By Alexandra Farina
I could already hear the excited clamor of voices mingling as I entered the intimate space, strewn with pink and silver balloons, bright neon signs, and big couches set up to make one side of the room feel like a seventeenth century salon. As I checked in, a host knotted a blue ribbon thrice around my wrist, telling me to make a wish that would be granted once the bracelet frayed and fell off.
As I glanced around the lively room, I saw ribbons tied on everyone– on ankles, upper arms, necks. There, in the midst of a dreary, rainy New York City day, I was transported to what I imagined a day at summer camp to feel like: giggling girls, limbs entangled, whispering promises of forever union as they tied colorful strings around each other’s hands, urging each other to imagine her greatest desires. While all guests in attendance were well beyond friendship bracelet-making days, the atmosphere in the room felt just as warm, conspiratorial in the best way, open and light. It was clear, though, that everyone had come fully prepared to talk shop.
This was no average cocktail party reception, but one hosted by Fashinnovation’s Jordana Guimarães that included a panel of tech and fashion industry experts and a guest list studded with fashion elites, small business owners, and young designers. Started by Marcelo and Jordana Guimarães, Fashinnovation is an organization that seeks to provide a nexus between entrepreneurs and innovators, bringing in big names in the fashion technology world to educate and start conversation with like-minded individuals. The Guimarães’ goal is to affect radical change in the fashion industry through the exploration and implementation of technology.
I had barely put down my bag and taken in my surroundings when two women sitting on the couch across from me beckoned me over. The younger lounged in a white, polka dot slip dress and black Docs, her ears, wrists, and neck laden with jewelry produced by the company she began when she was nineteen years old. The other was an older woman, Consuelo, who had just moved to the city from Brazil, leaving her beachwear brand behind and looking for a fresh start. She told us she didn’t know where to start, but she had found about this event a couple of days prior and figured it would be a good first step. It wouldn’t be long until she realized she had come to the right place.
Throughout our conversation, the jewelry designer furiously jotted down a list of recommendations for Consuelo on the back of an envelope. We spent an hour spitballing the ways in which this industry veteran could break into the New York City market. When we had both exhausted the arsenal of contacts we could think of, the three of us gushed about everything from business to love, spirituality, and our respective passions and hopes as we waited for the panel to begin. As we got the call to file into the rows of chairs facing the panel speakers, Consuelo stood up, beaming. She exclaimed: “I am just so inspired! I need to start now! Your passion is making me passionate!”
This is exactly what events like this are meant to do. In the first five minutes of Fashinnovation’s reception, I witnessed the brand of collaboration and inspiration the organization means to nurture. While the first part of my experience thus far had been about coming together and sharing ideas, the panel itself revolved around why everyone was there in the first place: to explore the ways in which technology and innovation could play in taking both big and small brands to the next level. But not before Jordana emphasized what most in the room seemed to already know to be true: that love was and will always be the most important thing. She began the night explaining how body inclusivity, efforts towards sustainability, diversity, and the importance of human relationships are philosophies that ought to be carried forward and aided by the incorporation of technology as the fashion industry progresses.
Guimarãe then opened up the floor to the panelists for the evening, asking them thoughtful questions about the direction the fashion industry is going, where it had been, and what each of their personal ethoses were when it came to the relationship between fashion and tech. Sitting on the panel were three industry powerhouses: Sandra Campos, CEO of Diane von Furstenburg, Michael Ferraro, Executive Director of the FIT Information Lab, and Jaclynn Brennan, founding partner of eSTYLAR.
When asked about what the relationship between fashion and technology meant to them, each had different answers that all felt like they were driving towards the same overarching point: improving the relationship between company and consumer, inclusivity of the diversity of the consumer, and creating ways to operate in the world of-ecommerce in sustainable and ethically-responsible ways.
Ferraro noted that the world of fashion was archaic in comparison to other forward-moving industries– in the way the clothing is manufactured, the way it is marketed, and the manners in which it is shipped. He described one of his student’s projects who created a virtual reality world, in which the models danced in a kaleidoscopic landscape of shifting colors in slow motion. The physics of the movement of the fabric of the clothing on the models was calculated and made to move in real time rather than being delayed along with the models. Ferraro emphatically declared: “This is the future of fashion! It creates and immerses the consumer in a world– it includes them, excites them.” And virtual reality modelling like this helps a consumer break away from the typical fashion plate, runway ideal. They can see how a garment hangs, how it flows in the wind, how it could make them feel.
Jacqueline Brennan is involved in a fashion AR start-up that is a virtual fitting room, a piece of technology that will help consumers find their perfect fit in whatever brand collaborates with the start up. She launches with Reese Witherspoon’s clothing brand, Draper James, in August. eSTYLAR will not only revolutionize the way customers shop online in improving the accuracy of their size selections, but also will cut down on the number of returns made, Brennan muses. Customer returns of online orders account for twenty-five billion dollars worth of losses a year for the fashion industry. eSTYLAR will cut this number down, but, more importantly, it will significantly reduce the fashion industry’s carbon footprint. Technology will be a constructive force in empowering the consumer and a veritable power in mitigating the disastrous environmental impact of the industry.
Sandra Campos continued along the same vein, impressing upon the attendees that DVF hopes to empower their consumers and give them a voice as the brand moves into the future. Campos echoed Guimarães’ invocation of love, explaining how DVF seeks to use psychographics rather than demographics to market their clothing to women, and are committed to identifying gaps in sizing and consumer desires in order to better serve the DVF woman. She explained that while DVF does not use sustainable fabrics or manufacturing processes, they are working on making the brand more sustainable in other ways. She laughs to the audience and jokes, “If anyone figures out how to make silk not from silk worms, let me know!”
When the floor is opened up for questions, a Professor of Sustainability pipes up: “You can make silk without silkworms! Come talk to me!” This exchange is precisely what Guimarãe and Fashinnovation hopes to cultivate and nurture.
As a rousing round of applause filled the small space, my two new friends and I got up and headed towards the door. There was no more talk of business. We hugged and smiled and said goodbye. And I thought about what Guimarães said at the beginning of the event: “The only thing that never goes out of style is love.”
Alexandra Farina is a rising junior and English major at Barnard College of Columbia University. When she isn’t spotted tasting the gambit of cold brew available in New York City, she is writing anything and everything, hoping to bring a little magic to someone one day.