Initially, when I thought about fashion technology, I immediately feared that some cold, unfeeling algorithm was going to take away the need for a fashion designer like me. It would take all of the heart and soul out of the creative process and reduce it to a series of events most likely to occur at check out – completed purchase for one blue shirt, size medium, long sleeve, button front. As designers, we do this as designing to metrics, but then there’s room for interpretation and freedom of expression. What’s more, there is the human emotion, the gut check that signals the way to the next best trend, not simply a rehash and remix of your previous choices. Technology where it has its benefits, may not signal the way to true innovation--or does it?
So, what could fashion technology really be good for? Well, a lot of things. The cost to design a new collection can be astronomically high especially if you develop your product from scratch in the US and rely on a bevy of other experts to realize your ideas. What’s more, the fashion poles of New York and Los Angeles make getting your product made in the US that much more difficult especially when you reside in the heartland hundreds of miles away from “the industry”. As a designer, the product development costs were almost insurmountable. Even after efficiently and effectively managing my production, my product development costs were looming out there in the background sucking my hard-earned revenue dry. The ability to reduce these development costs upfront would have had a dramatic impact on my ability to have the capital to hone in on the product that was really performing and improve my return on my investment.
Fast-forward to an opportunity I came across through one of my buyers of my namesake brand, Nina Means. She told me “you’re going to think I’m crazy, but I think you should put your hat in the ring for this new position”. The position was for the Director of a Fashion Incubator at Austin Community College in Austin, TX. Now, I had already been working away trying to build a brand in Austin with many pain points from the logistics of development, quality control, managing timely deliveries and the list tumbled down. I got it done, but not without exorbitant shipping fees -- shipping everything from fabric to patterns to product all over the continental US to land in a small specialty store on time. Enough already! And what about this job?
As it turned out, the City of Austin had approached Austin Community College to create a Fashion Incubator to solve the issues that designers like me were having with creating gainful business from Central Texas. They teamed up with Gerber Technology to provide state of the art equipment to startup fashion businesses in the Central Texas region – a complete digital solutions package. This technology makes it possible for designers to slash their product development cost by allowing designers to realize an entire collection digitally in 3D before a single piece of fabric is cut. It also makes it possible for those patterns to be housed and manipulated digitally for future use eliminating the need to keep racks of paper patterns.