Disrupting Fashion with Open Source

November 23, 2017 - 6 minutes read

It seems we all agree, the Fashion System needs disruption and deep change. Yet it isn’t clear how to implement these changes. Will “better” consumer choices truly lead the industry to make all the needed changes? And how long will it take? What else can be done to make changes across the entire industry and to make this happen in our lifetime? Let’s look further into this, maybe there’s something missing from the current discussion which can help.

Fashion has two faces

The Fashion Industry has two faces, or layers. The Fashion Design layer is what we see in magazines and on the streets and in stores. It is creative, diverse, based on free flow of ideas and a culture of copy/remix, and is constantly changing. The Fashion Production layer produces the visible Fashion Design layer. It is not visible to the public. It is slow, deeply rooted in tradition, highly proprietary and secretive, and very resistant to change. These two layers are complete opposites of each other. 

The Fashion Industry is also very, very big. It is the second largest industry, next to oil and gas. It is dependent upon large banking and marketing systems to support production and drive demand. These two supporting systems, banking and marketing, are themselves inherently resistant to change. The Fashion System inherits these slow-moving and tradition-mired qualities by default.

IT’s influence on Fashion

The Fashion Industry also depends heavily upon the IT Industry. Couldn’t the Fashion Industry inherit more qualities from the agile and responsive IT industry and less from Wall Street and Madison Avenue? 

IT has always had something very special which makes it different than other industries. From it’s very beginning, IT had a culture of technical collaboration. The ITU, the United Nation’s agency for developing worldwide technical standards, began at the International Telegraph Conference, Paris, 1865.  This conference established an ongoing platform for discussion between nations, the public, and private industry to plan for the future, solve problems, and implement their findings.

As a collaborative community, the IT industry developed open standards. Open standards evolved into open source code and hardware. Today, 99% of the internet runs on interconnected open source tools. IT businesses regularly  add customized services, support contracts, and proprietary add-ons to open source products, and produce enormous value to their clients and generate tremendous wealth. Couldn’t IT’s  everyone’s-included and open-source-mix-as-needed culture be applied to the Fashion Production layer? 

Collaboration with secrecy

Well, it appears that the beginnings of collaborative and open source culture have already begun. TechPacker mingles open source illustration contributions from fashion designers with a for-pay privacy option, similar to Github‘s business model. Seamly2D is an open source patternmaking tool which can be customized to meet business needs.  Additional tools could be developed so that fashion production basics could be shared between competitors while designer details remain secret. With these tools, collaborations with the latest hot designers and specialized manufacturing facilities can be created, enacted, and rearranged with the speed required to meet market demands.

Fashion designs are agile, production should be agile too

Agile techniques dominate software and hardware development. The speed of design cycles in the Fashion Design layer surpasses that of any agile software team on the planet. By enabling agile methods into customizable open source tools, each supply and manufacturing relationship can be quickly formed and replaced as needed. Lead times and production minimums can be drastically lowered. Manufacturing of mass customized garments can become profitable.

Small is the future

Small batch and made-to-measure production require new on-demand manufacturing processes. Broker services like Envirotextiles can aggregate textile orders and ensure reliable production rates. Manufacturing facilities like OnPoint Manufacturing can process mass-customized and small-batch orders ship to the consumer. By enabling these interconnected services, open source tools plus agile methods can create a new Fashion Eco-System. A customizable and responsive end-to-end digital workflow can meet growing market demands for higher quality clothing which satisfies ethical values.

Open source whacks ALL the moles?

How does the open source approach hit all the buttons and whack all the moles of this complicated fashion industry problem? It is because open source lets the COMMUNITY define what it needs. The fashion community includes us all. We all have a voice. By learning from the IT industry, fashion can change from toxic to sustainable and from slow to agile.

We can do this, we are doing this. You can do this too.

A few small projects have begun to make these tools, including Seamly2D and All Yarns Are Beautiful. The FFi wants to take this to the next level, to create change for the public good and for corporate good. So make your voice heard. Join the FFi, make your donation, and start the disruption.


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