Week 3 of my project began with a day trip with a friend from my dance team (who is also very into fashion) to San Francisco. Heading to the local BART near my house at 9 am, we got to SF’s Powell street around 10 and began towards the tech-wear company Ministry of Supply, renown for their performance enhancing business staples and classic sweaters and blazers made from 3-D knitting technologies. I had a handful of questions in mind to ask them, specifically regarding how they make use of their physical technologies such as their 3-D knitter and NASA inspired fabrics to address the issues of overproduction and ethical sourcing within the clothing industry.
Reaching at around 11, I walked in with my friend, telling the lady working there that I was curious about their company and its methods. She was more than happy to answer my questions, informing me on everything from how the brand got its start to all the different steps in the production line in which they make a conscious effort to maintain ethics and even reduce our carbon footprint. I asked first about their 3D knitted sweaters and blazers, as I also do robotics and was fascinated by how tech such as 3D printers (which our team uses frequently) is now used in fashion. She responded by explaining how unlike traditional sweaters and blazers, which use sheets of fabric that are cut into certain shapes and then stitched together, often leaving excess fabric, the 3D knitting uses exactly the right amount of fabric and makes the entire top in one piece. Not only does this reduce waste, but it also makes the item much more sturdy, she explained, as the piece is literally seamless; this extra durability also allows means the item will last longer. As an added bonus, the fact that it was 3D knitted by a machine allowed for certain aspects of their design, such as its anatomical fit and variations in the knitting pattern near the under-arm area (for breathability/less sweatstains), that would be near impossible to knit in one piece using standard techniques. They were also made using a viscose rayon material, which comes from sources that are easy to replant, further reducing our carbon footprint.
When she asked what my friend and I were doing in the city on a Monday morning, and why weren’t in school, I explained that I was doing a school project on fashion and technology, and alongside that, we had come to film dance videos in different spots around the city. She told us that their dress shirts and suit pants were actually often worn by dancers, and led us to their “Apollo 3” shirts, which weren’t 3D knitted, but made from materials almost 20x more breathable than normal cotton, inspired by the body heat regulating materials used by NASA. We tried on a few shirts and found them to be some of the best fitting shirts ever, form-fitting but not movement restricting at all. After that, I saw a small rack in the back corner of their store with a handful of puffer jackets; they had caught my eye because they seemed quite chic, unlike the rest of the store which had timeless, classic staples. I walked over to find some of the most interesting jackets I had ever come across – smart, self-heating “Mercury Intelligent Heated Jackets.” (Excuse the photography, I took it with my iPhone camera)
This jacket used a battery pack, stored in a pocket, to heated up the entire jacket through three different areas: one at the back (shown in my photos), and two behind each of the front pockets, where your hands would go. The most interesting, however, was the fact that the jacket had 3 modes, controlled by a power button near the inner collar. Red, which would turn off heating, green, for active heating, and yellow, for smart, regulated heating. The lady working there gave me a demonstration of the jacket heating up, and explained to us how the yellow smart heating mode would conserve battery power by factoring both outside and internal temperatures, and then heating or cooling accordingly. Unfortunately, since the Ministry of Supply (which takes its name from James Bond’s “Q,” who worked at the “Ministry of Supply” to create the best wearable technologies for Bond) is conscious of overproduction and the jacket is quite costly to produce, they only made a limited run of these jackets, and there were none remaining in my size for me to try on.
Nevertheless, the store attendant was more than happy to help me with my project, and handed me a couple of pamphlets as well as their personal blog, in which they explain their technologies in detail ( www.scientificallybetter.com ). She also informed me of some other brands around San Francisco which were also into tech wear and 3D-printed clothing, such as Rothy’s which was just down the street and 3D printed women’s shoes. Thanking her, we left the Ministry of Supply store after a very productive couple of hours and went on to browse through Rothy’s.
An image of me wearing black Nike Air Force 1s, Martin Margiela 2002 Cream Moleskin trousers, Prada Sport knitted half zip/mock neck sweater, Vintage Gap Jacket and black and golden scarf from India as we danced in the cold San Franciscan morning.
I hope to continue visiting similar companies around the Bay Area, learning about how each is incorporating different technologies from here in the Silicon Valley to help the fashion and clothing industry around the world.
On a side note, I have been continuing my research work into the product and operational strategies of various mass retailers and will share my findings in next week’s blogs, as well as ideas that I am forming myself to help pitch an idea at Kohl’s for smart, automated designing which would reduce excess stocks and not only save money but our environment as well. I am also scheduled to shadow a data scientist next week so that I can get some insight into the actual mathematics and programming going behind the implementation of these solutions.