Fashion 4.0, No. 14: Variant Debuts With Intel at NRF Retail's Big Show

Variant Malibu is proud to share that we made our New York debut at the country’s biggest retail convention NRF Retail’s Big Show and the exciting news that we partnered with none other than Intel to help showcase the future of in-store experiences. On opening day of the convention Jan. 12, Intel announced a partnership with Area 15, one of the first purpose-built experiential retail and entertainment complexes in the U.S., set to open April 2020 in Las Vegas. To help foster the next wave in immersive experiential retail design, the tech giant will launch the Intel Experience Incubation Hub, a multiuse venue located next to Area 15 for innovation and collaboration in real time. Variant, along with Artist TRAV, Papinee, Pressure Point Creative and ThenWhat Inc., is thrilled to be one the early collaborators featured in hub and previewed at NRF within Intel’s megabooth at the Jacob K. Javitz Convention Center. Hundreds of retailers, tech executives and media visited over three days, touching our 3D knitwear products and trying out our Customizer. Here, we share our takeaways:   Engage Customers, Foster Collaboration Retailers were fascinated by the Variant Customizer’s potential to create customer interaction in-store.  As our founder and CEO Garrett Gerson (pictured below talking to a German journalist) said, “Our customization platform is not only a retail solution for consumer engagement that allows stores to facilitate collaboration between customers and brands, but it’s also a design tool that helps brands be reactive in real time to make and launch products that engage their customer base.” A design process that used to take days can now take minutes, and customers can demo every iteration of color and motif with the Customizer, without having to create samples. The many tech-forward reps that also attend the show were also attracted to the Customizer as a program that could be manipulated on the back-end to merge customization and production. They’re talking about customizing a customization program, and we’re here for it.   On-Demand’s Many Meanings With regards to frequency of production, retailers weren’t necessarily ready to jump into on-demand orders, but they were interested in using customization as a way to limit inventory by favoring smaller orders that can be produced more frequently. When a style gains popularity, the option for on-demand orders becomes an advantage.  It’s also scalable, as orders can be batched together and sent to multiple factory partners.  Also enabling reduced inventory, the on-demand model allows retailers to order exact quantities and sizes when they need them, rather than projecting or guessing what they’ll need at the beginning of a season. Sustainability Still Top of Mind As the basis of all our 3D-knit garments, sustainable fibers and yarns are an important differentiating factor for Variant. The items we showcased at the Intel booth were made with natural, biodegradable cotton and wool or recycled post-consumer nylon. The process of local 3D knitting itself is 95 percent “cleaner” than traditional factory cut-and-sew because knitting machines emit fewer greenhouse gasses and products don’t have to travel as far to get to the customer. As always, thanks for reading and please keep following us to learn more about what we're doing to push fashion forward in the new decade.  With Gratitude, The Variant Team Have a tip? Email us at Interested in collaborating with Variant? Fill out an application here.     

