San Francisco where Fashion and Tech Catwalk
San Francisco isn’t usually seen as a fashion hub, but it has a style of its own. Or several styles, which, community fashion line, Betabrand tries to cultivate into an eclectic site of crowdfunded pieces. Since there is such a juxtaposition of tech business, bicycle culture, and outdoor appreciation in Northern California, there is a unique opportunity within the Bay Area to create clothes that appeal to more than one of these niches - and to do it with personality. California business wear can be far more quirky in this way. This in particular means making specific items that can be worn not just to the office, but while cycling, or for working out afterwards.
Certainly that model has been working out for the company that launched in 2009 with unique ideas and a business model. They roll out designs submitted by designers, and their user base votes on them. If the designs get enough votes, or in some cases preorders, the items go to production. This crowdsourcing/crowdfunding model has created quite the community, but to further branch out, Betabrand has organized a local event that they refer to as Silicon Valley Fashion Week?!, punctuation theirs. SVFW?! takes the mission of Betabrand, emphasizing community, and bridging supposed disparate clothing needs. And dials it up with Silicon Valley’s special sauce: tech development.
Combining Silicon Valley and the fashion culture seemed to make the whole thing bemusing at best, if not completely confusing, as noted by both the New York Times’ Fashion & Style section and SFGate Lifestyle. But according to Chris Lindland, founder and CEO, the connections are diverse between these worlds: “the show is meant to be a crazy mash-up of the 'Maker' movement, 'Burning Man,' and the fashion/tech world.”
The collaboration between fashion and tech is nothing new - the two have always had symbiosis that existed before wearables and 3D printing. Engineering has brought to life new materials from which to make fabric, as far reaching as milk protein and seaweed. Design and manufacturing developments have impacted what we expect from our clothes, and how we access them. But it has certainly taken a much more visible turn at SVFW, where drones float down a runway support apparel-laden hangers. "It's beautiful, it's amazing, because they flutter like ghosts in the air," Lindland commented.
Along with their own designs, over 40 brands partnered including Adobe, Bloom Bra, and Boho Coats. Pebble (the wearable tech company now owned by FitBit) showcased a hoodie with extendable sleeves that featured a panel that the wearer can move to access a smartwatch. High-end tech jewelry brand Tinsel created an aluminum and fabric earbud- necklace. Alison Lewis designed an interactive handbag, t-shirt and a dress that carried LEDs manipulated by an app or the wearer’s heartbeat. Lewis also hinted at an underlying message of this Fashion Week. “Technology is a tool. It’s how we use it that’s really exciting,” she said. “We could have less clothing in our closets, and have pieces that change, and work with our moods and personalities on a daily basis.”
This kind of sounds similar to the fashion/tech lab of Shuri (King T'Challa's sister) in Wakanda, Black Panther.
But besides a few days a year when the brand organizes an event like Fashion Week, Betabrand uses tech in its everyday existence. By virtue of its creative process, each step has more tech than the more traditional fashion line. Instead of winning customers at the end of the production process, visitors to the site see design mockups and even computer generated versions of the garment. With some of the items, like the sneaker/cowboy boot shoe, they use digital knits. In the case of the shoe, that means the upper piece can be waterproof, and still flexible and stretchy like an athletic shoe.
Betabrand has built up significantly from their flagship design, the Cordarounds, men’s slim fit pants where the corduroy wale is turned sideways: oriented horizontally rather than vertically. Their early pieces were just such hybrids of active/lounge and business wear, like the Executive Hoodie or Yoga Dress Pants. They both aim to appear business casual, suitable for formal occasions, yet designed to be extremely comfortable as well. One favorite aspect of these comfort-oriented pieces is the higher incidence of pockets per design.
Just like Betabrand’s story shows, fashion has so many ways to collaborate with technology. It is of itself a form of technology, translated by the influences of art, and the needs of the human form. In SVFW?! there were many pieces that melded these three forces together in the many forms of aesthetically-pleasing wearables, and in the case of the Pebble hoodie, a proactive approach to the increased popularity of wearable tech. That design was featured on the Betabrand site mercifully without its original moniker of Smarthole Hoodie, and sold out. Hopefully we will get to see another Silicon Valley Fashion Week. It will certainly be fascinating for many more reasons than the interesting punctuation choices.