“You Can Do Anything in Shenzhen” — 360Fashion CEO Anina Net on Tech and Fashion in China
We sat down to speak with Anina Net, founder and CEO of 360Fashion Network which brings fashion and technology together. Anina comes from a family of computer engineers, but when she received an offer to model in Paris, did not follow in her father and siblings footsteps. She did however use tech to differentiate herself and become the “tech model.” Wearables have finally entered the market and the two industries are realizing how much they need each other.
What were some of the first moments you saw these two industries converging and how did you act on it?
When I was in Paris I would tell people that in the future it won’t be enough for the models to be beautiful and stand there. They will need to use social media and their blogs to promote the brands. Models will need to become a brand. I was branding myself as the fashion tech model but when I looked around and saw myself in magazines, TV and on billboards I said to myself it didn’t mean anything. Instead I wanted it to mean that when other women saw me, they would say, “You know, Anina has a website, she’s programming mobile apps, why don’t I pick a career in technology?” So I really wanted to show that women could be leaders in technology. In 2004-2005 I built 360Fashion to educate the fashion industry on these technology tools so that they can be prepared for the next generation.
Why has it been so difficult for technology and fashion to come together?
Fashion is a tangible thing but a digital is not something I can touch, cut, shape or sew. It’s very difficult for them (those in fashion) to understand how to use this virtual thing. The problem is that tech and fashion don’t speak the same language. Head editors of fashion companies are often women and they would say to me, “I hate it when this tech guy comes to talk to me. He makes me feel stupid but I’m the head editor.” As editors of top fashion magazines they were queens of their industry. I was many times brought in to be the translator. The tech guy doesn’t know the world of fashion and how we do things. I’m a fashion model so I get the fashion industry and I know what tech can do. I can speak to both sides. Fashion is something you put on, it evokes emotion; tech is cold, emotionless, but now we have technologies like AR and wearables so things are really coming together to create experiences.
How is technology making the textile and fashion industries more ethical?
When I go to Germany–a highly evolved, highly educated country that’s ecological and really cares about where everything comes from–the consumers there are starting to demand to know where the components originate. Where does the button come from, how does this get assembled and what are the conditions? You could have a mobile flyer on your tag and they could scan the QR code and get the full story of the garment and that would influence their decision to buy. In China specifically, if fashion brands want to approach the international market, they need to know that there’s this growing concern of how people are treated. Not so much how much they’re paid, because Westerners want their low cost items, but they want to know these people are being treated well. That’s where tech can help with the communication and can create the situation for improved treatment of workers. With digital printing devices and designing in a 3D environment, the machines will take over more of the dirty jobs, and humans will do more of the finishing and tasks machines can’t do.”
What about making jobs obsolete?
Humans will always find something to do. When cars came around, everyone was concerned about buggy whips, but all those people found other things to make, like car seats.
Will we be able to incorporate kinetic and solar energies into fashion?
In our fashion show, one of the sections was about solar powered clothing. I argued intensely with the technicians about the battery. The crux and the bottleneck is about batteries and until that battery evolves, that’s going to remain an obstacle. If we don’t start, we’re never going to get there. It’s not about can we do it, its how are we going to do it. That’s why technology companies need to work with fashion designers because they know the ergonomics; they know the aesthetics. If it doesn’t look good, if it’s not comfortable no one will ever adopt. First we need to look at it from an aesthetic point of view. If we don’t make experiments and start mashing the two together then we wont get there.
Has the tech you’re designing for fashion companies had other applications?
Where we’re seeing really cool application is usage of our mobile magazine technology. It’s really taking off in Africa, India, Dubai with people making medical books out of our platform. They’re also using it for technical books. For example you’re in the middle of nowhere with a broken motor and all you have is this tiny crappy phone. You can receive an SMS and a little java app which works perfectly on your phone can tell you steps 1-5 how to fix that thing. So it’s very powerful in third world countries. Since we start from an aesthetic angle, it’s more user friendly for things that demand visuals. Here in China, the fashion industry has been using our mobile magazine platform for making event flyers. Attendees of an event can receive an SMS before the fashion show (or other event) so they have a booklet in their hands before the show starts and they can know about the designer, the show, et cetera.
What are some questions you’re currently tackling?
Questions of integration like: How do you extend your store? How do you extend your store with virtual products? How do you incorporate e-commerce in your store? That’s where we see augmented reality being able to make that bridge.
For our shows we’re trying to use our fashion tech events to show concept pieces, to show where we think the fashion brands should be thinking, what technologies they should be thinking about, and then we show tech companies what else the tech could look like. On the wearable side, building Misfit Shine j into the dress like jewelry came back not looking like a sports tracker at all. I think fashion brands have to incorporate these wearable techs into their entire product line, even if they’re not their own product. They need to depict, to portray a fashion tech lifestyle. The truth is, whether it’s our phone or computer or watch, or maybe one day it’s my earrings, we’re moving there, but these two industries still aren’t talking.
What advice do you have for those like you who want to be part of this convergence? Specifically, in China.
The China’s fashion industry is moving away from OEM (original equipment manufacturer) and into brands. But what’s cool is now we have OEM for wearables. So fashion brands could make their own sports tracker, their own watch, their own branded product. And this is such a wonderful opportunity for fashion brands both western and local to white label a wearable device. That’s something that only China can offer. China offers this ability to manufacture clothing but also tech components and put them all together. Shenzhen has crazy capabilities, you can do anything there.