360Fashion Network Founder, Anina, on Creating Virtual and Interactive Technology Solutions for Fashion Brands
By Stephanie Benedetto
The 360Fashion Network is a leading international fashion technology company that creates custom virtual and interactive solutions for fashion brands. We sat down with 360Fashion Network Founder, Anina, to learn more about her company, why she’s working in China, the brands that are getting it right, and what she sees as the future of fashion tech.
P2P: Tell us about your background and what led you to the fashion tech industry?
Anina: My family are all computer engineers and so I was expected to follow in their footsteps. But then I took a left at the Paris catwalks and began a career in modeling. I used technology to help me network faster, communicate better, and promote myself across social media. I am the original “Model Blogger” and one of the first to ever share the backstage of modeling on a public platform.
P2P: How did you start the 360Fashion Network and why did you do it in China?
Anina: I started 360Fashion Network as a mobile blogging, 360 degree overview on fashion, and empowered people like Imran Ahmed from Business of Fashion and Diane Pernet from A Shaded View on Fashion with the latest technology. I knew their sites would grow into the new kind of news platforms. I moved to mobile apps and geo-location, and if I had to hear one more time in 2005 "who would ever make a mobile app" from a fashion designer, I was going to scream. I was simply too early.
But I kept my passion for applying new technologies to fashion and in 2007 decided to go where there were 1.3 billion people with mobile phones, blogs, and an emerging market: CHINA. I decided I would become China's number one foreign fashion model, and in two years I achieved that as the only foreigner to be nominated and win top 10 models. My face everywhere, I decided it was the right time to launch my company in China and work from the top down. Due to my passion I was lucky to meet the largest association of fashion in China who looked at all the fashion technology that I was producing and said, "I don’t understand this, but I know this is the right direction." They invited me to create the 360Fashion & Tech Expo for the last 5 years in the International CHIC to bring innovation to the fashion industry. Over 110,000 fashion industry professionals attend our expo to learn about the latest tech and it's very exciting to see in the last 5 years all the companies and technologies that we introduced into China find new clients and expand.
P2P: Has your career in modeling impacted your work at all? Has it given you a different perspective on the fashion business?
Anina: Models are mobile, so I used my phone for EVERYTHING. Due to my tech background, I could do things with my phones that others could not do -- configure it, hack it, and make it work for me in ways that are very common place today, but at that time it was near impossible unless you were the god of Nokia. In fact, it was thanks to Nokia that I was given technical support, training, and education on the latest tech. I knew about technologies that shape our world today before they even entered the marketplace so I could envision how they would be applied or could be used in the fashion industry. I was thrilled to work with Vodafone, France Telecom, and other companies to create projects where I applied these technologies to the fashion industry. I always had my friends from fashion that I could drag with me to try this or that. I had a lot of support from both sides and I am very grateful. Today that support continues with IBM and cloud computing at our 360Fashion & Tech "Startup Runway & Innovation Awards" this past November 3rd. I'm very excited to see supercomputing applied to fashion!
P2P: 360Fashion offers custom tech services, including virtual boutiques, mobile mags, interactive catalogs, and ecommerce apps. How can a brand implement these tools to help them increase awareness, sales, and interactivity?
Anina: I live somewhere in the future. I live where all these things already exist and where they are seamless. Virtual boutiques can be created using augmented reality for an interactive experience and I find it to work best at an event to give the WOW effect and create clicks to sales. Mobile mags are great for emerging markets and marketers to address continents like China, Africa, and India where mobile phones are fragmented and data is costly. Sending out a mobile mag with your latest offers or an overview on your services is like a calling card, easy to use and once downloaded offline for people to open and close without increasing their data use. Ecommerce apps are commonplace today, but ones such as we have created for Vero Moda, with avatars and virtual dressing, have not yet emerged. Styliff and Istylemyself are two great apps we showcased at the IBM-360Fashion & Tech Event that are really connecting users to their style wish using IBM supercomputing. They have great graphics and are bound to becoming the standards for ecommerce applications. If you are a brand and you don’t have it in the near future, you will be considered outdated. Where I am now focused is VR and interactive shopping: connecting the apps, services, and information into a store environment to create a great brand experience.
