October 13, 2016

Meet Dr. Laura-Ann McGill: Cardiologist, PhD candidate and GB triathlete

Bonkers! How else could you describe a heart doctor in the middle of ground-breaking PhD research into de-mystifying the intricate fibres of our heart muscle who takes up triathlon as a distraction from desk work? Meet Dr Laura-Ann McGill, or LA as she's fondly known.  She's a gifted doctor (I know this first hand - she's an ex-colleague of mine) who juggles pioneering medical work with national level sport and a hectic social life. Just back from a vodka-fuelled wedding in Poland, she sat down with me at The Hospital Club, London to talk career, sexism in the workplace (yawn, yes it still exists, but it's waning) sport, life and style. Buckle up - this Glaswegian lass has smarts, style and charm in spades. Oh and we're also post-photoshoot at Imperial College, so snaps (sorry!) to our photographer Nancy for the pics, clothes by me, styled by LA. Enjoy the ride!

 

 

When asked 'Why Medicine', LA, in her typical no nonsense style, explains that by a process of elimination (she's allergic to most animals, so that ruled out becoming a Vet and desk work was way too sedentary) she settled on what she loves most - people, academia and being run off her feet. Her nervous energy and love of meeting people every day and getting feedback from patients (she's firmly focussed on curative medicine, steering clear of medicine that is merely disease modifying but doesn't offer patients a cure) makes her that rare mix of smart, caring and tireless that makes for a brilliant doctor. 

 

 

Why Cardiology in particular? LA explains that after initially ruling it out (due to its heavily male dominated and seemingly inaccessible nature) she returned to it on the advice of a mentor, 'a Dundonian chap, who saw that I was made for cardiology. He helped me get my CV together and that was that, in 2007'. Now increasingly populated by women, LA recommends Cardiology as a diverse and rewarding speciality.

 

 

Wind forward to 2015 and LA is writing up critical findings from her research conducted at The Royal Brompton Hospital, London that will help us understand how and why the muscle fibres within the heart lengthen and shorten in multiple directions as the heart muscle contracts and relaxes. This may be the key to understanding why certain individuals suffer from Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy - which can cause sudden death at a young age. LA explains that we need to understand how the heart muscle cells, or myocytes, change in shape and position during heart muscle contraction and relaxation and she has been investigating this using Diffusion Tensor Imaging, which incidentally creates gorgeous images in addition to the important anatomical and physiological information they provide (cue my brain gear change from scientific to creative - imagine programming the MUSE image below into digital knitwear!)  For anyone familiar with MUSE's album The 2nd Law, remember the cover? It is a Diffusion Tensor Image: 

 

  

**See the video for Muse - The 2nd Law: Unsustainable herefeaturing a CT brain scan looped over neurological synapse graphics. (LA saw MUSE live and the show incorporated Diffusion Tensor imaging. She pointed me to this knowing I'm passionate about fusing science and the arts. **

The research LA is doing investigates why the myocytes are smooth and regular in normal heart muscle (see A and D below) but in disarray in patients with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy B,C,E,F) and how the heart can be imaged to detect the condition and prevent sudden death. 

 

Image Credit: American Heart Association

 

Asked what grabs her most about her current research LA is enthusiastic about the recruitment process and constant (and un-rushed) contact she has with her patients, rather than the usual 10 minute express NHS clinic appointment that leaves little time to reassure patients and answer their concerns. Research has led her to question her (in depth) knowledge of her speciality and never be afraid to challenge the norm, despite what's generally accepted. She learns more every day about the intricacies and presentation of cardiac illness. This stance strikes me as refreshing when I consider my Cardiologist colleagues, for some of whom admitting they don't have all the answers would not come so comfortably. I wonder if that's what makes LA special too. She is always searching for a better outcome and seeking complete truth rather than resting on limitations of existing research and generally accepted norms. 

 

 

At this point, reflecting on LA's workload and commitment to research I have to ask, 'why did you get Triathlon while doing your PhD?' Boredom at being desk-bound is the response. She talks me through her journey from seeing the Triathlon event on telly during the Olympics, finding out that Imperial College (where her PhD is being conducted) had a triathlon club and a brush with a streamer-laden bike-rider in her first triathlon event to eventually asking a fellow competitor where they got their fancy (GB) triathlon wetsuit, neatly leading up to her way surpassing her expectations and achieving GB level timing in several competitive triathlons and subsequent qualification for European and World Championship events. She was a sporty teen and a keen athlete but I nonetheless find it incredible that LA stops off at the Serpentine on her way to work to do her swimming training and cycles hundreds of kilometres per week. All the while we've had fun nights out after our photoshoot for the SS15 collection and the odd house party and after work drink, so she holds down a social life and time for family, who are her greatest influence and inspiration. She gives particular credit to her mum and dad, reminiscing about her mum's hysterically joyous reaction when she emerged from the water in her first triathlon and then popped up at all the best vantage points along the way. 

