Fashion's Latest Tech Is WAY Beyond 3-D Prints

Convinced that fashion technology is just about weird-looking spaceman products that your Silicon Valley friends can't stop talking about, but none of your NYC friends want to wear? Hold onto your 3-D-printed hats and think again. The next wave might be all about "wearables" (some more wearable than others), but there’s so much more to the buzzy business than a bunch of investors flashing Google Glass.
Just ask Lisa Morales-Hellebo, executive director and co-founder of the New York Fashion Tech Lab (an accelerator program that matches fashion-tech innovators with retailers) who gave us the scoop on what’s new and next. On the horizon? Improvements and breakthroughs are happening in basically every sector of the fashion industry, and not just on things you can wear (though those are pretty neat). Morales-Hellebo is particularly stoked on advancements in the back-end, and there are big changes a-coming to the way we shop in person. We've come a long way since Hypercolor. Read on to see how.
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Micro-Manufacturing
When fast fashion became the new norm, most potential for manufacturer-provided personalization went out the window. But, that’s about to reverse. “[Micro-manufacturing] will be changing the way we consume — custom will be the expectation and newness will be more and more important,” says Morales-Hellebo. Instead of a factory-issued garment (with designer-specified patterns and sizing standards where, as we now know, basically anything goes), this new technology is about giving the customer exactly what she wants, down to the color, the print, and the perfect fit.

While plenty of folks are starting to partake in this kind of customization — see companies like Numari and Bow and Drape — the process still requires a lot of lead-time, explains Morales-Hellebo. But, she believes that will change as the technology becomes more common, invading brick-and-mortar shops and shortening wait times to under a day.
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iBeacon
The “most likely to change the in-store experience” superlative goes to iBeacon — a technology that essentially melds together the joy of shopping online and the brick-and-mortar experience. iBeacon involves your favorite IRL shop with smart, little knobs placed around the space. These knobs are designed to communicate with a shopper’s mobile device, relaying promotional information or making recommendations (like pointing out pants that will go with the shirt you’ve already picked up). Morales-Hellebo explains that it’s working to replicate the personalization and customization that’s par for the course online. Instead of salespeople pushing things on you — or making assumptions — it’s your smartphone doing some of the heavy lifting, she says. iBeacon isn’t just a coup for consumers, it has the potential to be a retailer’s new best friend, providing lots of hard data on customers' in-store behaviors.
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Washable Digital Fabric
Forget using a Sharpie — now, if you want to customize your T-shirt, you need only reach for your smartphone. San Francisco start-up Switch Embassy has been hard at work making a digital tee (for men and women) that uses LEDs and an app to display anything from a simple message to animation. While you can't buy one quite yet, there's something about this creation that sets it apart from the scores of others recently introduced to the marketplace: its adaptability and ease of care. Yep, this top's totally washable (LEDs and all).

Though the current suggestions for use fall short (a “#hatersgonnahate” message seems like a gross misuse of such innovation), just imagine the possibilities once some of your favorite designers get ahold of this tech.
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Sci-Fi Wearables
If you were impressed with those last electro-wearables, get familiar with We:eX, a firm working to revolutionize what we think is possible with our clothes. Its insanely cool Urban Wayfinding Jacket breaks the bond you have with your iPhone, as it delivers turn-by-turn directions to get you to your destination. See also: the brand's underwear that connects with a smartphone to produce, ahem, good vibes. While that might be the sexiest frontier in sensation-based wearables, it’s not the last. We:eX also developed every sports fan’s dream: an Australian-football-specific jersey that puts viewers closer to the game than ever before. Wearers feel the same sensations as their favorite players — from being tackled to pre-kick nerves. Whether or not that brings the experience too close for comfort, one thing's for sure: Our plain cotton tees are beginning to look a little blah.
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Perch
Another invention sure to completely change the brick-and-mortar shopping experience is Perch. There’s no denying the appeal of a well-done in-store display, but Perch is one-upping that styling achievement with digital technology, basically making the showcase more interactive and easily changeable. Also melding the strengths of IRL and the convenience of online shopping (sensing a trend here?), Perch’s technology turns regular shop tableaux into a special projected interface. All sorts of information (from videos to star ratings to Facebook likes) can be added to the display in a fun, visual way. And, like iBeacon, Perch aims to benefit the retailer, too, by collecting stats on customer behavior.
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Ringly
The problem with a lot of the currently available wearable tech is that people aren't exactly falling over themselves to wear it — the slowly developed accessories can't quite keep up with evolving trends. Enter Ringly, a piece that looks great and pulls its weight. The gem-like device vibrates lightly to notify its wearer of any activity on her smartphone. Consider this the well-styled antidote to rudely staring at your phone through dinner.
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