P2P: Virtual and interactive events seem to be a key feature of 360Fashion, including many successful events in China and the recent "360Fashion & Tech Startup Runway & Innovation Awards" in collaboration with IBM in San Francisco. Why are events important to the fashion and technology industries?
The fashion industry is a tactile industry. We need to see it, touch it, feel it to then imagine how it can be and how it can be better.
Anina: It's why digital took so long to be used by the fashion industry I believe -- it was not real enough for most designers who are offline. By bringing together the latest technology entrepreneurs with leading fashion brands in an interactive VISIONARY environment, it is an experience that lets everyone imagine how the future could look. It sparks new and better ideas. It allows them to play and try the new technologies, gather more information, learn, and for the entrepreneurs, they can create new partnerships, gain clients, and get valuable feedback. The events also create an atmosphere that is attractive to women. We really want to attract more women to the technology industry, and fashion tech seems to be a place where women feel powerful and non-competitive. Lastly, how do you get the whole eco-system in the room to talk about innovation? Most events are segmented: only engineers, only fashion, only IOT...to create the new digital lifestyle all aspects need to work and think together to create our world. What does happen when you connect a piece of clothing to a supercomputer? What do customers want and what do they not want? We need to come together and explore the future together. It's not a one-sided decision, we need to think together, the whole ecosystem, to find our way.
P2P: What do you think about the ways in which fashion and technology are merging? Is fashion leveraging technology fast enough or is there some catching up to do?
Anina: I believe that when the fashion industry makes AR, VR, Mobile, and Wearables a standard inclusion in their collections and brand identities, we will finally have a wide range adaptation. Until tech becomes fashionable, we won’t see everyone using it.
P2P: Any brands/companies/designers that you've seen doing an exemplary job at leveraging tech for their businesses in exciting and innovative ways?
Anina: I love what Net-A-Porter is doing with their mobile iPad app being a shoppable magazine, their use of AR with Karl Lagerfeld. I love how Iris van Herpen is experimenting with 3D printing and Zac Posen just made LEDs a fashion trend. I love how TOP SHOP used VR for inviting people to their fashion show. I think Casely-Hayford with their XOO belt and Vivienne Tam with her recharging purse are all in the right direction. I say let's see more! For clothing, the best I have seen today is MOONBerlin with their illuminated fabrics and delicate designs which are actually wearable. Rami Kadi is hitting the nail on the head by using illuminated threads with his couture gowns and holographic shirts and skirts.
P2P: Any technology trends you are predicting for the future? What we can expect to see from 360Fashion in the coming year?
Anina: We are really focusing on bringing our 360Fashion & Tech Event forward because we recognise that there needs to be a high level platform which can bring all parts of the ecosystem together, and China is a major piece in the puzzle. The innovation coming out of China is phenomenal. Shenzhen, Beijing, Shanghai, all are producing great apps, wearables, IOT--it's simply behind a firewall and Chinese are not notorious for investing in marketing and brand communication. They are still on a practical sales level, so that is a great opportunity for brands to partner on design, ideas, and sales channels. Without Asia, fashion doesn’t work. And the China market is ripe for foreign technologies--they are starting to understand the value of high quality. There's a great opportunity for entrepreneurs to expand their business. We are creating that bridge between east and west, fashion and technology. In 2016 we will invest in supporting fashion designers with more great technology and the first way we are doing that is with the 360Fash Kit based on the motion detection dress we launched at the IBM-360Fashion & Tech Event November 3rd. The 360Fash Kit is a kickstarter kit for designers to make their own motion detection, LED clothing. We plan to bring out more kits so that we can get the party started. We are also focusing heavily on Virtual Reality and how it can be applied to fashion. It's very exciting 2016! I’m really excited. I've been doing fashion technology since 2000 when I first dreamed up all the things we are doing today...and I felt alone for so long...and finally, thanks to wearable tech, thanks to pioneers like Anouk Wipprecht, thanks to sites like Queen of Raw, the party is finally starting and all the time we invested is coming into bloom. We are so excited to find partners who want to innovate with us in 2016! I say, JOIN US! LET'S GO! ALL ENGINES READY FOR TAKEOFF! 2016 WILL BE THE BEST YEAR EVER!