 

 

Diverting to the subject of style after my rosy-cheeked response to compliments on my label (LA: I love looking at your pieces, wondering if I can identify the anatomical structures within them. The pieces are just beautiful - they fit well, they're feminine and interesting and the patterns are really eye-grabbing. BR: *blushes profusely* Thanks) we talk lycra. It's LA's weakness. Asked what piece of clothing defines her personal styles she replies 'Five years ago - skinny jeans. Now its probably lycra. Just lycra. My favourite phrase is  "I had no idea I needed this". She's achieved platinum customer status at Wiggle and has a love/hate relationship with online shopping (loving the always available online shopping experience and delivery to the door - the drawback being how easy it is to spend! )

 

 

 

With a couple of months left to conclude her PhD and the World Triathlon Championships in Chicago this month, LA is in overdrive. She's heading back to clinical work in the NHS in October and in 18 months she'll be preparing to take on a Consultancy post - the milestone achievement of becoming a fully qualified specialist after a decade and a half of intensive study, work and research. Hats and lycra off, LA. We're cheering you on all the way. Thanks for the inspiration! 
Follow LA on Twitter 
Read more about LA's work here
See LA's shoot for our SS15 Campaign here
Photographer: Nancy Gibbs
LA wears the Brooke Roberts SS15 Rachael Skirt and SS11 Chunky knit top. For more info contact us
May 12, 2015

Beautiful Minds: Women in Medicine & Technology - SARAH SIMPSON

Sarah Simpson is a lawyer focused on technology at Taylor Vinters, London. It was while presenting at the inaugural FashTech conference in London that we happened to meet this incredible woman. Having taken a great interest in Brooke's presentation, Sarah met Brooke after the event. Since then she has become our go to person for all things legal within the creative and technology realms. Always professional and open minded, she has become an invaluable member of the team and we were overjoyed when she agreed to not only star in a photo shoot at the Taylor Vinters office at Tower 42, but also agreed to be interviewed for our blog.


We met up with Sarah at Tower 42 in London for the shoot and styled Sarah in our Maurits dress. Below you'll find our conversation with her where she discusses her career, her personal style and gives advice to those seeking a similar career.

 

BROOKE ROBERTS: WHAT GOT YOU INTERESTED IN YOUR FIELD OF WORK?

SARAH SIMPSON: I was really interested in law from an early age. My parents’ friends are lawyers and I’ve always looked up to them. At the age of 15 (such a long time ago!) I was lucky enough to go on work experience at one of their firms, Watson Ramsbottom in Blackburn. I really enjoyed the experience, but it was totally different from my current role. I mainly worked in their family law department, but after going to university and studying at law school, I found I had a greater interest in the commercial/corporate side of the law, rather than family law. Before I went to university I did almost change route after developing a passion for fine art and fashion design, but rather than pursue a career in fashion I decided to stick with my original plan and follow my dream of becoming a lawyer. I’m lucky that I now have the best of both worlds and can combine both interests by advising amazing fashion technology brands, such as Brooke Roberts Limited, on their intellectual property and general corporate/commercial queries.


BR: WAS YOUR CAREER PATH A STRAIGHT LINE OR MORE OF A WANDERING TRAIL?
SS: My career path has been pretty clear. Knowing that I wanted to be a lawyer from an early stage has dictated a fairly direct route. However, I did study Philosophy and Theology at Durham University, just to make me stand out from all of the other applicants I had to compete with for a legal training contract. I knew that I could always pursue a career in law using the transferable skills I developed during my degree and really enjoyed having the opportunity to study something off the beaten track.

BR: WHAT DREW YOU TO THE INDUSTRY, AND MORE SPECIFICALLY, WHAT MADE YOU WANT TO BECOME IMMERSED IN TECHNOLOGY?
SS: I undertook a legal work placement at school and loved every minute, so since then I've always focused on becoming a lawyer. I love the fast paced, ever changing and challenging environment of the law. I also love working alongside and learning from the inspiring legal brains that are my colleagues! As far as my sector goes, I’ve always been a bit of a geek and tech has only fuelled my nerd-like guilty pleasures. I'm fascinated by anything techy, particularly anything that combines technology with fashion, so a career as a tech lawyer was a natural fit.


 
BR: WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE ASPECT OF YOUR WORK?
SS: Definitely the brilliant clients I work with. I'm lucky that I get to meet and work with some incredibly talented and creative people who are at the forefront of technology. These people are also great fun and extremely interesting, which makes my job even better! I love hearing about their new concepts, watching their ideas come to life and seeing them grow into highly successful businesses, all the while being lucky enough to help them achieve their goals both from a legal and from a commercial perspective.

BR: WITH THE RECENT TECHNOLOGICAL BOOM, HOW HAS THE LEGAL LANDSCAPE CHANGED? WHAT NEW OBSTACLES, IF ANY, DO TECH LAWYERS FACE?
SS: I am much busier, but in terms of the specific legal issues I am presented with, the fundamental questions asked by my clients have not changed. The majority of my clients' legal questions centre around brand protection, general intellectual property rights, commercial contracts and investment. Clients often have questions around employment or property related issues, but since I'm not a specialist in this area I wouldn't like to offer my advice. I'm lucky that I work for a firm like Taylor Vinters, a full service international firm, that employs fantastic lawyers who specialise in these areas and who I can refer such questions to. I do find, however, that I love my job even more since I have more opportunity to work with fantastic clients who have hugely exciting and cutting edge technology businesses.

BR: WHAT PIECE OF ADVICE WOULD YOU OFFER TO THOSE LOOKING TO FOLLOW A SIMILAR CAREER PATH?
SS: Be yourself and let your personality shine through. Be persistent and determined. Once you realise what area of law you love, get as much experience in that area as you can and take as many opportunities that are available to you.

BR: WHAT DEFINING MOMEMT MADE YOU REALISE YOU HAD PICKED THE RIGHT CAREER?

SS: Arriving at Taylor Vinters in London from my old firm in Manchester, having the chance to work in the fashion technology sphere and attend fab events such as the FashTech London events where I met Brooke! For me, helping people like Brooke just brings everything together and makes my job feel so worthwhile.

