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Technology and fashion: Fad or future?

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A history of fashion

When assessing what has driven the fashion industry to go from strength to strength, a recurring theme crops up – function.

In the 1920s Coco Chanel revolutionised women’s fashion, wanting to break away from the conformity of restrictive clothing. At the forefront of post-war women’s fashion, Chanel favoured comfort and liberty over the constraints of corsets and petticoats.

Chanel recognised that to better perform her work as a dressmaker, clothing that allowed her to move easily, kneel and bend down was better suited to her work and the work of the modern woman of her time. Her designs were inspired by typical menswear tailoring when creating her iconic suits and she used materials such as jersey that had only previously been used for making underwear for men. This allowed for free and unrestricted movement, while retaining an element of class and style. 

Throughout this ground-breaking change in fashion, it remained important that Chanel’s designs sustained style, but it is easy to forget that the driving factor of this dramatic transformation was functionality.

Function over form

A major force in fashion progression is the development of functional wants or needs in society. The function of a T-shirt was once to keep a person cool on a warm day, but can it be argued that the function of a T-shirt is becoming no longer just this?

A new exciting technology due to be launched soon, is Smart jewellery designed and created by Kovert Designs. A small circuit board embedded into a stone, which can be interchanged from a ring to a pendant, connects to a Smart device. The wearer can set the device so he/she is notified when a selected person calls, sends a text message or connects through social media. When that selected person contacts the wearer, the jewellery will discretely vibrate to notify them.

Meanwhile, CuteCircuit’s hug shirt is a T-shirt that talks to a mobile device and can connect with other hug shirt wearers. The shirt has sensors woven into the fabric, which can send hugs amongst wearers of the same technology. The wearer wraps their arms around their shirt, before sensors in the shirt recognise these pressure points and send a message to the wearer’s friend. This triggers similar pressure points on the friend’s shirt, giving them the sense of receiving a hug.

No matter how ingenious the technology, nor how many wonderful gadgets may become available, for wearable technology to become the next big thing, it needs aesthetic appeal. Although changes in fashion are often fuelled by changes in function, function being the driving force and form coming secondary, it is still of huge importance that the design looks great!

The retail sector eagerly awaits what the future has in store for products such as Google Glass and the fervently anticipated iWatch. Now that the functions have been established, will more investment go into the aesthetics of the products making them desirable to those fashionistas who would not currently be seen dead wearing Google Glass? The appointment of Burberry head Angela Ahrendts at Apple and fashion marketing guru Ivy Ross at Google Glass, certainly suggests that such large corporate entities are confident the market is worthy of investment and is here to stay.

Legal implications of data collection

So with such easy accessibility to technology and data becoming so readily collected and transmitted by such devices, particularly since it is now becoming part of a person’s everyday outfit, what legal issues might this raise?

The fashion industry regularly needs legal guidance in relation to contractual and intellectual property matters, but the fusion between fashion and technology also shines a light on issues concerning data processing and privacy. This is particularly important when personal data is transmitted, but what is meant by personal data and processing?

Legally, personal data means any information that links to or can identify an individual. This can include a person’s name, residential address or arguably their email or internet protocol address, to name a few examples. Processing also has a very broad meaning under the law and comprises obtaining, recording, holding, using, disclosing or erasing data.

If personal information about an individual is processed by a third party, without the informed consent of the individual, then the party processing the data could face serious legal ramifications. Further, if a person starts to bring their own device to work, for instance their Google Glass, then this may have a serious impact on the privacy of other employees and could cause problems for an employer who does not have the correct policies in place to avoid such legal pitfalls.

The verdict

So technology in fashion, is it the new black? It seems fair to say that with recent high profile investments in the fashion and technology industries, coupled with the development of technological function in fashion, it will not be going away any time soon.

Top tips for developers:

  1. Inform users whenever you collect personal data from them;
  2. Obtain users’ informed consents to process their data: a) let users know what their personal data will be used for, e.g. to improve the service to them and b) ensure you do not pass on users’ personal information to third parties – if you do, be sure to inform users in advance, letting them know why their information is being passed on and what it will be used for;
  3. Do not collect any personal information from users that you do not need;
  4. Do not keep users’ data for longer than is required; and
  5. Ensure you have appropriate online security in place.

Sarah Walsh is an Associate at Taylor Vinters LLP and fashion law expert.

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