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Q&A with Dr. Amanda Parkes, Manufacture New York

In our FUSE speaker interview series, we sat down with Dr. Amanda Parkes, Chief of Technology & Research at Hybrid Fashion Incubator at Manufacture New York. She is a fashion technologist and biomedia designer with over 10 years of experience in interaction design, wearable technology, and fashion innovation. Dr. Parkes is currently the Chief of Technology and Research at Manufacture NY, a new hybrid fashion incubator/factory/research facility in Brooklyn NY where she is leading the development of a high-tech fashion & textiles R&D space with joint research around advanced digital fabrication, wearable electronics, and material science.

Here's what she had to say:

How has technology impacted fashion design?  

Parkes: Currently, technology is impacting fashion in two major ways - the first is in production and manufacturing- everything from raw material development, software systems for design, fabrication processes, to digital systems for sourcing and managing supply chains. The fashion industry has been slower to adopt digital technology than most, and many traditional processes are still in place, which is a good thing for creativity.

The key is to find the right balance between fostering the highest level of creativity while optimizing efficiencies through technology. The second area is of technology’s impact is more public facing- through social media and the internet. Readily available information and imagery has opened up whole new viral channels which change how brands represent themselves, how trends disseminate through democratrized media, through to how and what sales happen. On the back end of this is data collection and analytics, which will become increasingly important as we better understand how to map and utilize date effectively and integrate the blockchain for security and traceability. 

What is the most innovative fashion design you’ve seen this year?

Parkes: From a runway point of view, the Iris van Herpen Spring 2018 Couture Collection ‘Ludi Nature’ was outstanding. She so elegantly fuses high tech computational design processes with traditional craftsmanship, to create a hybrid approach which transcends the materials and the medium. This is really where I see the future of couture. From a materials perspective, Modern Meadow, a biotech start up that has created lab grown leather, debuted a t-shirt as part of the ‘Is Fashion Modern?’ exhibition at the MOMA that is a true breakthrough in sustainability, and  has the potential to revolutionize the entire leather industry and how we design with it.

What is the role of a design leader today?

Parkes: Leading in design today is about taking an interdisciplinary approach. We no longer work in a siloed world of distinct disciplines and a good design leader must have a broad understanding of all the elements that go into making a particular product or experience, and how to speak the language to mitigate between the different kinds of expertise needed. Empathy is also very important. Being able to identify with and communicate effectively with a wide variety of consumers as well as creators- people working as part of the design and production process- always yields better results.

How can a great design make all the difference?

Parkes: The bottom line with fashion is that people have to want to wear it. Fashion is a language of personal expression and identity. If doesn’t matter how useful, convenient, or functional a garment is, if nobody want to put it on their body, the most sophisticated functionality won’t do anyone any good.  I think this is where a lot of Silicon Valley companies making wearables get it wrong. They haven’t put in the time and effort to understand the nuances of what it takes to design for the body. It isn’t the same as making a device or gadget, it is inherently more personal and fashion designers have so much to offer on how to do this effectively.

What makes a brand iconic?

Parkes: Authenticity. That is everything. We live in an age where there is so much information available online and through social media. It is crucial that brands embrace this reality with a sense of transparency, Brands that have depth with genuine reasons for what they do and what they make and are open about communicating this, emerge as more iconic. Embracing an iconic brand is kind of like considering a friendship - no one expects their friends to be perfect, but the best ones are honest and real, and the quirks are the things you fall in love with.

What’s next for fashion design?

Parkes: What I hope is next for fashion is to elevate the conversation. From the outside, fashion as an industry is not taken seriously, people tend to associate it with superficial issues of glossy glamorous magazines. But in reality, it has incredible social and economic influence across the globe for better or worse- everything from environmental issues, labor issues, women’s rights, trade, agriculture.

Most people don’t realize that apparel and textiles is the second most polluting industry in the world, just after oil and gas. That is massive! But it is also a massive opportunity for change. Inside the industry we need to take ourselves seriously by recognizing the influence we have, use it for positive change, and project that accordingly to the public. The most powerful thing we can all do as consumers to influence fashion is purchase according to your values. Take advantage of the growing transparency of information, be informed about what went into what you are wearing.

Want more on fashion design from Dr. Parkes? Don’t miss her session, “The Augmented Body: Fashion Futures for a Connected World” at FUSE 2018 taking place April 9-11 in NYC. Learn more:

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