Interview by Michelle Hua @MadeWithGlove
With a background as an international top model, and a family of computer engineers, Anina has emerged as an innovator in the fashion tech industry for the last 10 years. She has cooperated with Nokia, Samsung, Intel, IBM and many more to apply their technologies to the fashion industry and create large scale events to demonstrate in fashion terms the the future lifestyle. Currently she runs a fashion tech lab in Beijing, China and has launched her latest product, the 360Fash Tech Kits - IoT maker kits for the fashion industry.
Anina, you are an American model and fashion blogger. How did you get into fashion tech?
I started my career in fashion as a fashion model (www.anina.net), to my family’s dismay as they were all computer engineers. Throughout my modelling career I used technology and instead of going to nightclubs, I was online chatting about hacking and experimenting with the latest tech in online groups. One day I looked around and saw my face on billboards and magazines and decided that I wanted my image to stand for something that could have a positive influence on young girls: I decided I wanted to be the “techy model” and revolutionise the fashion industry through advanced technologies. Part of that process was forming a company and becoming an entrepreneur so that I could do larger and larger projects with fortune 500 companies who had the most advanced technologies.
I love the fashion industry and I have dedicated the last 10 years to building a bridge between fashion and tech with my company 360Fashion Network. Since that thought about making tech cool, I’ve applied all kinds of technologies to the fashion area from mobile apps, to mobile gaming, to augmented reality, to virtual reality, to my latest passion which is smart clothing, wearables, and intelligent accessories. I’ve been working the last 7 months on Fashion Tech Maker Kits www.360fash.com and seeing all the great projects that fashion designers are doing with our kits, is really inspiring.
With Silicon Valley being the mecca of the tech world, how did you end up working in China?
I started my journey in fashion tech in 2003 but I hit big walls of “No” over and over again with fashion brands saying “Who would want to download a mobile app?” and “Online shopping devalues our brand!” and “No one will ever shop a virtual bag from their mobile phone!” I was quite discouraged and by 2007 I had built a mobile app platform that worked on every mobile phone, an ecommerce platform for young fashion designers to get online, mobile games with virtual products that you could download, and pioneered mobile blogging with top fashion bloggers such as Imran Ahmed and Diane Pernet. Fashion brands were just not interested in technology – at least not the ones that I was in contact with or that I could find. I gave up in 2008 trying to convince the industry to evolve and decided to go to Asia where the Olympics were coming to Beijing, China and surely there would be an emerging market in need of change. I went to China because no one in the west wanted to fuse technology and fashion.
I hatched up a fashion plan to become China’s top foreign model and the idea that everyone would play my mobile game Anina Dress Up (www.aninadressup.com); I would open another company and be where there were 1.3 billion people with mobile phones, who knew what blogs were, and had mobile avatars where they downloaded virtual products to dress them up. It actually worked out that way and it was my professionalism that got me noticed by the China fashion associations who were looking for ways to innovate in the fashion sector and started our cooperation.
What is the fashion tech space like in China?
For the last 5 years I have been working with the Chinese fashion associations to create the largest fashion tech events with over 110,000 fashion professionals attending our CHIC-360Fashion & Tech Expos. The Chinese fashion brands have been faster to pick up digital technologies on mobile and web, but very slow to adopt wearable tech, smart fashion, and accessories primarily because they are more focused on producing fashion by following the trends, and not leading fashion. There’s a saying in China, “First bird out gets shot.” And what it means is that it is engrained in the society not to be the first one to stand out. Chinese brands are just not first movers – they are looking for mass manufacturing opportunities but as we know right now, wearable tech is a niche and mostly limited edition items.
Last year we produced the CHIC - 360Fashion & Tech “Smart Fashion” Expo where we had 3D Printing machine for textiles Electroloom, Patricia Flanagan showcasing Haptic Technology with her talking bonnets, and Illuminated clothing from MoonBerlin, No Fact Group, and Elektrocouture. We had workshops and talks about Smart Textiles, and featured Metaverse Nails who did Augmented Reality manicures for people.
At the moment there are some small initiatives inside some universities but for the most part it is our company who has been pioneering in this field. Recently some fashion accelerators have cropped up, but not focused on technology. There are of course, a ton of Shanzai (copied) products in Shenzhen that look plastic-y but have great tech inside.