BR: WHATS THE BEST PIECE OF PROFESSIONAL ADVICE YOU HAVE EVER BEEN GIVEN?

SS: My husband, Callum, is a great mentor to me. His advice is not to be afraid of taking on new challenges. Callum constantly encourages me to seek new opportunities that might put me outside of my comfort zone, so that way I never become complacent and continue to push myself to progress.

BR: AND THE BEST PIECE OF STYLE ADVICE?

SS: The best piece of style advice I have ever received was from my Mum when I was at primary school! My Mum is incredibly stylish. The advice was to “find your own style - don’t follow the crowd”.

BR: WHAT GOT YOU INTERESTED IN THE BROOKE ROBERTS BRAND?


SS: I met Moin (Brooke’s fiancée) at a FashTech London event, Brooke had a pop up stand there and gave a fab presentation on her brand. I was instantly drawn to the amazing patterns Brooke had designed from CT scans, and spoke to Moin who kindly explained the concept. I was absolutely blown away! Initially the designs attracted me, but when I heard about the concept too I became an instant fan of Brooke’s work! 



BR: WHO INSPIRED YOU MOST IN YOUR FORMATIVE YEARS?

SS: My Mum. She’s an amazing and very talented woman. My mum had me when she was quite young; she is an incredibly intelligent lady, but she didn’t have the chance to go to university. Nevertheless, whilst a full time mum (I can’t remember a time when my mum was not there for me) she progressed to become one of the top Births, Deaths & Marriages Superintendent Registrars in the country and now oversees offices in the Lancashire area. She has always managed to juggle a demanding work/life balance that I can only hope to mirror when I start a family.



BR: WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE LONDON STORE AND WHY? 

SS: Apart from Brooke, who is obviously an amazing designer, I’ve always been really interested in vintage clothes, so it would be a vintage shop. There is an 
amazing one off Brick Lane called “House of Vintage”- it’s like an Aladdin’s cave!

BR:

DO YOU HAVE A FAVOURITE MAGAZINE/PUBLICATION?

SS: At the moment I’m really into a London publication called Jocks & Nerds, and it’s free! They’ve got some really fantastic photographers on board and their articles are varied, interesting and edgy.



BR: WHAT PIECE OF CLOTHING DEFINES YOUR PERSONAL STYLE?

SS: I recently visited my favourite Manchester vintage clothes haunt – Retro Rehab on Oldham Street – and bought a fab purple 70s wrap around dress. Can’t wait to give that one a spin!

BR: DO YOU HAVE A FAVOURITE GADGET? WHAT IS IT AND WHY?

SS: Because I had been trying to get myself ready for my wedding (BR: which has happened since or interview, congratulations Sarah!) I’ve been using a misfit shine. It's an activity tracker that can be interchanged from a pendant to a bracelet. It does what it says on the tin and looks good as a fashion accessory - always important in the fash-tech sphere! I’d highly recommend it!



BR: WHAT’S YOUR CURRENT FAVOURITE/MOST USED APP?

SS: My favourite app is my Mixcloud app. it's an app that enables DJs to upload their latest mixes for Mixcloud subscribers to listen to. My husband is a DJ and that's how I got into using it. There's some really interesting stuff on there – I’d urge you to check it out if you haven’t already!

BR: WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR GOALS OR ASPIRATIONS FOR 2015?
SS: Professionally, to spread the word about Taylor Vinters and the amazing services we can offer start-ups – particularly the free one-hour consultation we provide to all of our prospective early stage technology clients. Personally, I made a New Year’s resolution to go to more of my husband’s DJ gigs. So far so good, I’ve only missed two so far this year!
 

Sarah wears the Brooke Roberts AW14 Cornelia Dress

Photography by Nancy Gibbs

March 12, 2015

Maths, Knitting & Feminism

Knitting is an ancient art traditionally practiced by women. It is a difficult craft and many around the world are reclaiming the pastime, refuting its dowdy reputation and bringing it into the modern age. Knitting circles are popping up across the globe -- the most popular organisation being "Stitch N Bitch" which currently has over 1,300 groups from its birthplace in New York City all the way to countries such as Israel and Thailand. Founded by New York Times Best Selling American author, publisher and feminist commentator Debbie Stoller, Stitch N Bitch is at the forefront of the renaissance knitting is experiencing and presents the idea that not only is knitting well suited to the fractured nature of the modern age but that it also has strong "feminist credentials." Early feminists rejected "womanly" traditions like knitting under the premise that the historical link to women was a hindrance and the social role it suggested blocked women from forming identities outside homemaking. Stoller thinks that the exact opposite is true -- she firmly believes that the age old tie to women that knitting has is important and that the craft itself is to be respected as it requires expertise, intelligence and creativity. 

Knitting used to explore topology

The knitting revival goes beyond homemade hats and sweaters though and has recently been brought into the realm of mathematics by people like Dr Sarah-Marie Belcastro and the British duo Brits Pat Ashforth and Steve Plummer who refer to themselves as "designers of mathematical knitwear". The latter two use knitting as a mathematical teaching aid, explaining that creating an object from a maths concept forces increased understanding and often becomes a maths problem on its own. They use knitting to make mathematics more accessible and appeal to more hands-on learners. Their site Wooly Thoughts showcases their creations and includes instructions and patterns for those interested in exploring mathematics visually. As for Belcastro, she has brought the craft into her professional life, and like Ashforth and Plummer she uses it to represent topology -- "the study of mathematical properties preserved when an object is twisted, stretched or otherwise deformed." Knitting helps her to explore the mathematical concepts she encounters on a day to day basis. What began as a childhood hobby became a useful tool for Belcastro while in college as she realised that uniting math and yarn could further her understanding of incredibly complex concepts. 

