Exploring how state-of-the-art technology can transform creativity and inform industry transformation, Microsoft is placing its innovations in the hands of celebrated emerging designers.
A portfolio of Microsoft’s most innovative technologies relevant to the creative industries is being placed directly into the hands of four emerging design talents. In partnership with former British Vogue Creative Director Jaime Perlman and her sustainability-oriented magazine More or Less, the mission is to empower and aid the creative process — limited only by the imagination of the creatives in question.
“We want to lend our expertise and technological capabilities to drive digital transformation within the industry, through innovation, creativity and sustainability,” says Director of Strategic Brand Partnerships, Maruschka Loubser.
“We take on all projects with a starting base of a ‘consumer problem’ source — a business problem. I don’t think of tech as an initiative, but more as a solution to understanding opportunity and how technology can then enable it.” Loubser works as part of team directing the global cultural output for Microsoft, collaborating and positioning the organisation as a worldwide change agent across several adjacent creative industries. Past initiatives include placing Microsoft technology into the hands of London College of Fashion students, via a Future of Fashion Incubator.
Microsoft’s In Culture initiative acts as the conduit to pair creative industries with the technologies they need to innovate. Fashion is the latest space in which the company is identifying itself as an innovative and high potential resource partner.
The collaboration with sustainability oriented magazine More or Less, headed by former British Vogue Creative Director Jaime Perlman, led to the curation of a group of respected emerging designers that possessed conscious design approaches and a willingness to rethink and disrupt their creative processes. Design duo Rottingdean Bazaar, alongside Fredrik Tjærandsen, Phoebe English and Queen Elizabeth II Award-winning designer Bethany Williams all benefit. In embedding its existing technologies within this roster of talent, and allowing them to experiment and execute intuitively, Microsoft hopes to gain insight into new potential benefits in their technologies, or unexpected efficiencies.
Now, BoF sits down with Loubser to explore the power of these technologies on a use-case basis for designers across the industry and how the wider application of the technology underlines Microsoft’s potential as a change agent in fashion — not only unlocking further innovation among emerging talent, but also driving the industry’s wider journey to sustainability.
Why is Microsoft focusing on the creative industries and fashion in particular with this project?
The current climate is putting enormous strain in the creative industry, but it also represents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to rethink business as usual. Everybody is talking about the “new normal” and I definitely don’t know what that is, but we believe there is so much potential for creativity and sustainability to define the future of these industries — we want to be the change agents to empower things towards a brighter future.
From an enterprise point of view and from a commercial perspective, Microsoft already possesses long-standing relationships within the fashion industry.We also have an active cultural program collaborating with creators across different areas including music, art and sports. The Microsoft In Culture fashion programme is about exploring new ways to partner with influential industry players. We want to lend our expertise and technological capabilities to drive digital transformation through innovation, leading to greater creativity and empowering more sustainable processes. We’re particularly enthusiastic about what possibilities lie within our digital tools and how they could power the industry in the future.
What inspired the collaboration with More or Less?
For [Microsoft], Perlman’s More or Less venture shows true dedication to a more sustainable future for fashion. Following on from previous partnerships, like our Future of Fashion Incubator with London College of Fashion, we know that emerging talent is really driven by a sense of freedom and an urge for creative exploration and expression. We, at Microsoft, want to support that through the digital tools and technology that we have.
I was personally very excited to work with Jaime Perlman. She has such a rich experience within the fashion industry and, as a former creative director for British Vogue, she has an eye for emerging talent that is not only pushing boundaries in design and creativity, but also open to exploring new, innovative ways of how the industry can improve.
Why focus on emerging design talent?
Through More or Less and the wider collaborations with the designers, we hope to learn more about the creative process and how technology and innovation tools can empower, define and elevate the fashion business that they have. It is inspiring to see how each partner brings a completely fresh perspective on the tools we offer — creating new use-cases for our products and envisioning new and novel capabilities.
We hope to learn more about the creative process and how technology can empower, define and elevate the fashion business that they have.
The overarching aim of what we wanted to demonstrate with the Augmented Atelier programme is that the tools are there already. Bethany Williams and Phoebe English were surprised at how realistic the materials were and the way in which designs came out looking so much like their existing ones. For me, that [replication] is the beauty of what this technology can achieve. It allows for so many other collaborations outside the studio — with buyers or production houses — without creating this physical product.
What importance do you believe mixed reality and digital-only product could have?
Digital technologies can allow for blue-sky thinking for designers — they are unrestrained by the limits that would traditionally exist within a physical design process. The Azure Spatial Anchors and Azure Cloud Computing tools were used in this project to build conscious, digital fashion prototypes. We believe digital-only product could redefine the collaboration, inclusion, sharing and learning capabilities for creatives.
The likes of mixed reality within the e-commerce world also fulfils that sense of immediacy and relevancy that the fashion community is demanding. These technologies can also expand the possibilities for truly bespoke work, while reducing a lot of the environmental footprint that physical prototypes often carry.
There is such a spike in digital garments and spaces — I’m excited to learn more about how technologies can not only realise this, but also understand consumer behaviour around it — how it will change the wardrobe experience.
How do you think Microsoft can find the balance between technology, sustainability and craft?
There is so much more that technological tools can allow. If [designers] are creating digital garments, you no longer need to produce at scale or have prototypes to engage with consumers. This technology can enable more end-to-end circular processes and further both craft and an understanding of supply and demand without physical production.
How could technology drive industry transformation?
There are lots of tools, be that mixed reality or web AR or VR-type experiences, that allow for more realistic engagement, or a collaboration between you and your consumers. While it depends on constraints, infrastructure and external factors — Will there be fashion shows? How will that come to life? — we can enhance the runway-to-store experience and how consumers can engage with the see-now, buy-now model.
Going further, there is artificial intelligence tools that enable people to understand how their consumers are showing interest in and interpreting their designs. With everybody at home, smart experiences are on the rise. It could be the time to play into smart homes and the Internet of Things with voice collaborations.
There’s a real array of Microsoft tools available to suit the current state and infrastructure of fashion brands. We are constantly working on deepening our relationships and partnerships that we have across the industry, but what Microsoft is working towards is really developing more transformative ways of collaborating and understanding what impact technology can have and, ultimately, what widespread change we can enable.