that change based on the temperature around you. If you are cold it can heat itself up, if you are sweating it can open vents that cool you down, or it might even have connectivity similar to wearable-tech where it would monitor your heart-rate, or various information so that it can connect to internet devices. For example, you could walk up to a door and it would open based on recognizing you, or can call for help when you’re in an emergency situation, or turn on all the lights because you’re in a certain room. Those are all applications of wearable-tech.

Q. What changes have you noticed in the last couple years?

A. The focus from wearable-tech to fashion-tech. Initially, wearables were small pendant-like or band-like devices that performed biometric checking functions. Now that has changed to a much more integrated approach with fashion-tech, which in many ways is semi-seamless or completely seamless with how you would interact with your garment normally.

For example, shoes with integrated circuitry that track your steps and your motion. There are ballet slippers that can visualize your entire posture and motion with just a shoe.

Q. Can you make a prediction for what we will see in the next 5 years?

A. Technology is growing exponentially and everything is becoming much more integrated. One of the biggest trends right now is multi-material 3D printing. In 5 years time we might have machines that can print various materials in one go. So it’s definitely a step towards home 3D printing garments and things similar to, lets say, Star Trek, although we’re still no where near that level. Perhaps in 5 years you can go to a store, hop into an augmented reality dressing and the sensors in the dressing room will detect your size. Once you pay for your garment, it would start printing it locally and would be shipped to you when it’s done and you would get your outfit the next day. It would be a perfectly fitted one-off based exactly on how you want it designed.

Q. What will Raw Finery Studios do to support diverse industries and new innovations?

A. Raw Finery studio is created to become a platform where different industries can come together and collaborate on projects. One of the hardest areas with fashion-tech and any sort of cross-industry collaboration is finding the right fit of people and the right skill set to bring forward a project. What Raw Finery Studio wants to do is to create a space where people can share through different industries to create something better, something awesome.