Technology in Fashion: Fad or Future?

The appointment of Burberry’s Chief Executive Angela Ahrendts at Apple suggests the company does not simply plan to dip its toe in the fashion pool, but intends to fully submerge itself. With the current hype over the marriage of the fashion and technology industries, Sarah Simpson, Associate at Taylor Vinters and fashion law expert, asks whether the collaboration between technology and fashion will really take off, or whether it’s just the latest fad. Sarah also looks at the serious data protection implications that designers and developers of fashion-led technology need to be aware of.

A history of fashion

When looking back on years gone by, and what has really driven the fashion industry to go from strength to strength, a recurring theme crops up – function.

Take Coco Chanel, for example. In the 1920s Chanel revolutionised women’s fashion, wanting to break away from the conformity of restrictive clothing. At the forefront of post-war women’s fashion, Chanel favoured comfort and liberty over the constraints of corsets and petticoats. “Luxury must be comfortable, otherwise it is not luxury,” she said.

Coco Chanel

Coco Chanel

Chanel recognised that to better perform her work as a dressmaker, clothing that allowed her to move easily, kneel and bend down was better suited to her work and the work of the modern woman of her time. To the surprise of her contemporaries, Chanel did away with corsets, trailing skirts, fitted sleeves and pinched-in waists and instead created garments with dropped waists and shorter hemlines.

Her designs were inspired by typical menswear tailoring when creating her iconic suits and she used materials such as jersey that had only previously been used for making underwear for men. This allowed for free and unrestricted movement, while retaining an element of class and style. Chanel wanted to design clothing for real women and produced simple, practical and comfortable clothing.

Throughout this ground-breaking change in fashion, it remained important that Chanel’s designs sustained style, but it is easy to forget that the driving factor of this dramatic transformation was function over form.

Function over form

A major force in fashion progression is the development of functional wants or needs in society. Could it therefore be the case that our functional needs are again changing as the digital age progresses and our want of developing technology increases?

The function of a T-shirt was once to keep a person cool on a warm day, but can it be argued that the function of a T-shirt is becoming no longer just this?

Take CuteCircuit for example, a fashion haute couture brand that has designed and made clothes for the likes of Katy Perry. The pop star’s Met Gala dress, designed and created by CuteCircuit, changed colour throughout the evening as hundreds of tiny LED lights sewn into the dress changed from colour to colour. Another design by CuteCircuit, worn by Nicole Scherzinger, displayed Tweets from her fans as she performed on stage. Could it be that a person’s ideals of what they want from their clothes are changing so that they must now encompass some form of technology, along with the ability to look good?

Fashion start-up Made With Glove makes fashionable heated gloves for women

Fashion start-up Made With Glove makes fashionable heated gloves for women

A new exciting technology, due to be launched very soon, is smart jewellery designed and created by Kovert Designs. A small circuit board embedded in a stone, which can be interchanged from a ring to a pendant, connects to a smart device. When a certain person calls, a text message or an email is sent to the person wearing the jewellery. It can even connect through other social media and the jewellery vibrates to notify the wearer. I asked Fabio Pania, co-founder of Kovert Designs, to comment on the current buzz around the merger between fashion and technology. He said:

The intersection between the fashion and technology industries is a new and emerging space, currently receiving lots of attention in the media and from investors.

People are starting to realise that technology cannot only be beautiful, but it must be. For too long technology has only been associated with function and usefulness. Technology and beauty are not opposites; they can be two sides of the same coin. Kovert Designs is bridging or rather ‘fusing together’ great design and bespoke electronics to deliver the products that people want to use and wear every day.

For the two to work together and have some chance of sticking around, it seems that no matter how ingenious the technology is, nor how many wonderful gadgets may become available, for the technology to be fashionable and have some chance of becoming the next big thing in the fashion industry, it needs to look good in addition to serving a function craved by the masses. It would seem that although changes in fashion are often fuelled by changes in function, function being the driving force and form coming secondary, it is still of huge importance that the design looks great!

The retail sector eagerly awaits what the future has in store for products such as Google Glass and the fervently anticipated iWatch. Now that the functions have been established, will more investment go into the aesthetics of the products to make them desirable to those fashionistas who would not be seen dead wearing Google Glass in its current form? The appointment of Burberry head Angela Ahrendts at Apple and fashion marketing guru Ivy Ross at Google Glass certainly suggests that such large corporate entities are taking the notion of technology in fashion very seriously. They are taking the marriage of the two industries to the next level and are confident that this market is worthy of investment and is here to stay.

Legal implications of data collection

So, with such easy accessibility to technology and data becoming easily collected and transmitted by such devices, particularly since it is now becoming part of a person’s everyday outfit, what legal issues might this raise?

The fashion industry regularly needs legal guidance in relation to contractual and intellectual property matters, but the fusion between fashion and technology also shines a light on issues concerning data processing and privacy, particularly when this concerns the transmission of personal data. But what is meant by personal data and processing?

Legally, personal data means any information that links to or can identify an individual. This can include a person’s name, residential address or arguably their email or internet protocol address, to name a few examples. Processing also has a very broad meaning under the law and includes obtaining, recording, holding, using, disclosing or erasing data.

If personal information about an individual is processed by a third party, without the informed consent of the individual, then the party processing the data could face serious legal ramifications. Further, if a person starts to bring their own device to work, for instance their Google Glass, then this may have a serious impact on the privacy of other employees and could cause problems for an employer who does not have the correct policies in place to avoid such legal pitfalls.

The verdict

So, technology in fashion: is it the new black? It seems fair to say that with recent high-profile investments in the fashion and technology industries, coupled with the development of technological function in fashion, it will not be going away any time soon.

Top tips for developers

1. Inform users whenever you collect personal data from them.

2. Obtain users’ informed consents to process their data:
a. let users know what their personal data will be used for, e.g. to improve the service to them; and
b. ensure you do not pass on users’ personal information to third parties – if you do, be sure to inform users in advance, letting them know why their information is being passed on and what it will be used for.

3. Do not collect any personal information from users that you do not need.

4. Do not keep users’ data for longer than is required.

5. Ensure you have appropriate online security in place

If you would like to learn more about any of the issues contact Sarah Simpson at sarah.simpson@taylorvinters.com

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