You’re probably reading this on your phone, tablet, or laptop; technology is literally at your fingertips; but innovators are now bringing tech even closer to the skin through fashion technology. Concepts like performance-based yoga pants – ones that encourage perfecting poses with subtle vibrations – and ‘smart’ commuter jackets that help cyclists navigate on the fly with a swipe are just a couple examples of the fashion tech that has captivated Kristina Dimitrova. The marketing journalist immerses herself in this emerging field through Interlaced, a platform she created that celebrates fashion tech by acknowledging the varied backgrounds of industry leaders and connecting them both online and offline. Interlaced focuses on the latest news in the field with online content, provides consulting services, and also puts on events that can make a concept both digestible and exciting by giving it literal legs, as new products strut down the catwalk. Fashion has always spoken to Kristina, and at her first London Fashion Week a few years ago she caught a glimpse of the future. Networking and attending events landed her smack in the middle of two different worlds – tech and fashion – but she watched genius concepts presented with little uptake from the crowd until a fibre optic dress activated by LEDs hit the runway and captivated the audience. In that moment she saw the powerful story fashion tech told when it was presented in a format that was understood. Witnessing technology moving from a still screen to a body in motion as the model interacted with tech in a way that was seamless was an ‘Aha!’ moment for Kristina. Originally from Bulgaria, she now lives in London, England and when she’s not writing about fashion tech, she’s compiling creative ideas in marketing, technology and consumer culture at her other full-time job. She disconnects by getting back to basics in nature or sweating out daily stresses. There is nothing quite like a good conversation for Kristina, though, and we’re happy to facilitate this one for you.
The value of aesthetics
Words have incredible power
‘Art is what you can get away with’ - Warhol
Less screen time
Keep a positive outlook; if you don’t like something - change it.
Computational Fashion by the Eyebeam Gallery
Being organized enables me to focus more on what I want to achieve
Press pause on life for self-reflection
Living in London heightens my senses to explore new places, people and cultures
Tell me about Interlaced.
Interlaced is a media and events platform that highlights the most exciting developments in fashion and technology. We do that on our website through interviews and features about the most compelling things currently happening in the industry; we interview startups, feature emerging designers, and discuss recent and upcoming developments. Offline we do events, so anything from producing a conference to producing content for other conference organizers to even putting on fashion technology fashion shows.
And what inspired you to start Interlaced?
The objective was to basically unite the different stakeholders that are shaping this industry by creating a platform that brings together four groups from both fashion and tech: the emerging talent, the established companies, academia – the researchers and engineers, and last but not least the public – the consumers, the people who maybe want to find out more about fashion and tech but don’t know where to start. That’s why I started it, to make it more accessible for everyone both in the field and outside of it.
It must be challenging to present content or share stories in a language and context that engages all of those different people. How do you approach that?
That’s actually one of the problems that this emerging industry has; there are a lot of creative people in the design and fashion field and then there are a lot of engineers, and until very recently those two types of people haven’t really spoken the same language. In some cases they haven’t even talked to each other at all, so there’s obviously a learning curve. In terms of how we approach it, we try to explain features and report on developments in a similar way to how we’d explain it to friends. There were these types of platforms when I started Interlaced but they just weren’t that accessible; being as accessible as possible is really one of the highlights for me. I try to be open both in terms of events and with online content – that’s why we’re not locking content under a subscription or anything like that. The whole idea is to educate people about this new industry.
Could you tell me more about the fashion technology industry?
OK, where do I start?! Fashion tech is really the convergence of two fields and it stems, I think, from a couple years ago when people started talking about wearables. Everyone was excited about what these types of devices could do for our health, for maybe the enterprise industry, and also in the military. Until recently, when it came to wearable tech funding was coming through military enterprise and medical, so fashion wasn’t much of an influencing factor moving the industry forward.
When I started really looking into it though, I found out that there were a few companies doing work in the creative department – things like using technology to enhance their garments, making things look better, and empowering consumers in going about their day. I think that fashion, when it comes to emerging technology and any type of innovation, has the potential to drive any emerging industry forward because as soon as you make something cool, make it something people want, and make a product that says something about a person, then it’s easier for people to adopt it. I always like to give the Google Glass example: it failed partly because, even though it was an amazing technology, no one wanted to put this ugly device on their face and look like a nerd. Your face is precious real estate – if you’re putting something on it, you want it to look good and say something about you, regardless of whether it’s groundbreaking technology. So I think in recent years more people have realized the importance of aesthetics and designers aren’t approaching the look of a product as an afterthought.