Fashion 4.0, No. 13: 2020 Vision at CES Includes Robots, AR, 5G and More

The 2020 Consumer Electronics Show, which wrapped last week in Las Vegas, unveiled a myriad of new tech gadgets to the public. This year, sustainability was also at the core of the message – and not just with electronic vehicles. Impossible Foods, the plant-based foods company, touted its roots in technology as a means of creating sustainable food sources (we're sure their samples tasted better than other convention center fare). Here are the top trends predicted to impact consumers in the next decade: AR GLASSES DO MORE Google Glass might not have taken off when it was introduced in 2014, and Snap Inc's Spectacles, now in their third iteration, are just beginning to ramp up with collaborations in the fashion sphere. So what's new in augmented reality, virtual reality and extended reality spectacles? CES gave Norm Glasses, made by Human Capable, its Innovation Award for its products that look and feel like regular eyewear with "smartwatch features for your face," said Consumer Technology Association's VP of Research Steve Koenig. Fashion-tech companies like Lectra are also adapting AR technology for use in fabric selection, design and pattern-making, as well as trouble-shooting issues with fabric-cutting machinery.  EARBUDS AMP UP We've come to expect more than just the absence of wires from our headphones, thanks to the ubiquitous Apple AirPods. In addition to longer battery life, better noise reduction and other smart features, innovators are also touting "hearables," or audio-enhanced "wearables," i.e. headphones that double as hearing aids.  STREAMING GOES BITE-SIZE Joining the Netflix, Hulu, and Disney+ fray is Quibi, the new and heavily-funded streaming media platform led by former Yahoo CEO Meg Whitman and studio mogul Jeffrey Katzenberg. The platform specializes in "quick bites" of content, or videos of 10 minutes or less, whether it's longform storytelling parsed out into several chapters, or standalone reality programs, documentaries, food shows and daily news programs. Its focus is Millennials who digest content differently from their parents, primarily on mobile. Its partnership with T-Mobile could go a long way in making it a household name.  Photo Courtesy of LG TV UPS HD ANTE Forget 4K resolution screens; 8K is set to become new normal with even more pixels than you thought necessary. Of course, people will need to start shooting content in 8K, but we're sure that's coming. There are also juiced-up versions of today's LCD and OLED screen tech: Samsung's "MicroLED" and TCL's more affordable "Mini-LED."  And don't be surprised if your TV one day goes vertical to match the mobile viewing experience. ELECTRIC VEHICLES MULTIPLY Tesla isn't the most accessible car, but with batteries becoming lighter, cheaper and longer-lasting, we'll see more affordable eco-friendly EVs in the years to come. As for cool design, Sony unveiled its first concept car, the Vision-S, to demonstrate how its technology could be applied to the auto industry. And luxury giant Mercedes-Benz also rolled out a concept car called the AVTR, designed with Avatar creator James Cameron. Of the cars you can reserve now, Fisker's $29,999 Ocean compact electric SUV is a sustainable affordable luxury option with vegan “leather” and parts made of recycled tires and ocean plastics. Deliveries begin later this year with leases starting from $379.  Photo courtesy of Samsung ROBOTS & AI GO HOME Samsung's Ballie robot, which is essentially a mobile version of a smart home speaker that looks and rolls like a tennis ball, can follow its owner around the house like a Star Wars droid. At the same time, AI is being infused into just about every consumer product out there to make them more smarter and more efficient. We're already used to our thermostats knowing more, so why not our hairdryers, microwaves and other everyday essential electronics? As always, thanks for following along and we hope that your 2020 is off to an inspiring start.  With Gratitude, The Variant Team Have a tip? Email us at Interested in collaborating with Variant? Fill out an application here. 

Fashion 4.0, No. 12: New Year, New Standard of Sustainable Style

Welcome to 2020!  A new year, a new decade and a new hope for all things we wish to improve in our lives and our world. That’s why we couldn’t be more excited about the New Standard Institute, an organization that brings "leading scientists together to cut through the marketing noise to develop a meaningful, data-lead roadmap on turning an industry we love—fashion—into one that is in line with the environmental and social limits of our planet.” Those are the words of founder and director Maxine Bédat, also the founding CEO of sustainable fashion company Zady and a former international lawyer. As Bédat writes in Harper’s Bazaar's Sustainable Style series, created in partnership with the New Standard Institute, her hope is to set the fashion industry on a sustainable path forward. After tracking clothes throughout the supply chain and doing copious amounts of research, Bédat shared three critical takeaways from her research. Climate Change The fashion industry, as we’ve shared here before, contributes more than eight percent of all greenhouse gasses on the planet. Bédat shares the sobering statistic that in 30 years time, more than 25 percent of the world’s entire carbon budget will go to the fashion industry IF things don’t change.  The good news is, major companies like Levi’s ARE changing the way they make clothes.  Here’s something we didn’t know: most of fashion’s carbon emissions – more than 75 percent – come from the mills, where fiber is spun into yarn and where yarn is woven into fabric. Bédat says the only way a fashion company can be truly sustainable is to lower its carbon footprint at its mills. A fashion company may not own its own mill, but it CAN source yarns and fabrics from those with cleaner practices. Online platforms like Thr3efold, which we profiled last month, can help brands find sustainable manufacturing partners and fabrics. Fair Labor Practices and Women’s Rights In both developing nations and here at home in the U.S., garment workers, most of whom are women, are among the lowest paid in the world. Working conditions are often unsafe. The tragic consequences of this have put a spotlight on fashion manufacturers to improve conditions in factories and to measure, report, and most importantly, increase, how much workers are paid. Again, it’s a chance for companies both established and just starting out, to examine their supply chains. Work with factories that adhere to higher standards, and set your own standards by creating jobs with fair pay and good working conditions. Consumers CAN Make a Difference At the end of the day, people will always buy things, but they are increasingly conscious about what and how they buy. The New Standard Institute is rolling out a global call to action, which you can join here, that calls for brands to align their environmental goals with science and data and to be transparent in the process. Brands do listen to what their customers want, and if what we want is change, we have to tell them. At Variant, we’ve been listening to what consumers want and learning from our past experiences what not to do when launching a new company. We hoped that there were other companies out there who felt the same way, and The New Standard Institute is an amazing affirmation that there are MANY people and companies who see urgent need for change in an industry that we love. Modern-day innovations in technology and science are part of the way forward, but it’s the PEOPLE that make a brand what it is, and the consumers (aka human beings) who can convince brands to make changes. With Gratitude, The Variant Team Have a tip? Email us at Interested in collaborating with Variant? Fill out an application here. 

