London Technology Week
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#LDNTechWeek: Fashtech – the ultimate solution looking for a problem

Yesterday, London Tech Week opened with a panel on fashtech, that’s fashion technology to the uninitiated, although that might not make the concept any more clear.

The lineup featured designer Brooke Roberts, Matthew Drinkwater from the London College of Fashion and tech entrepreneur Jenny Griffiths, CEO of Snap Fashion.

Griffiths’ company offers an app that works as a ‘search engine for fashion’ which, if you dare, enables you to snap photos of people’s outfits in the street, then buy something like it (although not always that similar, we tried) in just a few taps.

Visual recognition like this is, of course, no easy task and computer scientist Griffiths has straddled two not-always-aligned industries so well that she was awarded an MBE at 27.

It also kind of makes sense on paper. “Wow, I love what that girl’s wearing” is something I constantly hear whispered as I walk by in my ‘This is England 88’ inspired office wear.

Wait no longer.

Matthew Drinkwater said we could expect to see a “complete transformation of the fashion industry” over the next 12 to 18 months as techies and fashionistas start to collaborate properly.

That’s no doubt happening right over at the London College of Fashion as wannabe designers clamour for recognition in an inevitably fickle industry.

The panel discussed the potential for things like downloading content to your clothes and using digital brain scans to create printed designs to adorn your next purchase.

That was all in the shadow of a curated fashtech installation featuring things like Modeclix, a 3D-printed wearable garment; a holographic mannequin from Headworks; and Infi-Tex, a sensor-enabled sports jacket that lets you play music through your clothes.

Serious business?

Fashtech is no small industry, it now has its own conference here in London – with plans outlined at the last event to create a fashion hub out west – and virtual reality tipped as the “next frontier in retail”.

Indeed, with London Fashion Week one of the world’s top destinations for the next hot young things in fashion, and the city’s tech sector one of the leading startup hubs, it sounds like a no-brainer.

Trouble is – and a fact highlighted aptly by Matthew Drinkwater when he flagged that something like 40 per cent of London Fashion Week designers don’t even have an ecommerce website – there are plenty of problems in retail reality that making it virtual ain’t going to fix.

  • My umbrella still goes inside out
  • My whites don’t stay white even if I wash them in an all-white wash
  • Many websites still suck and often I just quit halfway through
  • Many shop assistants clearly don’t feel very excited to be there
  • Those dubious supply chains mean it’s hard to tell who my clothes were made by

At the risk of getting a bang on the door from the fashion police, I’ve worked in tech for five years and I’m yet to see much fashtech that’s focused on real problems.

To blow all of that neatly out of the water, one pretty interesting thing on show yesterday was the Bruise Suit.

This rather impressive smart fabric shows up injuries as they happen and is designed for disabled athletes who aren’t able to feel when they’ve hurt themselves. Which seems to speak to a real need.


Other than that, fashtech feels a lot like solutions looking for problems, when all I want is an umbrella that doesn’t go inside out as I’m trawling the events at London Tech Week.

There, I said it.