Can fashion save itself? Not according to Fredrik Timour, founder of Fashion Innovation Center, who wants to help the industry become more sustainable, both environmentally and economically.
Interview KONRAD OLSSON Photography MATTIAS EDWALL
What is Fashion Innovation Center?
— It’s is a hub to drive design projects to prove new business models. We help fashion brands find cross-collaboration partners in other industries like telecom and gaming. We also connect companies to our global network of organisations like FIT DTechLab in New York, The Foundry in Paris, and schools like Stanford.
What’s your background?
— I started and sold a fashion-tech company called Neue. We created microelectronics and software to be able to connect clothes. Before, I was in advertising and worked as a fine artist.
What is wrong with the fashion industry today?
— The fashion industry is facing several problems. The current business model is not environmentally sustainable, but it’s also not economically sustainable. The corona crisis has shown the problems of relying too heavily on physical products. Fashion has done very bad, especially compared to industries like gaming and entertainment, that are nowadays more reliant on subscriptions fees.
What are some of the things that need to be done?
— The problem is that the fashion industry has never really invested in real R&D. This opens up opportunities for other industries, like gaming and telecom. When clothes become connected, new services and business models will emerge. Even recycling will have an opportunity, as it will be a huge part of the future of fashion.
Can fashion save itself?
You need other industries to transform it?
— Let me ask you this: do you think Spotify runs its own servers? No, they’re running on Google servers. Can the fashion industry do this themselves? Of course not. Digitisation is always about collaboration. Apple makes physical devices that are dependant on others to make games and services that run on them.
Should fashion brands become tech companies?
— I think there is huge potential to create experiences and services on top of clothes. If fashion would let in third-party developers, that could be a huge driver for new business models.
”Think about what will happen if Netflix starts selling clothes to their 200million subscribers. People who want to look like the character Eleven in Stranger Things can suddenly add clothes directly onto their subscription.”
This begs the question: what is fashion?
— The most academic definition is that fashion is identity. You want to express identity in different spaces, together with different people. The thing with the younger generations is that 50 per cent of their time is spent online. Fashion companies have completely missed this. A company like Fortnite, that generates US$2 billion in revenue by selling digital skins, are doing identity online much better than fashion. Think about what will happen if Netflix starts selling clothes to their 200million subscribers. People who want to look like the character Eleven in Stranger Things can suddenly add clothes directly onto their subscription.
So you’re saying that companies that already have a strong connection to their consumers online are in pole position to become fashion companies?
— I would say that having half a billion subscribers is a good start. But also, if you know what shows and music I like, you’re in a good position to know what style of fashion I’m into.
Are there any good examples of this happing right now?
— Not really. There is generally a lack of knowledge. You can compare it to the music industry 15 years ago. If you make all your money out of selling CDs, then switching to streaming is too big of a leap. Back in the 20s and 30s, everybody was relying on buying ice for their homes. Then General Electric came along and launched the refrigerator, and ice factories disappeared. It wasn’t ice factories that invented the refrigerator, it was an electricity company. There are many of these jump curves in history, and fashion is staring at its own jump curve right now.
So what needs to happen?
— We are in an era of opportunity. If someone does it right, there is lot’s of money to be made in everything from new materials to recycling to experiences. I really think fashion will consist of different layers, like telecom, tech, gaming, and entertainment.
So how can Fashion Innovation Center help?
— Well, all of this is the reason I started it. We can help navigate the transformation. The good news is that we’re in a great position in Scandinavia. We’re far ahead on sustainability and technology. What we need to do is to get new products out as quickly as possible. Because that’s the only way this will be solved, to launch new business models and see how they will do.
Fredrik Timour is one of many speakers at The Transformation Conference, our new live event bringing together the best minds from technology, fashion, design, beauty, and mobility to discuss how to build a more sustainable future.