Fashion 4.0, No. 11: Hospitality Meets Circular Fashion, Good Reads & Returns Redux

As 2019 comes to a close, we wanted to say thank you for reading our blog and joining us on the journey toward more sustainable fashion. We also wanted to call out some good news and food for thought as we begin our holidays. The news that Rent The Runway has partnered with W Hotels to make rental clothes available for guests when they check in was a great step towards circular fashion becoming even more ingrained in people’s lives. These megabrands are joining forces to make fashion and hospitality come together in a way that’s also sustainable. Instead of buying a new piece of clothing to wear once and possibly discard, women now have the option to rent contemporary and high-end fashions, and return them so that they can be worn again by others. Now, the convenience of having clothes shipped directly to a business or vacation destination means a greater customer experience and more streamlined logistics. The first brand we developed with the Variant Platform, Calamigos Dry Goods, is an apparel and home lifestyle collection for Calamigos Guest Ranch, a resort in Malibu. The collection is available for retail and not rental, but it also marries the concepts of fashion, hospitality and sustainability. By creating custom, on-demand knitwear pieces, Calamigos guests and customers are investing in items that they’ll wear or use more than once, and hopefully keep for many years. The ability to create and order a custom piece and have it waiting in your room at the Guest Ranch is not only luxurious, it’s also convenient. While it’s not the scale of a Rent The Runway or W Hotel chain, the experience is equally delightful for customers, and has been a highly useful way for the Variant platform to test the waters. Photo Credit: I Leanne Luce (@leanne_luce)   For those who want to take a deeper dive into all the ways that technology has impacted fashion and sustainability has become the new mandate, check out one of our favorite sites FashNerd, where founding editor-in-chief Muchaneta Kapfunde rounds up the six best books about sustainable fashion. We covered Dana Thomas’ “Fashionopolis” in a previous blog entry, but the other tomes on the list are equally engrossing, especially Leanne Luce’s “Artificial Intelligence for Fashion: How AI is Revolutionizing the Fashion Industry.” The New York-based Google product manager has focused her career on the intersection of design and technology and has worked at Harvard University, Otherlab and Tendenci and is the founder the blog The Fashion Robot and the lifestyle brand Omura. Talk about #goals for 2020! Finally, we, like others the retail business, are wondering what the growing number of online merchandise returns after the holidays will mean for the fashion industry. This statistics-packed Forbes article written by startup founder Gulnaz Khusainova shares some staggering stats, including: returns are expected to cost U.S. retailers $550 billion in 2020.  Khusainova argues that one way to minimize fashion item returns would be to make apparel sizing more accurate. We fully agree, especially since high-ticket customized items can’t be returned to a retailer’s inventory. The drive to create better fit and sizing technology through visual recognition software, body scanning and machine learning, is one of the most interesting and exciting challenges in fashion-technology. It’s one of the many things that technology is helping companies to achieve, bringing us one step closer to revolutionizing the fashion experience for the better.   With Gratitude, The Variant Team Have a tip? Email us at Interested in collaborating with Variant? Fill out an application here. 

