01_Smart_Shirt_Hero

The Future of Fashion

 

All this happened because I accidentally grabbed my neighbor’s phone on a plane from Las Vegas to San Francisco on my way back from CES 2016.

This minor incident triggered a small talk that soon amounted to an animated conversation. I began it on a whim and couldn’t even imagine that such a casual chat would trigger a chain of events that would eventually make Colorfy take a huge leap from tech to fashion.

The guy in the next seat happened to be Dilan Gooneratne, a board member of one of the leading Asian conglomerates in the clothing industry. Based in Sri Lanka, it makes clothing for brands like Victoria’s Secret and Nike.

Since we had to spend an hour on that plane sitting next to each other, I seized the opportunity to give him my take on the fashion industry.

In other words, I told him that his business was going nowhere.

It’s not news that fashion is transient. But have you noticed that things have gotten much uglier over the course of the last few years?

Haute couture brands are under siege. In this day and age, their collections are being copied almost instantly, so they are trying to fight back by making new collections available as soon as they go public.

High street fashion brands make their contribution to the world of fast fashion. They don’t care about seasons anymore. They want you to buy new stuff every weekend. The more, the better.

Of course, everybody understands that your pockets aren’t bottomless, so “affordable” brands work hard to drive their costs down. Quality follows the price—and low quality forces people to buy more.

Customers started buying for the short-lasting enjoyment of getting brand new shirts and pants. Now they are doing it because the shirts and pants they bought a few months ago are already falling apart.

It’s a vicious cycle. More purchases—less money per purchase, less money per purchase—even more pressure on the price. The more pressure, the more brands need to sell people on the idea of fast fashion.

“I don’t get it.” I turned to Dilan. “What endgame do you envision here?”

How would you react if a stranger (and amateur) started lambasting the industry to which you devoted your professional life? Being annoyed would seem natural and reasonable. My neighbor’s reaction was the opposite.

I was almost shocked to find in him a like-minded person who was first to agree that nobody could be a winner in the war he got into along with his company.

Brands and their contractors are forced to take part in the dangerous game of cost-cutting. People are squandering their time and money on shoddy stuff. As a society, we pollute our planet and produce lots of waste for no real reason.

On top of that, the industry, stuck in this vicious cycle, misses opportunities that new technology has to offer and ends up presenting a pair of self-lacing sneakers as the most innovative thing of the 21 century—although they were designed in the ‘80s.

The question was how we could get out of this mess.

I started thinking about mixing tech and clothing to make more convenient, long-lasting, and timelessly stylish clothing around three years ago and gradually got genuinely interested.

With new materials, fabric-embedded sensors, and wireless connectivity, opportunities for innovations in this field looked limitless. It struck me that a majority of “tech fashion” thinkers used these opportunities only sparingly.

They probably thought that you need to make a parade of your tech if you want to sell people on the idea of tech fashion. I believed the opposite; in clothing, the tech should be invisible.

Nobody wants to sport a jacket that randomly changes its color or wear a solar bikini that can charge your phone while you’re getting a tan.

Smart apparel should look just like ordinary clothing—and be treated likewise.

Looking for ways of making tech invisible, we at Colorfy started studying new technologies that can be used in fashion. Thus, by the time of the meeting, I already had not only an elaborate vision of a product, but even a few simple prototypes.

So I was able not only to hammer the fashion industry for the dead end it got into but also propose a way out.

A couple of weeks later, I landed in Sri Lanka with mixed feelings of interest and worry.

The meeting on the plane that brought me there looked almost like the makings of destiny. My new acquaintance was already on war to disrupt the apparel and clothing industry; I was looking for somebody who could help me make my ideas come true.

It seemed like a perfect match. But there was the elephant in the room—a question I had to answer before making a step forward. To what extent did my new acquaintance implement his knowledge of the latest trends in his business—being an Asian contractor working for big corporations?

The last thing we at Colorfy wanted was to make a partnership with a company that could become an extreme example of the worst side effects of globalization for another chapter of the “No Logo!” book.

What I saw in Sri Lanka was something opposite of a sweatshop. Collaboration with world class brands. Commercialising innovative products. Fine working conditions. Modern management practices. Opportunities to learn and “climb the ladder” for everyone across the board.

And yes, ACs everywhere. So nobody was sweating.

The rest is history.

Months passed partnering with InQube. Founded by my new acquaintance, Dilan,  a design & innovation hub set up in Sri Lanka with design to scaling facilities in key global manufacturing hubs. Having survived a few setbacks, many arguments, and lots of late-night vigils, we’re now ready to roll out our first smart garment under the brand 10ELEVEN9.

It’s a shirt. One that has timeless style and is made of high-quality, long-lasting fabric and looks just like a regular piece of clothing. But it isn’t.

It can help you stay healthy because it tracks your posture and heart rate (which is, by the way, much more important than tracking just your pulse). The sensors are embedded in the fabric and are completely invisible. They won’t cause you any discomfort.

But that’s not all. The shirt can adjust to your personal digital needs.

If you’re into photography, there is a camera that can be inserted on the collar to take pictures—think Spectacles for shirts. If you’re a health enthusiast, you can put your favorite fitness tracker in one of the micro-pockets and wear it without a strap. If you like to listen to music on the go, you’ll enjoy features that allow you to control your phone by touching your sleeve.

Being a tech entrepreneur, I’m especially proud that we managed to put some thought not only into tech but into the design itself—with the help of my friend and seasoned designer Russel Bennet, who has worked with Aspesi, Basile, and Moschino and knows the ins and outs of the fashion industry.

The shirt has a few pockets for some essential items such as your phone, wallet, keys, or glasses. So you don’t have to wear a jacket or carry a backpack anymore for the stuff you always need on the go.

What makes this design unique is that these pockets are invisible—and they make things you’re carrying invisible too. So you won’t look like a soldier who went on a mission in a combat suit bulging with ammo and three-day rations.

Have I mentioned that the shirt can be washed in a washing machine? Well, breaking new ground is as important as keeping up with the basics.

Today, we’re pre-launching the project with Telefonica at CeBIT. Thanks to this partnership, the shirt has an emergency button that can send your GPS coordinates and inform a predefined list of contacts. A campaign on Kickstarter will follow at the end of April.

It’s just beginning. We’ll build on that and make your pin take pictures every time your heart rate jumps up (out of excitement or fear). We’ll embed stretch sensors and IMUs to track your body in real time. The possibilities are endless.

That’s why we can’t explore them alone. Our team would be happy if other brave minds joined us and started building their components and apps for the shirt and other garments that will follow.

In the opening, I told you that we at Colorfy took a huge leap from tech to fashion. To be honest, we don’t look at 10ELEVEN9 in these terms.

We think about it as a new way of managing your wardrobe in a tech-driven world that should be concerned with its impact on the environment as much as it’s concerned with quality of life.

We want to change the way people deal with their clothes and aim to offer them something opposite of fast fashion. We create garments that fit their needs perfectly and are worth wearing season after season—because of their timeless style, made-with-dignity fabrics, and new features that enable them to do more with less effort.

Many successful people limit the number of clothes they wear. In sci-fi movies, people wear the same things every day. Seasonless minimalism, which blurs the line between business and casual styles, will be the mainstay of next-generation garments. At least our team shares this belief and wants to bring this future closer.  

We’ve made a shirt (Video) . But we hope that it’ll become more than just that.