The creation of these wooly representations is not only a crafting opportunity, but also becomes a math problem in and of itself. Knitting is "discrete" and thus involves individual stitches akin to pixels on a computer screen. "Converting a smooth curve into a knitted pattern is a math problem because one has to figure out where exactly to place the discrete changes in curvature so that the object as a whole has as close as possible to the desired smooth curving," explains Belcastro. This method has allowed her to knit vastly complicated ideas into objects that those in-the-know would immediately recognise. Her most detailed piece to date is a model of a non-orientable surface of genus 5.

 

Belcastro's non-orientable surface of genus 5 where each colour of the shape represents a different projective plane

Seeing a feminine tradition being modernised and brought into serious academia is a very exciting prospect and it's innovators like Belcastro who inspire us to no end as they translate their passion into new forms. 

Interested in getting involved? Find a knitting circle near you via Stitch N Bitch

March 06, 2015

Beautiful Minds: Women in Medicine & Technology - CYNTHIA LAM

"I am always fascinated by the how scientists put imaginations into practice to change the world." -- Cynthia Lam

17 year old scientist Cynthia Lam became a finalist in 2014's Google Science Fair with her device H2Pro. Concerned with the innumerable amount of people worldwide that lack access to clean water and electricity, Lam set out to answer this issue in an economical and sustainable manner. Her passion for science led her to begin independent research on Titania Photocatalysis in 2013 where she investigated the optimum conditions for photocatalytic hydrogen production. Her work won the Major Bursary in Victoria's Science Talent Search and pushed her to take her findings one step further by creating a device that utilised the information she'd gathered. And thus, H2Pro was born. 

This revolutionary piece of technology is a portable photocatalytic electricity generator and water purification unit. Requiring no outside power source, H2Pro uses just titania and sunlight to produce clean energy and fresh water. Lam explains, “In photocatalysis, not only water is purified and sterilised, but hydrogen is also produced through water-splitting, which can be used to generate electricity." She found that though successful, the process produced low levels of hydrogen because photo-excited electrons "tend to fall back to the hole i.e. photo-induced electron hole combination." This was overcome by adding reductants, which many organic pollutants can serve as. The pollutants are then not only decomposed but actually serve to improve the yield. In the end, she was able to lower the cost of hydrogen generation all while creating pure, fresh water. Other scientists have presented similar concepts but what sets Lam apart is the fact that H2Pro can operate with no additional power -- allowing it to be fully functional in the remote locations it is needed in most. 

The device consists of two parts: an upper level for water purification and hydrogen generation that connects to a fuel cell and a lower level to further the water filtration process as seen in the photos below.

In a discussion about the importance of her design, Lam comments, "I think people around the world don't really understand how serious water pollution and the energy crisis is. I'd really like to finalise the design, because it could potentially help people in developing countries. It would be great to have clean water and electricity supplied sustainably, without needing any outside help. It would be awesome."

She is not only a brilliant mind, but also a true humanitarian. With an interest in pursuing a career in either Medicine or Environmental Science, she is determined to use her brain power to help as many people as possible. She initially found herself intimidated to pursue her love of chemistry and creativity, thinking herself too young to be taken seriously in the field. But she serves as a powerful reminder that nothing should be allowed to stunt our passion or damper our drive. Barely 18 years old, hers is a career we will certainly be keeping an eye on for years to come. We think it's safe to say that big things are in the pipeline. 

March 04, 2015

Intel Edison

The new Intel Edison platform is serving as a solution to lower barriers to entry for companies looking to quickly create protoypes of small computing devices -- more specifically of new wearable goods. Emerging entrepreneurs can utilise the microelectronic device to create the computing devices that are driving a new industrial revolution. It is estimated that by 2018 there will be over 300 million wearable computing devices on the market and as the industry continues to boom we are seeing innovators begin to address the true pain points within the market. Currently many of the wearables available -- take Smart Watches for example -- are interesting new pieces of technology but have yet to hit that 'can't live without it' point. During one of the panel discussions we attended this month it was explained that the average wear time for the wearables available now is only four to six weeks. That means that people have taken notice of the new technological options but that they are still falling short of making themselves vital to day to day life. The release of the Intel Edison device will hopefully allow an ease of access in terms of new product creation that will help developers to quickly release new products and reach that revolutionary plane. The IE platform is available for only $50 and it acts as a low power, small form, general purpose computer. This is a true gift to the developer community and has already begun to spark a new wave of connected devices since its release in September 2014. 

Only slightly larger than a stamp, the Intel Edison microcomputing device is small but mighty

Here are some of the coolest new releases to the market and thanks to Intel it is certain that we'll be seeing plenty more like this in the near future!

3-D Robotics' Drone

3-D Robotics, a California based firm, has created a new drone that can go beyond standard GPS tracking and instead digitally recognize the face of the target. The company explains that the drone's course would initially be set by GPS but once airborne the device is able to identify the appearance of its subject in order to film them from above, circle them or keep the subject in the center of the frame. Advertised as being ideal for taking airborne video selfies while performing activities like biking, skiing or other outside fun the drone will never lose contact with the films intended star. There is loads of controversy surrounding technology of this sort -- a device like this could certainly take stalking to a whole new level -- so it will be interesting to see how this drone-power will be used.