Fashion 4.0, No. 10: Sourcing Ethical & Sustainable Factories Just Got Easier

Thr3efold founder Jessica Kelly didn’t always know so much about how clothes were actually made. She originally worked on the “front-end” of fashion in public relations and marketing. “I came into what I’m doing now in the business-to-business community through a ‘back door,’” said Kelly.  A couple of years ago, on a mission trip to Zimbabwe, she came face-to-face with the social injustice that people in developing nations can face. “It just didn’t sit right with me. There was so much to be done, and people weren’t getting much help from their government,” she recalled. That trip led her to visit to India, where she began to research factories that had higher social standards. “India has some of the leading labor standards in the fashion industry, and I visited several factories that rescued women out of sex trafficking rings taught them life skills like financial planning. What they all had in common was awful websites. It was very clear to me that it was way too hard for people to find these good factories, and if you did work with factories overseas, the confidence level in the labor standards was way too elusive. That was my light-bulb moment,” she said. Last summer, she launched a crowd-funding campaign to develop the technology for Thr3Efold (IG: @thr3efold), an ethical manufacturing platform and online community that connects apparel and soft accessories brands with factories around the world that bear leading ethical labor certifications. The site officially launched in beta mode this past September.   Here’s how it works: brands pay an annual fee to become members, which gives them access to a database of factories. Brands can filter their search based on production categories, quantity or country. Each factory has a profile page, and members can message a factory directly through the platform, as well as upload tech packs or designs to multiple factories in order to make cost inquiries and compare pricing. Once a project goes into production, Thr3efold’s user-friendly interface acts as a project management tool that’s easily viewable from a dashboard. "Now that we are getting brands on the platform, we see what works what doesn’t,” said Kelly.  “If you are scrolling through factories, there’s an extra button to message them and/or start a project right away, so you don’t lose track of a factory and you can continue scrolling.” That factory also gets automatically sent to the user dashboard to ensure it’s not “lost.” On the factory side, Thr3efold charges a scaling commission based on the amount of orders a factory receives through the platform. “We want more factories on the platform, so we don’t charge them until they know they are getting work,” said Kelly. Part of Kelly’s work includes making sure each factory’s ethical labor certificates are valid and up-to-date. She’s continually sourcing new factories by working with the certifying bodies themselves, and she hopes to take more scouting trips as well, because “nothing replaces being there in person.”   Initial members include smaller and start-up brands that don’t yet have a supply chain set up. One of her goals is to onboard factories that can scale along with a brand as it goes from needing smaller quantities to larger ones.  Thr3eFold also hosts an online community called Deadstock District, where brands can communicate about leftover fabrics that they wish to sell or trade. Right now, a marketplace version exists on Facebook, but Kelly hopes to integrate it into the Thr3efold platform next.  “One of our goals is to facilitate more B2B fabric sourcing.  There’s a huge need for more accessible deadstock fabrics and right now they tends to only be available in smaller quantities. We have factories overseas that have larger quantities, but the key is getting them to list their fabric liability (their unused fabric) on the platform. I’d like it to be a marketplace like eBay where they can set prices and work out logistics themselves,” said Kelly. Her biggest revelation since launching Thr3efold is just how complex clothing production really is.  “I went into this idea because my background was not production, and I was naïve enough about how it works that I jumped all in,” she said. “The more I learn about it, the more surprised I am that we get anything made. I recently saw a source map project that tracked the supply chain of Vans shoes. It takes 30 countries to make one pair Vans.” Kelly says the reason it’s so hard for brands to find factories is that the whole process is decentralized, with no one place brands can go to look for things. “Forget having standards on top of that. It’s definitely ripe for the picking to be organized and improved. At the end of the day, we are a factor to make fashion production more ethical and sustainable.” Here's to Jessica Kelly and others like her who are working hard to move fashion forward to a new and better place. We hope that you found her story as helpful and inspiring as we did.  With Gratitude, The Variant Team Have a tip? Email us at Interested in collaborating with Variant? Fill out an application here. 

