A Bridge between Fashion and TechnologySeptember 21, 2020
- Adaptive architecture has commonalities with and reflection in the fashion industry
- Agile principles such as technical excellence and continuous delivery are as much a part of the fashion industry as they are for software development
- Nike’s “The Ten” collaboration with Virgil Abloh is a great example of agile architecture in practice
- As Neal Ford says: Architecture is abstract until operationalized
- Incremental and adaptive design is a competitive advantage in fashion in the same way that it is in software development
It was a peculiar moment for me when Will.i.am stated that “A tech company is the fashion of tomorrow.” while talking to Ian Rogers during the 2016 Business of Fashion Voices. “Fashion tomorrow” was already happening at that time; the American music producer was speaking to someone who had moved from the technology world to fashion. Ian had just completed 1 year as Chief Digital Officer of LVMH after working at Apple. A few minutes before he had said that,
in his opinion, talking about digital “it’s like talking about oxygen,” during a conversation with Imran Amed, CEO and editor-in-chief of The Business of Fashion (BoF).
Four years later and in Covid-19 times, the industry is starting to adjust to a new reality where Digital Transformation initiatives need to accelerate or urgently start. Social isolation is establishing a new status quo and actions, like the 2020 Met Gala Livestream – “A Moment With
the Met”. There is the announcement from British Fashion Council that London Fashion Week will happen online in June showing what might be the plan for fashion shows get through the global pandemic situation. It is a moment to restart and “deeply breathe digital,” to go further into the connection between the worlds of fashion and technology that had begun to emerge.
In a recent Vogue Global Conversations, Virgil Abloh, CEO of Off-White and Artistic Director of menswear at Louis Vuitton, said the new status quo requires an industry-wide union “where designers speak to other designers, companies speak to other designers, and share resources”.
For me, this open collaboration already shows that fashion will likely follow the technology pat familiar to me, where we have open-source communities that allow software developers to jointly build applications. Open-source had always been at the heart of IT and we see a lot of companies that build proprietary software, such as Microsoft, adhering to the movement.
All these associations really resonated with me, as someone from the tech side and a fashion lover. This “cultural intermixture” brings me back to the first time that I saw a polo shirt from the Fred Perry X Ten Do Ten 2013 Summer PAC-MAN collaboration. I was thrilled by the idea of a classic 8-bit screen design translated into a garment. On the other hand, Virgil has always been an inspiration to me. Aside from all the experience that he creates in each project, the main reason is that I believe he developed the perfect example to bring two IT areas together,
Software Architecture and Agile. Software Architecture? Agile? What are you talking about? Ok, let’s step back for a moment and get everyone on the same floor.
Conceptually, IT borrowed a lot of themes from Civil Engineering, one being Architecture. Despite the 3000 years that separate both areas, Architecture & Software Architecture share similar words through the multiple definitions that they have, such as “structure”, “components”, and “environment”. At first, that relationship was really strong because the technology was “more concrete”, heavier, and, obviously, slower. Everything was super difficult to change and applications used to survive without an update for quite a long time. But, as computers advance, the world is submerged in a massive flow of information on digital platforms and customers can directly connect to businesses through these channels, existing conditions that demand companies to be able to push reliable modifications to their websites, or applications, every day, or even multiple times throughout the day.
This progress didn’t happen overnight, and as digital evolved, the technical landscape started to change, reflecting new requirements and problems. In 2001, an initiative to understand these obstacles to develop software, obstacles still relevant to this day, seventeen people gathered in the Wasatch mountains of Utah. From that reunion, “The Agile Manifesto” was created, a declaration based on four key values and 12 principles, establishing a mindset called “Agile”.
This new way of thinking addresses the necessity to respond to change at any moment, welcoming these shifts, keeping motivated people working together, and most importantly,satisfying the customer with early and frequent deliveries and direct communication. The Fashion industry is no stranger to this, not only because of the IT departments in fashion houses but because Agile concepts have expanded to other areas, such as manufacturing and retail. We can attest that in either the “Deliver Excellence” described at LVMH spirit, or the recurrently “Drop” system, that are mirror images from the ninth, “Technical Excellence”, and second, “Continuous Delivery”, Agile Principles.
