- Amazon’s new cross-channel shopping service, “Amazon Anywhere,” is intended to create a way to buy physical goods from virtual environments. But the real story likely lies in the retail giant’s investments in digital printing, which would allow it to offer customised apparel based on players’ individual in-game pets.
- Humane, a secretive tech startup, has unveiled a demonstration of its dubiously-real, AI-powered wearable device, which sits in the user’s breast pocket and is intended as a smartphone replacement. If it makes the journey to market and achieves wide adoption, designers could find themselves adapting clothing form to fit a new function.
- ThredUp has released a thought-provoking Fashion Footprint Calculator, which analyses how different behaviours contribute to a person’s fashion consumption carbon footprint beyond the point of purchase. While shifting the onus for mitigating fashion’s overall environmental and social impact to the consumer feels like reallocating blame, the reality is that extensive consumer education will be required for fashion to even approach its targets.
- France’s progressive stance on fashion and technology regulation has taken another step, with further disclosure requirements for influencer partnerships and AI-assisted filters joining pioneering product passport regulations. That stance has roots in both the country’s heritage and the scrutiny that brings with, making proactivity the logical approach.
Cross-channel retail and the possibility space for personalisation
This week, Amazon launched a new immersive shopping service called “Amazon Anywhere” that brings Amazon’s online marketplace for physical goods to video games and mobile apps. The first test case for this is Peridot – an augmented reality game and the latest release from Niantic, the company behind the lightning-in-a-bottle phenomenon Pokémon Go.
Despite only releasing a couple of days ago, the game has already been dubbed the “next-gen Tamagotchi”(something 80s and 90s kids will remember well) since it centres on raising, caring for, walking, and eventually breeding a digital pet. But it’s also a very “2023” proposition because it operates a freemium model (free to play, monetised through consumable items and time-gates that quickly become non-optional if you intend to put any meaningful time into the game) and is also designed as a social, participatory experience.
So it’s no surprise that Peridot was chosen as the proving ground for yet another monetisation layer in Amazon Anywhere, but what’s interesting about this deployment isn’t just the ability to buy real things from a virtual layer on the physical world.
First, what does that shopping feature actually look like? Using a very similar UX as the store for in-game consumables and in-app purchases (which are digital goods) Amazon Anywhere allows players to discover and buy generic, Peridot-branded physical products (T-shirts, hoodies, phone accessories, and throw pillows with images of the magical critters from the game) from Amazon without having to leave the game or app, provided players link their existing Amazon accounts. It’s worth also reminding ourselves that Amazon owns Twitch (the hugely successful videogame streaming platform) and Luna (the much less successful cloud gaming service), so this is by no means the giant’s first foray into crossing the streams of retail and gaming.
In its own press communications, Amazon describes this as a milestone on the grounds that spending real-world money in virtual spaces “is currently limited to purchases of virtual currency and in-game digital items,” and that it’s aiming to change that landscape to make it easy for customers to purchase physical products in such environments as well.
So far, so expected. But selling off-the-shelf branded products should really only be the tip of the spear here, and it’s a short hop to connecting Amazon’s heavy investment in digital fabric printing (both direct to garment and direct to fabric) to a vision for selling personalised physical products in virtual experiences that are already built on personalisation.
Consider the fact that Peridot’s creatures are “genetically” (read: algorithmically) unique, and it’s easy to see a near-term future where Amazon Anywhere allows players to order custom apparel that, instead of bearing a generic Peridot logo or one of the developers’ own headline pets, has the user’s individual pet printed onto it. This is the next milestone as The Interline sees it, and it’s one that’s eminently achievable without too much additional investment in infrastructure.
We already know that personalisation is fundamental to the experience of playing or shopping in any kind of virtual world, especially to the likely target demographic of games like Peridot: Gen-Z. In a study from Razorfish and Vice Media Group from around this time last year called “The Metaverse: A View from Inside” the researchers found that Gen Z spends considerably more time in metaverse-adjacent experiences than their older counterparts, and that this demographic has also formed more meaningful connections to their online identities.
For instance 57% of survey respondents said they feel freer to express themselves in games than they do in real life, while 45% reported their in-game identity is a truer expression of who they really are. And while a Peridot pet is not, strictly speaking, an “avatar” the way we think of them
With Peridot drawing on the nostalgia of the Tamagotchi, as well as appealing to the Pokémon Go audience, there is a high chance that millennials will also be getting in on the game, giving Amazon’s fashion business an even greater opportunity to allow players to cultivate forms of self-expression, generate deeper loyalty and connections, and, frankly, to become cold hard cash customers via a channel that didn’t exist before.