It gets even more interesting when we move one step forward from wearables and talk about smart textiles and how these types of innovation can power you as an individual. I can’t stop talking about this, so you’ll have to stop me!
How did you get involved in fashion technology?
My background is marketing and advertising and in my final year at the University of Birmingham in 2013/2014 I started to go to a lot of events and conferences, and everyone was talking about how wearable tech was going to take off. People in the marketing industry are often early adopters with new technology, mainly for PR reasons. But I started to research it for my own sake – I was just curious, not thinking I wanted to be in fashion tech at all. I stumbled upon CuteCircuit – a fashion tech studio – and on a few other interesting projects. I’ve always loved fashion, and I saw this emerging industry with wearable technology that was related to the creativity I loved. As I got into marketing more, the business side started to appeal too. I started blogging about the projects I came across and publicizing it through my social channels, which led to people coming to me asking where they could find out more about the things I was writing about. I was writing often and it was exciting because people started asking questions quite frequently. I was mostly writing at first because I didn’t want to forget about what I’m reading and what I’m learning, but I eventually began to think there might be something more to this – maybe people want to find out more but they don’t know where to search.
So what came next?
In 2014 I moved to London and went to my first Fashion Week. As part of the festival they had talks and discussions that were open to the public and one of them that excited me was about the future of fashion. It was with one of the pioneers in the field and the whole place was full of talkers and PR people; they had these amazing innovators sitting in front of them and the audience couldn’t seem more bored and uninterested in what they had to say. That same Fashion Week, Studio XO, which is another fashion and technology studio based here in London, collaborated with a fashion designer called Richard Nicoll to create a Tinkerbell-inspired dress that had amazing LEDs and fibre optics so it lit up walking the runway. When people saw that it was instantly everywhere: that dress was on every front cover, every newspaper, online, everybody was raving about it. For me in that moment something just clicked – it was like ‘Aha!’ To get people outside the industry excited we don’t just have to just talk about this, we also have to show it. That way when we talk about the future of fashion or fashion/tech it’s not associated with looking or feeling like a robot, you know? That’s why when we started Interlaced we put on an event which was part conference – where people discussed the topics – and then part fashion tech catwalk show, where people saw what it looked like. That’s the concept I’ve been championing since I started.
You’re bridging gaps between emerging talent, established companies, academia and the public by continuing to publish and encourage information and conversation. What made you select these specific groups to connect in discussion?
I decided to focus on these four stakeholders because I feel like even though it’s great if a lot of people in the field talk about this, if they only talk about it amongst themselves then the public is left out. Then when the consumer is asked to pay $300 for a jacket, they’re like ‘Well why would I when I can get this other one for $70?’ If consumers are involved from the start then when a new product launches there’s already a demand. Companies and startups will have to work faster, better and stronger to scale the innovation, and if that happens then hopefully the products will get much better more quickly too. If there isn’t demand from the consumers then businesses may just say ‘Well, there’s not enough demand so why would we bother?’ It’s kind of like the chick before the egg, but if conversations aren’t going outside of the industries then we’re all in our own bubble and I don’t want that. I think in order to move things forward there should be more collaboration; we should all talk to people outside of our communities. The fashion technology community is actually pretty small; there are only a small number of events you have to go to meet everyone.
Could you give me an example of the types of wearable technology that interests you?
I have been raving about this product from Wearable Experiments (now Wearable X), which is based in New York. They’ve just launched this product called NADI X – it’s basically a pair of connected, so ‘smart,’ yoga pants, and they work with an app that has 30 different poses; once you put them on they can sense your pose and guide you with very subtle vibrations to improve and perfect the pose. To me, that’s really what innovation in fashion tech is all about. It’s not just flashing lights – although there’s a place for that too. It’s become much more sophisticated in the last year or so as technology has been integrated into garments to empower the individual and their experience instead of overtaking it. It’s a really exciting development and it’s actually already available on the Wearables X website. Things are coming out of concept labs much faster into the consumer world. When I started a lot of the great products and concepts in the space were one-offs or only for celebrities or exhibits.