Smart Bike Helmet

The Smart Bike Helmet, created by interns at Oregon State University using the Intel Edison platform, is a prototype that features Bluetooth capabilities, a magnetometer, a gyroscope and two accelerometers. If the rider is involved in any kind of collision, the helmet will identify their distress and alert the proper authorities. Furthermore, the helmet can also record riding speed, distance and the path taken. The world of exercise is one that is being changed greatly by the wearables industry and is one realm that will most likely be revolutionised by these devices the fastest. 

Hardhat 2.0

This Edison prototype is able to detect environmental conditions on work sites and has many life-saving capabilities. Embedded with both gas and smoke sniffing sensors the Intel Construction Helmet also features accelerometers so that if a fall or serious hit to the head is experienced supervisors will be notified immediately. Coal miners and field workers rejoice, the Hardhat is putting a major dent in the inherent dangers of manual labor jobs.

The Hardhat 2.0 smaller and more mobile technology in the forefront, while the more bulky original prototype hangs behind

Mimo Smart Baby Monitor

Intel, in collaboration with Rest Devices, has developed a smart onesie that sends automatic updates to a smartphone reporting on temperature, movement, body position and respiratory patterns. The adorable baby suit features two green sensor stripes and a turtle shaped rechargeable PC, Edison powered of course. We love that they incorporated the appropriate aesthetics into this concept, as one of the main customer complaints with wearables is that style is often forgotten. 

Anouk Wipprecht Digital Dress

Dutch designer Anouk Wipprecht has been a forerunner in the fusion of fashion and technology so we weren't surprised to see that Intel Edison powered one of her new concept dresses. The digital dress was developed to react in various ways when a person enters the wearer's personal space with LED lights changing in intensity and color based on biometric feedback. It also features a camera located on the chest that can record a visual diary of optimal points throughout the day again based on biometric feedback readings. The description we found did not go into too much detail on the meaning behind the different light patterns and colors, but it seems that wearing this would certainly be an exploration in wearing your heart on your sleeve. 

This dress just might tell all your secrets

To view more Intel Edison powered devices visit CRN.

 

 

February 26, 2015

Luxury Goods and the World Wide Web

We've all walked by and marveled at the sleek, plush interiors of luxury stores like Chanel and Dior. Slightly intimidating and all around impressive you know that for the right price you'd be guaranteed a premier shopping experience. And as members of the digital age, it would make sense to expect this experience to be expertly translated to the brand's webpage as well, allowing for a different but equally interactive and engaging time. But as eCommerce continues to grow by double digits year after year, a striking percentage of luxury brands are noticeably absent. That's not to say these brands do not have websites, they certainly do, but their goal is to drive consumers to their brick and mortars, forcing them to make purchases in-store as if it were thirty years ago. With the internet offering broader distribution and instant access to a wider geographical market, why are so many luxury brands seemingly forfeiting their opportunity to expand sales?

Celine boutique in New York

In the late 2000s Oscar de la Renta made the leap into eCommerce with extremely low expectations. The company believed that online purchases would include only less expensive goods like accessories and beauty products. But when orders started rolling in they were shocked to see that not only was their core Ready to Wear moving but they were also seeing orders placed for top of the line items. “We could not have been more wrong in our expectations of the internet,” says Alex Bolen, the firm's chief executive. Internet sales are still a relatively small proportion of total sales -- in 2015 only 20% of luxury brand sales were made online -- but the sect is rapidly growing. And with the number of luxury consumers growing a staggering 300% in the past twenty years, from 95 million in 1995 to over 330 million in 2013, it would only make sense to address the needs of these big spenders from all angles. 

But there are many who believe that the added income from online sales would not outweigh the detriment. Jean-Noël Kapferer is a French branding expert who penned "The Luxury Strategy" in 2012 and firmly believes that eCommerce is a threat to luxury image. He argues that "a product sold online ceases to be a luxury item." Kapferer and his proponents find the internet to be far too impersonal for these high end goods that "require human touch." Similarly, Bruno Pavlovsky, Chanel President of Global Fashion, told Bloomberg, "fashion is about clothing and clothing you need to see, to feel, to understand." Others believe that they are simply operating in the way the customer desires -- Celine CEO Marco Gobbetti told WWD that they prefer to engage directly with their customers "in the way they like to be engaged." Aka in-store or bust. 

There is another side to all of this though, and that is the internet's long standing association with discount prices. And interestingly enough, this perception has been driven home by the luxury brands themselves as they dump their end of season goods at deep discounts to various websites. They will even go so far as to create exclusive pieces for sites like YOOX.com in order to get rid of excess fabric. Furthermore, by refusing to get with the program early on, the internet became saturated with counterfeiters happily answering the desires of luxury shoppers looking for a little convenience.

The whole issue of price is further complicated by the fact that high end brands want their customers to think of cost last, if ever. The in-store experience is awash with dazzling service and exquisite beauty (and hopefully a little champagne) which works to distract from the bottom line, and when it comes to the internet that price tag is front and center. However, even though luxury brands may see this as a major deterrent, many online shops have been able to overcome the issue by simply offering convenience. Net-a-Porter is the perfect example as this high end online boutique is not at all price conscious, instead focusing on getting luxury products to the consumers' door before they sell out for good. And beyond that, they have created a unique shopping experience with their interactive, shoppable magazine The Edit. Having succeeded online without a vast investment in retail space, Net-a-Porter proves that luxury can be web compatible without losing prestige. 