Fashion 4.0, No. 9: What Makes a Brand Sustainable? Breaking Down the Basics

The word "sustainability" is used so much in fashion that while it's become a familiar word, a lot of people are still confused about what is actually means. The fact is, it means a lot of things. The Oxford Dictionary defines sustainability, as it pertains to our planet, as "avoidance of the depletion of natural resources in order to maintain an ecological balance," as in, "the pursuit of global environmental sustainability." That covers a broad swath when it comes to apparel manufacturing and the entire clothing supply chain, which starts with sourcing raw materials and ends with clothing being shipped to your door. Here, we break down a few of the basics. WHAT IS SUSTAINABLY SOURCED MATERIAL?  All finished clothing starts with raw materials, whether that's a natural crop such as cotton or bamboo, or an animal product such as wool or leather, or a man-made material such as nylon. There are ways that all these types of materials can be sourced more sustainably. Cotton, for example, is a crop that takes vast amounts of water to cultivate, as well as earth-polluting pesticides to keep the crops from being eaten by bugs. While we don't see cotton farming going away any time soon, there are different ways to go about it. Organic cotton is farmed without the use of pesticides. Sustainably farmed cotton means that the workers who grow the cotton are paid fair wages and their working conditions meet standards set by human rights regulatory groups. Cotton still takes a lot of water to farm, though. Plants such as bamboo or beech trees (the basis for fibers that make up fabrics such as Modal and Tencel)  require less water to grow and are also quick to renew themselves when cut down (unlike cotton, which needs to be planted and picked each season). Therefore, these materials are also deemed more sustainable.  When brands refer to sustainably sourced leather it typically means that the animals were already being used for food, therefore not being bred specifically for their hides, or in some cases it means "deadstock" or unused leather that was never made into clothing, or vintage or second-hand leather that's been "upcycled" into new pieces. The dyes used to tan and color the leather can also be more sustainable if they're derived from plants or natural minerals, rather than man-made chemicals. Finally, man-made materials such as nylon and plastic are made with chemicals, but innovative companies such as Unifi and Aquafil are finding ways to remake old or "post-consumer" materials such as old carpets or plastic water bottles into new-again fibers that can be used to make clothes. Econyl is the trademarked name for one brand of regenerated nylon that designers like Stella McCartney are using in their clothes. It's "circular," meaning that it came from old materials, was made into something new, and can be broken down and remade again and again.  There are also several science-driven technologies that are making materials out of things like algae, cacti, mushroom fungus, yeast and other natural substances that can be grown in a lab using very little water or electricity. We've written about algae foam, mushroom leather, cactus leather and other exciting things that we hope will become widely-used alternatives to non-sustainable materials.  WHAT DO ZERO WASTE AND ZERO IMPACT MEAN?  The term "zero waste" in fashion means that no excess materials were thrown away while creating a garment. Typical garment-making or manufacturing has a 10-30% waste rate. For example, with traditional cut-and-sew clothes, each pattern piece is cut from a bolt of fabric. While the pieces may be placed close together, there is still excess fabric that ends up on the cutting room floor. Newer techniques like 3D knitting, which means that pieces can be knit in three-dimensional shapes rather than a flat piece of fabric, eliminate this type of waste, and have a waste rate of just 1.65%.  "Zero impact" fashion means that there's no negative impact on the environment when it comes to making things. That would mean: no carbon emissions from freight trucks or planes delivering raw materials or finished goods; no chemicals released into the soil or water supply; no excess materials going into landfills, and so on. It's nearly impossible to be 100% zero impact, but many companies, including Variant, try their best to come as close as possible, and were founded on the idea of making things in a new way versus the old way.  WHAT IS LOCAL MANUFACTURING?   Local means close to home, so think about the factory that made your t-shirt being closer to your home than say, China, where a great deal of things, not just clothes, are made. There are many upsides to this: higher-quality items because it's much easier to keep tabs on something when it's being made closely; fewer carbon emissions because your clothes don't have to travel as far to reach you; quicker fulfillment and delivery. In the "old days" many things were made close to home, or even in the home, but larger economic forces eventually made it cheaper and more efficient to make things overseas. Now, the tide is turning back to local manufacturing, and we're fortunate to be a part of this movement making the change. We hope one day that our products will reach customers globally and be made locally, close to our customers, wherever they may live. Thank you again for following us and joining us on the journey.    With Gratitude, The Variant Team Have a tip? Email us at Interested in collaborating with Variant? Fill out an application here.