By Amber Griggs 

This weekend was Murray Hill Institute's 5th annual Fashion Intelligence Symposium. The Fashion Institute of Technology was once again a gracious host for these cutting-edge conversations. It was a lively and informative afternoon with over 50 people in attendance. Our world is rapidly transforming. The three speakers addressed various areas where technology is bringing exciting changes to the fashion industry. The topics of sustainability, privacy, transparency and shifts in consumers’ taste came up again and again.

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The first speaker, Janine Just, of Janine Just, Inc, a PR firm, spoke to us about blockchain. IBM recently mentioned that “blockchain will do for business what the internet did for communication.” She explained that blockchain is a complete ledger of all transactions that take place for a particular ecosystem. In other words, we will now be able to quickly see the lifecycle of products from where the materials originated to the point of sale by the consumer. While this still is a very new system and not yet widespread the implications are massive. Since blockchain is centralized in a database and updated in realtime it can be used to tackle counterfeits, track inventory, manage sales coupons and customer information and help enforce labor rights along the supply chain. Tasks that once took weeks will now take less than a few hours. The hope is that this new transparency will create a more ethical environment for every person involved. 

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The second speaker was Michael Ferraro, the Executive Director of the FIT/Infor Design and Technology Lab also known as DTech. He explained how students nowadays, especially millennials, are demanding transparency and sustainability. Students and faculty at DTech lab have been working on a handful of exciting projects.  Michael spoke about a recent partnership with the brand Tommy Hilfiger called "Reimagining Retail." Over 600,000 images from social media, the runways and magazines were analyzed along with another 15,000 from the Tommy Hilfiger archives. They developed a program that instantly provides a visual recognition of trends in cognitive pattern, color, style and silhouette. It is like having a brilliant design assistant with you at all times. 

Michael mentioned how designers understand that apparel is going to start doing more than merely clothe the body but also interact with it. We are moving towards smart clothes. Another project they are working on with designers from Scandinavia is a backpack with a removable fannypack for cyclists. You, the rider, will be able to download directions to your destination and the smart backpack would buzz letting you know which way to turn while simultaneously signaling your movements to anyone behind you. He also stressed how the motivation behind buying is changing. We will start seeing more of a rental economy and less items being produced. It seems that companies like Rent the Runway are just one answer to the cries for more sustainability. 

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The final speaker Ilaria Varoli came all the way from Toronto to speak to us about the groundbreaking future of textiles. As the executive Vice President and Co-founder of Myant, Inc she reminded us that fabric is what connects humans to technology. It literally touches 100% of the population. We all have an emotional attachment to textiles. They protect us. Ilaria spoke of how this can be a corrective towards present society’s movement towards disconnection. Oftentimes the most marginalized members of society: the elderly, the very young, the remote and the sick are often the most removed. The textiles used in clothing can be one way of uniting us.  

Myant has end-to-end capabilities. They have created a space for collaboration between engineers and textile designers. They have an in-house brand called Skiin (the double i stands for intelligent interface). Among the many fascinating projects that she spoke about I will just mention a few. They have designed a shirt that continuously monitors blood pressure, a knee brace that can create heat and electronic stimulation, an eye mask that tracks rem cycles and sleep patterns, they are developing a pregnancy band which could check the vital signs of both the mother and the baby. Just as the iPhone consolidated the need to own many devices into one, they hope that these smart e-textiles will soon sync up and streamline our devices. With these technologies the hope is that this baseline knowledge will help prevent medical episodes before they happen as well as monitor symptoms.    

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Between the presentations, questions and answers, networking and exploring vendor displays, everyone walked away with new food for thought. Murray Hill Institute encourages person-oriented leadership and keeping the dignity of the human person at the center of importance. We saw how the new waves of technology are showing us that mass solutions do not always work and we need personalization and transparency to help foster the high levels of ethics and sustainability that many consumers are craving. We are just starting to see the positive social impact that blockchain and smart clothes have provided. It was an exciting day and we are already looking forward to next year’s cutting-edge conference. 

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