Net-a-Porter's THE EDIT, an interactive and shoppable online magazine

The question of prestige is an interesting one within this issue. Many brands will argue that the internet is simply too accessible. Exclusivity is sexy and opening up their product to just anyone is not a welcome concept. However, it seems that they are discounting the fact that their price point will remain extremely exclusive, online or not. Just because an $80,000 fur coat is available online doesn't mean that any Tom, Dick or Sally can purchase it. Truly, it seems that these brands refusing to join the internet age are missing their opportunity to reach the modern shopper. And beyond that, they are forfeiting their chance with the next generation luxury shopper who is more than certainly going to be using the web for everything they do. While we understand the idea of brand preservation and tradition, the old world idea of luxury does not compute within the new reality of the digital age. Yes, online sales could cannibalize in-store traffic, but as more of our world is managed digitally it seems what could be lost is nothing compared to what could be gained. 

February 24, 2015

FashTech NYC

Last week we attended a fabulous event in NYC held by FashTech, a company that supports the partnership between fashion and technology through a series of events worldwide. The organization serves as a platform for the latest innovations to be showcased by leading brands and retailers. In an effort to forge a global community, FashTech has been sponsoring events for the fashion technology industry since February of 2014. What started as one event in London has since spread to numerous gatherings across Europe and the United States. FashTech NYC launched in September of 2014 as the community reached over 10,000 members and continues to empower and inspire those within the burgeoning industry. 

Brooke Roberts discusses 'How Technology and Fashion Design Mix' at FashTechLND London Technology Week

We were particularly excited to be attending this event as Brooke gave the opening talk at the FashTechLND London Technology Week event last June where she discussed 'How Technology and Fashion Design Mix.' FashTech's videographer caught up with Brooke at the event and she commented, "It's a great community. It's great to be involved with other up and coming and really innovative FashTech people." We are so pleased to see this organization continue to grow and extend it's reach to include those involved in fashion technology worldwide. 

The event on February 17th served as both a panel discussion as well as a platform for a variety of startup businesses looking to get the word out about their ideas. We were able to peruse the booths before the discussion and were able to learn more about some of the exciting new ventures happening in New York. Drizly is an alcohol delivery service smartphone app that scouts liquor stores in your neighborhood giving you a local price list and then delivers to your door. Thanks to investors, the company has raised almost $5 million dollars in an effort to become the premier alcohol delivery service in almost all major cities across the United States. Drizly was behind the bar at the event and were serving a slew of fantastic cocktails -- unfortunately drinks won't be delivered pre-mixed but with no price mark up who are we to be complaining! 

LookBooker was also present and they clued us in to how they are revolutionizing the way we book hair and beauty appointments. Started in Singapore, LookBooker has now made its entry to the US and have developed a trusted marketplace allowing you to search, select and confirm appointments in your neighborhood online. The service is currently in beta testing but don't let that fool you -- they are 100% fully functional and have a wide variety of salon partners for you to choose from! 

We were also able to chat with the lovely Emily Cohen, Chief Marketing Officer for Stylinity, a new app that makes selfies shoppable! With the 100 million selfies that are taken daily, Stylinity decided to create a social commerce platform that allows users to tag the brands behind their clothing. The user generated content drives sales and through that retailers can identify their best brand ambassadors, creating real-time, beneficial relationships between buyer and seller. 

As the night continued we lucked out majorly by scoring a front row seat to the main attraction. The panel discussion was mediated by FashTech founder Alex Semenzato and featured a seriously knowledgable (and fashionable!) group of women including Jessica Murphy Co-Founder of True Fit, Emily Culp SVP E-Commerce & Omni-Channel Marketing at Rebecca Minkoff, Billie Whitehouse Co-Founder & Creative Director at Wearable Experiments, and Rachel Arthur Global Senior Editor at WGSN & Founder of fashionandmash.com. Semenzato kicked off the discussion by posing the question of whether the rapid technological advancements within the industry will ultimately be the death of High Street. The panel unanimously concluded that no, we won't be attending High Street's funeral any time soon but that it is clearly time for some evolution as in-store innovations are lacking. Brand experience must be made consistent and resonate with the customer wherever she is -- be that online or in the store itself. There is plenty of space within the industry for new in-store formats -- like smart fitting rooms where a different size for a particular item can be requested digitally and brought in quickly by a team member. Concepts like this require that the technology in place is seamless and that the stores and their workers are streamlined. Efficiency is key when the goal is a unified experience and brands will need to make sure that their workers on the floor are kept in the loop and up to date on all the new formats. 

Alex Semenzato welcoming the audience

Smart fitting rooms are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to new in-store technologies that are possible today. Jessica Murphy cited True Fit as another revolution that's taking place online. The company uses billions of rich data points in order to show shoppers how items they view on screen will fit them in real life. Personalized fit ratings and style profiles help consumers make smart purchasing decisions without having to see the reality of their body type or take time to input their measurements. It's been found that women do not want to share their body stats nor do they want to take the time to confirm their measurements or type them into a program. True Fit accepts this and works around it successfully. 

Wearable Tech is another part of the changing in-store landscape and Billie Whitehouse commented that we really need to work on renaming this booming new industry. "Wearable" suggests that style is an afterthought. Changing our point of view on wearables and seeing them as just an extension of Ready to Wear will make much more sense in the long run -- and lend the credit they deserve. Rachel Arthur was somewhat cynical about this though -- and about wearables in general. She believes that fashion has been abandoned in the creation of these tech pieces and has yet to be convinced that anyone will want to wear them longterm. In fact, the current average wear time of wearable pieces is only 4-6 weeks. Rachel definitely has a point but it is only the beginning for wearables, there is so much more to come.