Photos of designers, ZiYe Wang working on a Robotic Dress with Anina Net, CEO 360Fashion Network
We have established a 360FASH TECH LAB in Beijing, China and there we are working with fashion designers, schools who send us interns, and young designers who are all experimenting and using our kits (www.360fash.com). We have had many fashion designers and brands come to see what we are up to and use our kits for their fashion shows or internal experimentation.
We have seen really amazing ideas come out of the students working with our kits such as the Heating Massage shirt made for blue collar workers who stay on their desks all day which was created by a Beijing Fashion Institute of Technology Student who interned for us and we helped her create her graduation project using our 360Fash Tech Kits.
Last month was the first month we had opened our doors to three student interns, and now we have applications of twenty-five who would like to work in our 360FASH TECH LAB! By the next year we will have a delegation from Patricia Flanagan’s class of 40 students coming to have a workshop in our facilities and use our kits. We already have several universities who are signing up to our LED Bag program where we are bringing their prototypes to manufacture and sales.
Brands like RFactory are taking steps to work with technology and see the consumer response to tech enabled clothing such as the Motion Dress. You can hear first hand what they are thinking and how they see fashion tech being integrated into their brand DNA.
I think we will soon see really strong fashion tech products coming out of China because they have both the clothing manufacturing and the electronics manufacturing at their fingertips! Where they need help is on ideas… and I am not lacking on that front with a clear vision of what can be created!
The fashion and tech industry have been quite separate. Now we are seeing a merger of the two as well as the new term “FashTech”.
What does FashTech mean to you?
I think FashTech is the overarching category of all major relevant technologies applied to the fashion industry. Under this we have subcategories of retail tech, mobile gaming, virtual shopping, augmented events and smart fashion clothing and accessories.
Who are your 3 inspirational women in fashion tech?
Anouk Wipprecht of course for having put this whole sector on the map, Mary Hodder for her work in privacy and personal data control, and Patricia Flanagan for her work in Haptic Feedback with clothing.
What do you think are the next trends in fashion tech?
Well, VR is super hot now, but no one had the equipment yet. Augmented Reality is catching on with Pokemon, but the glasses are looking too big and bulky for fashion brands to use them in their daily attire.
That leaves IoT and Wearables: smart fabric e-textiles like the LED Ribbon are sparking brands to easily integrate light into their accessories such as LIBET who created some illuminated bags for cycling home from the nightclubs. I think that we will start to see products with light (Zac Posen, Marchesa, etc have been showing these trends) and for that we will need e-textiles to make them comfortable to wear along with a solution such as our fashion tech maker kits to get the tech into the hands of the creatives.
What challenges did you encounter when you started in this industry?
Fashion brands generally do not like technology. I don’t know why, but they are extremely resistant to change and adoption of innovation. This is the biggest problem in bringing any new service to market that is targeting the next generation of shoppers (Millennials) who have grown up with a cellphone in their hand. The brands don’t need it now, but the ones who pioneer in this space will become the legacy brands of tomorrow. I understand, fashion brands need to SELL NOW to be able to get to tomorrow. I find it a bit short sighted though this approach of waiting until the demand is there and the market saturated.
What advice would you give to someone wanting to enter this industry?
Come to our 360Fash Tech Lab and learn about smart fashion – intern, collaborate, create. Take some online courses in coding or some offline courses in soldering at your local maker space.
Take some paper, tape, and pen and just make a prototype in real size of where you think all the parts should be placed in a piece of clothing that you like. TRY for yourself.
I know of a few programs such as Patricia Flanagan in Australia who are heading up fashion tech programs within universities where you could enrol.
What are your working on at the moment and how can we help you?
I would so appreciate to be connected to any women in tech organisations to let them know about our 360Fash Tech Kits with visual programming, and any women who code organisations, women incubators, fashion incubators.
If you see an opportunity to create a fashion tech workshop or hackathon or competition, I'd love to be involved!
About 360Fashion Network
Innovative leaders in fashion technology since 2005, 360Fashion Network is an international company that uses its proprietary tools to help global brands interact with their customers in new ways. The creators of the 360Fash Tech Kits that power up your fashion with no coding or soldering, which are out-of-the-box solutions for fashion brands to create smart garments and accessories. The kits can be used to make fast prototypes to test in the market, or for a runway show piece.