Dressing for the future: how technology reshapes our wardrobes
If you carry a smartphone, it’s highly likely your clothes or accessories have a place to put it. And as smartphone sizes have evolved – mostly towards larger phones – pockets and purses have grown with them. Two decades ago, none of this was a consideration for brands and designers; pockets and clutches needed to accommodate wallets and other everyday carry items, but with the introduction of the iPhone form factor (and arguably the Blackberry before it, may it rest in peace) the demands of our wardrobes slowly shifted to keep pace with the precipitous increase in smartphone adoption.
That trend has continued pretty much unabated. Phones have grown bigger (the Pro Max category of iPhones is, by any reasonable metric, ludicrously big) and clothes and accessories have been designed to accommodate them.
But what might a post-smartphone world look like, pocket-wise? This week’s news might give us a glimpse. And the answer, surprisingly, is more pockets.
Humane, a secretive tech startup, finally unveiled a demonstration of its AI-powered wearable device this week – the video was “leaked” a little while ago, but this is now official – and the device is billed as being a smartphone replacement. In place of the familiar rectangular glass slab, Humane’s device is a small black puck that fits into a breast pocket and apparently features a camera, projector, and speaker. Its creator Imran Chaudhri, who previously worked on design at Apple for more than two decades, used the demonstration to pitch the device as an alternative for a world covered in screens, but one that does not remove you from the real world like AR/VR glasses might.
Like basically everything today, it’s also stuffed to the gills with AI. Which, realistically, it will need to be if it’s to replace an interaction paradigm that we’ve all grown so accustomed to that it’s essentially impossible to operate in the modern world without a smartphone.
For our purposes, though, the AI component of the technology is less interesting than the reminder that new technology can quite quickly change what we wear. This is not a conversation around digital fashion or AI design, but rather something much more simple: if this does all turn out to be feasible, and Humane’s idea takes flight, would we start to see more clothes designed with breast pockets? Or does a new industry of clips, lanyards, straps and other methods of affixing it to your clothing emerge?
It’s a thought experiment, for sure, but an entertaining one because it charts an interesting evolution of form and function. The breast pocket today is basically vestigial in everything but formal wear and suiting, but it historically had one or more purposes: to hold stationery or handkerchiefs. Then, as people slowly stopped transporting those things in their clothing, the need for the breast pocket slowly vanished. To see it return – and to see designers start to create with it in mind – would be poetic.
And it’s worth pointing out that pockets aren’t just for new device categories. The Institute for Frontier Materials, based in Australia, is working to develop clothing fibres that are capable of storing energy. It would, in theory, mean that by placing your cellphone into your pocket, you could charge it on the go – a lot less clunky than carrying around a portable charger. Another group of academics, this time from the University of Waterloo in the UK, have developed what they call “the world’s first smart fabric” that responds to both heat and electricity. The material was inexpensively created using polymer nano-composite fibres from recycled plastic, is programmable, and is able to change colour and shape when stimuli are applied. One of the minds behind the smart fabric commented: “As a wearable material alone, it has almost infinite potential in AI, robotics and virtual reality games and experiences.”
It will still be a while off until we are able to use Humane’s technology (if indeed it ends up coming to market at all) or to have our clothes charge our cell phones. But the role of function in dictating form is something for designers to bear in mind – not least because it casts so many 3D / 2D CAD demos built around moving breast pockets in a newly-important light.
How useful is calculating the carbon footprint of your fashion behaviours?
There is still a long way to go for consumer education around sustainability in clothing and what it means to make conscious choices in consumption. The Interline previously reported that while there have been positive strides made in the direction of a more environmentally and ethically aware consumer, there is still much awareness to be raised – one example being that in 2022, more than $800 million worth of products bought online were returned. Product returns can have several pronounced environmental impacts, including unnecessary, excess resource consumption, waste generation, and increased carbon emissions in the form of transportation that requires fuel and emits greenhouse gases. And that’s without considering the impact of additional packaging – usually made of plastic – to protect the return during transit, or, where products cannot be resold and are discarded, the impact that disposal has on the local environment.
But consumption is just part of the much broader picture of a single shopper’s carbon footprint, and this week saw ThredUp, an online consignment provider, release a simple tool for raising greater awareness of post-purchase choices and their impact on an individual’s working towards raising awareness. The company recently launched their Fashion Footprint Calculator, which is intended as an intuitive way of getting consumers to analyse the different ways that their behaviours contribute to their fashion consumption carbon footprint – beyond the point of purchase.