The lovely panelists from left to right: Rachel Arthur, Billie Whitehouse, Emily Culp, Jessica Murphy

Semenzato then steered the conversation toward social media, which the panel agreed serves as a "learning lab" for brands, providing hugely valuable information from the consumer. Above all in this realm engagement outweighs quantity -- the best information comes from those who are truly invested in the brand, so having a million followers who rarely check in won't be very beneficial. The current platforms -- Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc -- are used for a brand to stay relevant, and many of the panel members mentioned how the new platforms are not of a huge concern to them. It seems there is a structure in place now, consumers know where to look for the best information about a brand and though new social networks and apps are always popping up, the original heavy hitters are here to stay. 

As the discussion wound down, Semenzato posed a final question for the panel: what is the future of fashion technology? Discovery was the very first response -- meaning that brands will be focused on finding new ways to personalize for the consumer. Beyond that, developing and pushing the idea of the ecosystem of the brand, making it more lifestyle and expanding will also likely be of great importance. And finally, transforming the shopping experience -- be it online or in-store -- change is coming. The panelists heavily emphasized how emotional the experience of shopping really is; it's not an activity meant to be assembly line style efficient. It is a wandering, all senses locked and loaded, personal event and as more brands come to recognize this, the better the experience will be made. 

The merging of fashion and technology -- from wearables to ecommerce to 3-D printing and scanning -- has made the past year incredibly exciting and we can't wait to see what new revolutionizing ideas come next! 

February 18, 2015

BFDA Closing Party & Panel

Last week we were lucky enough to tour the Brooklyn Fashion & Design Accelerator launched by Pratt Institute and listen to a panel discussion on our physical relationship to the internet, personal privacy, big data and brands via wearables. The panel was moderated by Leah Hunter of Fast Company and featured Bre Pettis the founder of Makerbot, Billie Whitehouse the co-founder of Wearable Experiments, Evan Lazarus of Safe Family Wearables and Paul Amatai of Eyebeam. In honor of NYFW, the BF+DA is exhibiting its collection Cloud Couture: The Intimate Connection Between Fashion and Technology, which explores the future of fashion in terms of connectivity and intimacy as well as highlighting brand new materials and technologies that are set to redefine the apparel industry. 

Cloud Couture is curated by Rebeccah Pailes-Friedman, BF+DA research fellow and adjunct associate professor of Industrial Design and Fashion at Pratt Institute; Henry Yoo, adjunct professor of Industrial Design at Pratt Institute; and Debera Johnson, executive director of the BF+DA.

There was a large focus on sustainability -- or as Debera puts it "consequences of our work" -- ethical fashion and technology. The Cloud Couture collection delves deeply into the relationship between humanity and technology, and in the end the designers took to referring to it as "emotional or empathetic tech." The question is begged, how close is too close? And Debera at one point explains that some of these pieces are made for a society that is already somewhat broken. The privacy issues are raised time and time again, but many members of the panel bring up the fact that we have already traded away so much of our personal lives to the likes of Google and Facebook that these advances seem to be worth it, particularly in terms of medical advances. From health conscious pieces that tap into our biometric information to simple yet astounding ideas for tools that will for example serve as a universal remote control for all electronics in your life all set within a small ring for your finger. Another truly fascinating aspect of the conversation was how the 'cloud' played in. The internet, or the cloud, has become this all encompassing invisible lifeblood for us and it's allowing for incredible steps forward technologically. 

And of course many of the designs present last night used the internet in a big way. The Alert Shirts are a quirky new innovation which gather biometric data from the wearer, send the information to the cloud and then deliver it to another wearer. This concept was presented for use by professional athletes and their fans -- the player plays and the fan gets to experience how they are feeling via vibrations. Debera explained it as "elevating the couch potato." Another piece utilizing biometric data is the GER Mood Sweater which takes signals from the body via sensors connected to each hand and then translates them to a color which is displayed in the collar of the shirt in order to display the wearer's mood. Paxie, a bracelet parents can purchase for their child will show location, the temperature and body signals -- the new and improved kiddy leash! Parents will always be able to tell if their little one is doing alright and is where they are supposed to be. Also concerning location, the Navigate Jackets by Billie Whitehouse have built in vibration mechanisms to alert you to where you are going. Enter an address in beforehand and the jacket will buzz you in the correct direction until you reach your destination! It will even locate your friends, if they happen to be wearing their Navigate Jacket that day. 

Paxie Bracelet

Other pieces were more aesthetically based and lighthearted. Like BassAware, a device strapped to the wearer's chest that uses vibration to create massive bass so you can really feel the music or media you're playing. The FireFly Backpack features a solar panel that charges as you go about your day and then can light your way at night. Designer Francis Bitonti contributed some beautiful 3-D printing to the collection -- fascinating pieces that were created with a simple algorithm. By setting parameters the computer is then able to complete a formulaic design and the result is organic and modern looking. Forster Rohner played with the materials themselves by implanting LEDs into fabric to make fun and animated designs. 

Forster Rohner LED fabric

BassAware

3-D printed plastic fabrics by Francis Bitonti

Touring this facility and being introduced to so many unique and innovative concepts was truly inspiring. We definitely recommend stopping in, you won't be disappointed! The BF+DA is located at 630 Flushing Avenue in Brooklyn, NY. 

