Founded in 2004, CuteCircuit is the world’s first wearable-technology fashion brand. CuteCircuit interweaves leading-edge fashion design with emerging technologies and smart fabrics to create fashion design that not only looks beautiful but also carries magical capabilities and interactive connections. Their clothes have been worn by everyone from Katy Perry to U2. CuteCircuit’s co-founders, Francesca Rosella and Ryan Genz, come from a heritage of couture in fashion design (Valentino), and Interaction Design and Anthropology respectively. After a decade and a half of innovation, the brand holds several patents in the field of wearable technology, such as 3D Augmented Reality Audio, Interactive Luminous Garments, and Sensor Enhanced Fabric constructions.
Which are the challenges for the Fashion-Tech sector today, in your experience?
There are a number of challenges in fashion-tech today. For me, as a designer, one of the greatest challenges is being able to reach people and letting them understand how interesting these ideas could be. Because people (customers) really understand it, but the biggest challenge is with the stores which are very conservative. And sometimes fashion stores don’t know how to display wearable technologies. I think it’s a really interesting challenge, displaying certain garments correctly is already a challenge for the fashion industry, but when you start having wearable technologies then it’s really important to educate department stores and shops to understand how this kind of products could be displayed. This is because this kind of products have functionalities that have to be explained and need to be visualised, and just hanging a garment doesn’t really do it. So we have to make sure that the whole ecosystem is educated and all players know how to make the most of these new experiences.
What is the future of Fashion-tech, according to your experience? What are you hoping to design in the Fashion-Tech area in the next 5 years?
For me the future is wearable technology, it will just become mainstream fashion. If you think of all the things that we carry with us every day, such as mobile phones and cameras, these are all going to disappear. Maybe not ten, but twenty years in the future we are just going to wear clothes that could do more, that could connect to any building or environment, and that’s what we are going to wear throughout the day. It’s all a matter of the technology becoming smaller and smaller and being embedded in the garments, I think that is going to be the difference in the future.
How does embedding digital technologies in your clothing change the design process?
The design process definitely changes as one starts incorporating digital technologies. I.e. As a fashion designer you might start designing fabrics with a chosen visual pattern such as flowers or stars and you can create a flat replicable design using Illustrator. But when I create garments, I imagine fabrics that can move, or play images and videos. So instead of creating a flat visual pattern, I use Motion to edit video footage and transform it into animations and moving images that then appear on the garment, this is because I imagine garments as constantly changing during the course of a day and adapting to the wearer’s needs for self-expression. So it’s a matter of understanding many different creative tools and using them to make the most of what an interactive piece of fashion can do.
How does embedding digital technologies in your clothing change the expertise needed and the types of collaborations you have?
When you start manufacturing these kinds of garments – and you work with factories, with your team – they start to understand that your creative process is changing. So, I e. for electronic factories, it’s really interesting, when they started assembling garments, for example a miniskirt, they didn’t really know exactly how the product’s different parts will combine in the end, but when they saw the final garment assembled they said “Oh I would totally wear that” and it simplified the production process as everyone was able to communicate and understand the final result.
When you work with collaborators, the briefing is both conceptual and practical such as “we are designing a new fabric, but don’t think of it as if it is just one image on a garment, think of about how it looks over time”. I think that there is always this component of time and how things change over time so that they are not static and they are not always the same. This outlook changes the attitude and the mindset of the designer, as well.
How is your Fashion-Tech business model different to ‘traditional’ fashion businesses?
Some of the designs that we create are meant to be used over and over, for many years. These garments are high-tech, Bluetooth connected and made with interactive fabrics, and through mobile Apps a wearer can control, change and update what the garments look like. One thing that we are doing is trying to change the fashion ecosystem, we hope that by manufacturing less garments, that can be infinitely updatable, we can avoid having garments ending up in landfills like some fast fashion garments do. To make the whole fashion industry adopt this way of thinking and manufacturing, at large, and immediately, is near impossible, but it can be something that is going to happen more and more often in the future, so we need to start working towards that.
How is the Covid-19 pandemic impacting fashion and fashion-tech?
The pandemic has brought into stark relief the inefficiency and outdated ecosystem of the fashion industry, with a number of fast fashion retailers bearing the brunt of it with store closures due to supply chain issues that had not been foreseen. In the context of high-fashion, are exemplary are the letters of Armani and many other designers that are taking this chance to refocus on what fashion should be and how it should be presented, manufactured, distributed, and consumed. The fashion industry as it is now puts immense pressure on the designers and creative teams and it impacts greatly on idea development by putting profits above research and development needs.
A very important topic is also the education of the consumer, there are still consumers that prefer to buy a 5 dollar t-shirt, and when we think about retailers/distributors trying to pay designers less and less so that designers in turn try to pay manufacturers less and the factory workers even a smaller percentage, it truly looks like a never ending vicious circle. If all these factors don’t change then the system will go back to the old cycle, we are at a juncture in which the true cost of fashion needs to be understood by all that participate in the system. The fashion tech sector offers a number of opportunities during the pandemic, and it is important to focus on designing a better future, rather than trying to replicate a system that has not really been working for both creatives and consumers for a very long time, by proposing true long term change rather than naive scenarios that might be unachievable in the short term.
Has Covid-19 brought any specific new challenges and opportunities for the fashion-tech start-ups/businesses?
There is definitely an opportunity in reimagining products and what those should be and do, but there should also be a reimagining of the supply chain, the production, the distribution, and the presentation of a collection that can become infinitely smarter when technology is applied in a compelling manner, not just by using VR goggles to watch a runway show as it seems to be the trend, but to truly create something new and unique.