The calculator presents ten quick questions that include how many loads of laundry a month you do, whether you mostly air dry or machine dry that laundry, how often you repair your clothes, as well as a short suite of questions that cover your purchasing practices. The output is an overall “score” that, while hardly scientific or comprehensive, can serve as a strong indicator of just how much of one’s footprint originates after the point at which most people consider themselves to have made a sustainable choice – selecting something to buy that aligns with their values.
While circularity, such as buying secondhand and donating clothing, has gained considerable attention as a solution to promote sustainability in fashion, there is still a need for a more holistic approach to the way the industry frames sustainable decision-making. While it’s obviously a net benefit for apparel and footwear brands to sell new styles to consumers who value sustainable materials, or fair labour, that choice of what to buy is also just a small segment of what it means to have a sustainable relationship with fashion.
It is crucial to place equal emphasis on the type of clothes we purchase, reducing the frequency of returns, adopting eco-friendly laundry practices like washing with cold water, maximising air drying opportunities, and prioritising repairs instead of discarding garments prematurely. By highlighting these aspects, there is a better chance of reducing the environmental impact of our fashion choices and fostering a more sustainable and responsible approach to clothing consumption and use – all of which will have a marked impact on the data brands and retailers use to decide what to make, and the technology they use to make it.
France solidifies its position at the forefront of regulation
This week, Time Magazine commented on the new French legislation which defines what an “influencer” is, and also seeks to introduce new disclosure requirements for social media figures.
Under the terms of the legislation, content creators would be required to include a disclaimer indicating that posts promoting cosmetic surgery, financial products and services such as cryptocurrencies, and counterfeit products are sponsored – and not just with a hashtag or in the description, but as a banner across photos and videos. This is a more stringent addition to the already existing requirements that France, along with many other EU countries, follow around visible disclosures where people with cultural clout are paid to promote a brand or product.
Another major change is that influencers will have to disclose if they are using an appearance-altering filter or if their face and/or body have been photoshopped. This mention has to be visible at all times on the photo or video itself, and is itself an extension of a similar French rule that has applied to traditional advertising and media for a while. The consequence of not meeting the requirements? Facing up to six months in prison, and a fine of up to €300,000.
France has also emerged as a forerunner when it comes to sustainability legislation. The French Decree 2022-748 AGEC (Anti-Waste for a Circular Economy Law) requires clothing brands selling in France to have verified environmental labelling with detailed information about the environmental qualities of their products, including reparability, recyclability, sustainability, re-use possibilities, recycled material content, use of renewable resources, traceability, and presence of plastic microfibers. So far, France is the only country in the EU with such a law.
Why is it that France, in particular, is at the frontier of the enforcement side of where fashion and technology interact, as well as pushing ahead with sustainability regulations? Some of it is likely a result of the country’s fashion heritage; Paris is widely regarded as the fashion capital of the world, rivalling other major fashion hubs like Milan and New York.
With its deep-rooted history of haute couture and prestigious luxury fashion houses, the city holds considerable influence over global fashion trends and sets the stage for industry developments each season. Fashion is ingrained in the cultural fabric of Paris, making it a natural breeding ground for regulatory initiatives and advancements in the field. And that status as an international fashion destination also makes the country into a lightning rod for scrutiny; if the world is looking to France to lead the fashion conversation in one way, it makes sense for it to lead in other ways that are attracting considerable attention.
France also has a tradition of valuing quality craftsmanship and preserving artisanal skills. This appreciation for craftsmanship aligns with the principles of sustainability; promoting longevity, durability, and the reduction of waste. By emphasising the importance of well-made, enduring garments (and both directly and indirectly creating a more hostile environment for fast, disposable fashion), France showcases its commitment to sustainable practices in the fashion sector on a more subtle level, as well as on a governmental one.
Notably, France’s progressive stance on technology regulation extends beyond fashion. The country has demonstrated a proactive approach in addressing issues related to digital platforms, privacy, and user rights – something that’s again visible this week with the introduction of the new influencer rules. This broader focus on technology aligns with the increasing intersection between fashion and digital innovation, as technological advancements continue to reshape the industry. By actively engaging with the technological landscape and staying at the forefront of its regulation, France ensures that its fashion industry remains adaptable and aligned with evolving consumer preferences and sustainability goals.
The best from The Interline:
This week we published an opinion piece from Editor, dissecting what he believes went wrong with Metaverse Fashion Week 2023, and looking at ways for the digital fashion sector – and the wider DPC industry – to avoid the fallout.
We also released a new article from Katy Schildmeyer, which made a strong case for fashion being able to learn from the architecture industry’s journey from flat sketching to 3D CAD – not just in terms of the tools that sector uses, but at a more foundational and emotional level.