February 12, 2015

The Future of Wearables

We are huge fans of the emerging wearables market -- check out our coverage of Will.i.am's PULS line -- and are fascinated by the continuous stream of new concepts that are coming to light in the industry. We're all familiar with the wearable accessories though and what's caught our attention now is a form of wearable that is more part of your body than accessory to it. Cambridge, Massachusetts company MC10 is working on a line of computers the size of a piece of gum that will adhere right to the user's skin. Like a Band-Aid or temporary tattoo, these ultra tiny computing devices are stretchable, bendable and razor thin. The design possibilities are endless -- they could blend exactly with skin or could be a complete work of art. They are inexpensive to produce and show greater accuracy as the sensors are directly on the skin. And most of all, you'll never forget it! This isn't a bracelet or a pair of glasses that you'll wear for a while then eventually end up leaving on the dresser. These little guys live on you. 

MC10 wearable

Of course the more familiar wearable pieces have more clear cut functions, things we would expect like a phone app or Google search capability. These new wearables are currently being used to collect biometric data tied to motion and the like. They feature wireless antennae, temperature and heart rate sensors and very small batteries. There are very creative uses for the information they can collect though. Use it to determine which brand of deodorant to purchase by monitoring your sweat levels and it will then email you a list of best matches. Use it while running then receive a micro-level report of your workout. Use it to monitor a baby's breathing and be immediately alerted to any issues. The uses will only become more complicated and varied, making these wearables the first to really involve the human body in this burgeoning new technology. 

 The team at MC10 has collaborated with John A. Rogers, professor of materials science and engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, who has himself been exploring the world of worn and implanted technology for the better part of a decade now. Rogers explains, “We’ll eventually see a more intimate integration of electronics and biological systems. Without that kind of intimate physical contact, it’s going to be difficult, or maybe even impossible, to extract meaningful data.” And the data thus far has been incredibly meaningful. Rogers and his team have been working with Parkinson's patients to monitor their motions, giving new hope to helping the sick. They have also been investigating skin disease treatments with dermatologists and even helped beauty companies like L’Oréal to develop digital stickers for tracking skin hydration. The practical uses here are a bit more complex than the standard wearable, but the world of possibilities that has opened up is astounding. 

MC10 wearable

 

MC10 wearable

And the design potential has many extremely excited. “There’s a lot of potential to combine fashion and technology" exclaims Anke Loh, the chairwoman of the fashion department at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. These patches are a far cry from the clunky wearables we see now, and the sleek designs Loh has been formulating will be veritable body art. These will be like having the opportunity to get all those crazy tattoos you always kind of wanted without the lifelong commitment. 

The most fascinating realm of this new wearable though is e-skin. Scientists at the University of Tokyo have been working on creating electronic skin that sits atop your real skin and can be rigged with a layer of LEDs, thereby making your forearm into a touch screen. We'll take two please! 

February 05, 2015

Beautiful Minds - Women in Medicine & Technology: CARLA VALENTINE

We are just starting a new blog series entitled Beautiful Minds - Women in Medicine & Technology and are so excited to share coverage of women in our industry who both inspire and intrigue us. While brainstorming this concept one of the first people who came to mind was Carla Valentine, a woman who not only loves her profession but actively works to explore all facets of her realm of work. 

Valentine currently serves as a full time staff member at the Barts Medical Museum under the title of Assistant Technical Curator, where her duties include repairing, conserving and cataloging all 5,000 of the museum's specimens and rearranging them in ways pleasing to the Human Tissue Authority. Her fun and outgoing nature led her to organizing events at the museum which ended up bringing in much needed funding. She reached this position after receiving a degree in Forensics and Microbiology and spending eight years working as a mortician doing post mortems. She has traveled the world with her work - exhuming skeletons in Venice and Belgium as part of a Forensic Pathology MSc and catered to the dead during the London Bombings 7/7. 

She not only deals with death in her professional life though -- her personal life revolves around it as well. She spends her free time maintaining a blog called The Chick and The Dead where she explores her fascination with death and sex. If you are similarly fascinated with death head over to the site to see her recommendations for Dead Sexy Valentine's Day Gifts -- they certainly won't disappoint, though aren't for the faint of heart. She has even created a social network for death professionals entitled Dead Meet (get it?) where like minded individuals can come together to find romantic partners, collaborators and lecturers. Clearly she makes the absolute most out of her niche interests, finding all possible outlets. By being such an active and outspoken adherent of the community of death professionals, she is often sought out to pen magazine articles, her book on the Museum's collection is quickly coming together and she even consulted on Resident Evil 6. She has built up quite the reputation in the death community.

And speaking of that community, Valentine found out early on that it was much too small for her liking. Seeing that London was lacking a true academic death community, this was something she has worked to build and sustain. She explains, "When I began working with that community to explore cultural aspects of death and mortality I realised two things: 1) Some people still find it difficult to discuss death, even in an environment like the Pathology Museum, and I’ve had to push to show that the events can open up a dialogue which can be built on, and 2) Many of the death academics are actually based at the University of Bath which has a dedicated Centre for Death and Society, so we really needed to bring them to London to show the capital (and therefore the rest of the UK) that’s it’s ok, and in fact necessary, to discuss this issue."

Valentine's relationship with her career is what we all aspire to -- to unconditionally love our profession to the point of living and breathing our interests, and thus never truly having to work a day in our lives. 

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