Refreshed for 2022, our regular analysis selects one or more news stories from fashion technology, and presents The Interline‘s take on why they matter to our global brand and retail audience – as well as what they might mean for the longer-term future of fashion. As always, this analysis is also delivered to Interline Insiders by email – and signing up continues to be the best way to get a fresh look at the fashion technology news, completely free, in your inbox.

Fashion loses a figurehead.

The Interline is saddened by the death of Queen Elizabeth II. Monarchy has a complex global legacy that it’s beyond the scope of a fashion technology publication to unpick, but alongside the outpouring of sympathy that is being shown today across the UK (where The Interline is based) the international fashion industry has also mourned in its own way.

The uniqueness of that grieving is anchored in the close relationship the fashion industry had with the Queen – a woman whose strategic and aesthetic clothing choices were so adroit as to earn their own label, one that Business Of Fashion has done an impeccable job of memorialising today.

We’re accustomed, today, to heads of state making statements through the way they dress and the designers they select, but the Queen was something of a pioneer in this area, and it’s little wonder, on that basis, that higher-end fashion has responded by rescheduling shows and closing stores.

In an industry where newness is either a constant churn, or is marked by the introduction of new solutions and new processes, this week can stand as a reminder that, sometimes, innovation is as much about how and where something is worn – and by whom.

Manufacturing innovation is back in the mainstream.

By the same token, it’s been tempting in fashion, lately, to look at innovation as being primary something that happens in software. This is, in some ways, attributable to the rise of digital fashion (and digital product creation) in the industry’s collective consciousness, but it’s also a result of how easily compartmentalised pure-digital success stories can be.

Take Nike, whose dominance of both primary and secondary NFT markets we covered last week. A report released this week shows just how large the digital asset market could become over the next five years (likely an optimistic take, and one that goes beyond fashion), which paves a very clear road for the brands that are making successful plays in that space today to scale their ambitions for tomorrow.

These are big numbers, easy to quantify, and also directly attributable to new technology. Harder to quantify, though, are improvements to the mechanics of production. But Nike has announced a similarly bold move in that area this week, unveiling its “Forward” fabric, which the brand has dubbed its biggest apparel innovation in decades.

“Fabric,” in this case is a little bit of a misnomer. The first product – a signature grey hoodie – that earns the Forward label does, indeed, incorporate a new material, but the primary advancement here is as much in the method as it is in the material output, especially since the first Forward product also eschews zippers and other trims that might otherwise complicate the ability for it to be recycled.

image courtesy of nike newsroom

This is, of course, also true of many of the alternative materials – from cactus to mushroom to mango – that have begun the long journey from proof of concept to scale. Those fabrics are both new in and of themselves, but also the result of new fabrication and growing processes – something that is also especially true of the looming revolution in portable, scalable biofabrication.

In the case of Forward, the manufacturing process creates fibres from recycled plastic flakes and fuses them together using close analogues to the needle-punching machines found in other industries such as medical and automotive. This process is, therefore, a full-on sidestep from the traditional binary choice between knitting and weaving, and its benefits – as per Nike’s press release – could be substantial at both the efficiency and sustainability level:

Rather than follow a multistage (spin yarn, knit, cut, sew and more) creation cycle, Nike Forward turns fiber directly to textile through needle-punch. Fewer steps means less energy consumption, contributing to an average of 75% reduction in the carbon footprint for this first generation material compared to traditional knit fleece. Nike Forward material also has a lighter density than traditional knit fleece, which is crucial to reaching 75% carbon reduction, and the finished product is comprised of 70% recycled content by weight.”

These are bold figures (if perhaps a little harder for some audiences to get excited about than revenue from NFT royalties) but they indicate something that’s destined to happen in a more gradual, less immediately compelling way: the steady replacement of traditional manufacturing processes with new ones that are faster, more efficient, cheaper, and more sustainable than before.

It’s telling, then, that Nike labels Forward as being a “platform […] purpose-built and created for future circularity”. To date, much of the work that’s been undertaken around improving the sustainability of individual products and their constituent materials has been focused on replacing fabrics with better alternatives. To really move the needle, the industry will want to embrace the model that Nike has announced this week, putting renewed emphasis on processes and platforms that can be scaled alongside the drive for renewable materials.

Don’t forget to attend next week’s 3D Tech Fest!

Next Thursday, 15th September, our Editor will be taking the chairperson’s role for the third day of the 2022 3D Tech Fest, hosted by Alvanon. Ahead of the release of our detailed DPC Report this November, Ben will be making the argument that the time has come to de-compartmentalise digital product creation workflows to match the massive inroads that digital assets have made both up and downstream.

The entire 3D Tech Fest is free to attend, and fully virtual, and takes place from the 13th to 15th September. As well as Ben’s opening address and his ongoing contextualisation of the sessions that make up the third day (titled “What’s Next In Digitization?”) the entire, three-day agenda will be available to both stream live, and to access on-demand for registered viewers who can’t attend in real-time.

Registrations are still open, and we encourage readers of The Interline to mark some time in their diaries to take in what promises to be an engaging roster of sessions, led by figures across the full spectrum of 3D and digital product creation.

And the best from The Interline:

This week we published our first exclusive article from future-gazer and strategist Petah Marian, who took an incisive look at how far the Metaverse / Web3 narrative is following the arc of previous iterations of the Internet, and what that might mean for brands who wish to take a pragmatic approach to the possibilities of the future of the web.

The key takeaway from Petah’s examination? That, separated from the hype cycle and from the complex system of labels that have dominated the Metaverse discussion to date, there is a great deal that fashion can borrow from the future and translate into results today – both technologically and strategically.