And this brings me to Virgil’s collaboration with Nike and how it brings Software Architecture and Agile worlds together.
I started to make the links when I read his interview with Nike in 2017. He said that he “didn’t wait all those years just to have meetings,” and “immediately wanted to make something”. What he actually did was to start to deconstruct, literally, a pair of Air Force 1 Low with an X-ACTO knife in his first meeting at Nike’s Headquarters in Beaverton. Early value, check! He was, already, being Agile!
When the “industrial” idea was replicated to other pairs in the project, and the Off-White Air Jordan 1 Chicago design came out, I found that the reorganization of all elements, – exposing, changing, adding, removing, printing, cutting, sewing – it was for me the answer to Matty Healy’s question “Is that designer?”
The process was not very different from something that I was doing for a software architecture modernization project. Jordan 1s were created in 1984, so to me the original silhouette was exactly like the old system that I had to improve, starting by doing the same thing that Virgil did, breaking down components into small parts to decide which ones we were going to use, redesign, or discard. Once I had my first meeting, I “immediately wanted to make something”, and that was when Agile Architecture appeared in the picture.
Agile Architecture is a group of techniques based on two concepts: Emergent Design and Intentional Architecture. In other words, a set of strategies will provide guidance to the team that is going to create a project and emerge with the best solution design. Through the project life cycle, these areas need to be synchronized, and sometimes revisited due to requirements modifications. Achieving the right balance of them gives the team autonomy, and creativity, to incrementally build the system, and, at the same time, support the needs of current users. If we dissect the partnership between Virgil and Nike, we can trace the links that explain why “The Ten” is the perfect example of an Agile Architecture project!
Nike came with the Intentional Architecture to Virgil, to reimagine ten classic shoe silhouettes. After that, he was free to bring and merge his ideas and concepts to the project and doing what the project was proposed for, a design collaboration! From that, he was able to test, build, and rebuild his premises. There is even a lecture where he showed an Air Jordan 1 sample that had white laces, but with a simple “preferably black laces” note in it. He tested to verify if that was going to work, as Neal Ford says, “Architecture is abstract until operationalized”. The conclusion from his final design was shared and replicated among 10 silhouettes. This is not different from digital applications that share components, where there is no need to waste more time reinventing the wheel. Intention and emergence converged and the project was ready to be released with the necessary “just in time” architectural work.
There was even an incremental evolution of the project with the same silhouettes but different designs, like the Air Jordan 1 “UNC”, Nike Air Force 1 Low “Volt”, and Nike Blazer Mid Serena Queen’ . Now, it is fair to say that the initial architecture, The Ten, extended some of its components to other silhouettes that got released by Nike and Off-White, like Nike’s orange box reference in the Nike Zoom Terra Kiger 5, and the unreleased Nike “Rubber Dunk”.
On April 7th, Abloh tweeted: “there’s a blank sheet of paper in front of me. what Nike zone should I do next?” Well, as a new global chapter unfolds, the crossing possibilities horizon seems limitless. Augmented Reality, 3D printing, and Sustainability are just some of the themes that will get Fashion and IT closer, and closer. This partnership will provide learning opportunities, or methodologies correlations, that can help both sides to grow as the bond gets stronger and “The Ten” is one example of this network. Virgil has a Masters Degree in Architecture, which brings us back to the common parallels that Software Architecture and Architecture have. Abloh’s “next” might be one part of this expansion, one that, I think, will probably follow his definition of the less-than-one-minute-sold-out collaboration with Nike:”nothing short of state-of-the-art design”.
About the Author
Gabriel Sampaio is an Innovation Developer & Architect Bachelor in Computer Science and Innovation Developer & Architect. I like to say that I am a tech artist working on art pieces related with Agile Software Architecture, Automation, GitOps, Infrastructure as Data, Digital Transformation, Containers, Service Mesh, Observability, Microservices, DevOps and Innovation.