Do you have another example?
Yes, another thing I’m looking at is the Google Jacquard collaboration with Levi’s. It’s a technology that enables you to weave, touch and gesture interactively with different garments and also furniture. They announced that the first product with this technology will be a smart jacket by Levi’s. The jacket lets you access navigational information, change your music and answer or block incoming calls just by tapping or swiping your hand on the sleeve of the jacket – there’s a snap tag that enables this. It’s designed so all you have to do is just clip and unclip the smart tab that enables interconnectivity and if you want to wash your jacket, you just wash it as you would any other garment.
This project has been in development for two years and officially launched to the public three weeks ago; I read a few articles about people trying it out and the impression I got was that perhaps it wasn’t exactly meeting expectations, but I still feel it’s a really exciting development that’ll help pave the way forward for both fashion and technology. I think it’s only going to get better. Google learned from their mistakes with Google Glass and so this second time they tried going into the wearable fashion tech space, they didn’t do it alone. They’re tech experts but for the fashion bit they reached out to Levi’s to collaborate; they realized people like to make a statement with whatever they’re wearing. Outfits or products that are fashionable and functional are even better, and if people can see the value, then they may be willing to pay a bit more than they would for a standard denim jacket.
Do you have any wearable tech?
Everybody asks me that! For a while I didn’t have any fashion tech products; I think that’s because I’d been reading so much about what worked and what didn’t and I hadn’t found anything for me. I wanted a fashion tech garment that was wearable and fit my style. When Michael Kors announced a wearable tech collection – smart watches and trackers – I got one of their trackers, and also upgraded it quite recently. It looks amazing! It looks like a bracelet with little crystals on it – there’s no rubber or anything like that. Sadly, they stopped producing it to focus more on the smart watches. I loved how the design wasn’t obviously a tracker, people would say ‘I love your bracelet,’ and that was awesome. I still wear it. It’s great for basic tracking and monitoring of sleep and your steps, and you can also change your music or take a picture without your phone. I don’t need the notifications and voice activation features that come with a smart watch. I still don’t have any apparel – as in clothing – yet, but hopefully soon.
You say fashion tech can be lights embellishing a dress or it can be performance-based like the yoga pants that encourage stronger technique. Is the latter where the industry is headed now? Are we going to see more of this performance tech apparel or do you see something else on the horizon?
I think there’s a lot of potential when it comes to the industry integrating technology into different types of products – apparel, shoes, accessories et cetera. I think the most exciting part is when these innovations empower the consumer, which is why I’m really excited about the Levi’s project with Google, and Wearable X, and a few other projects that aren’t just gadgets. I think hopefully that’s where the next wave lies, before we start embedding technology into our bodies – because that’s next.
Don’t you think that’s scary?
I don’t want to scare people but based on what we’re seeing – that’s that future. But it’s going to take a while, don’t worry.
Have you always loved technology?
I never thought I would be so excited about it to be honest. My dad is an engineer and part of my mom’s degree is in engineering too, but I never had a passion for technology. I just kind of fell into it – that might sound cliché. The thing that excites me about technology is the amazing things that are possible. Right now I’m talking on the phone with you and you’re literally on the other side of the world – that’s technology and it’s exciting. But when it comes to the wearables and everything else we’ve talked about today, it’s really about empowerment. I know people are worried about spending too much time looking at screens but that’s why fashion and tech is so exciting; the technology almost fades into the background because you aren’t thinking about it or staring at screens, you’re just interacting with it by simply being. For me, that’s the future and that’s what I’m most excited about.
I find it interesting that basically every industry is immersed in technology. What's your take on that?
Maybe in some companies it’s more present, like Apple or Facebook or Google, but at the end of the day, everything is technology. Think about your food; people order food from their phones and have it delivered through an app. It’s the same with fashion. I feel that technology is making all industries almost supercharged because it’s kind of elevating the experience or what you can do within that field while also setting new benchmarks for how companies should operate. I think everyone should think of themselves as a technology company with a secondary focus, like health and wellness or food or fashion. It’s a different mindset.
Even though you didn’t start as a tech person, your career definitely plants you in the field and keeps you literally connected. How do you unplug?
I love being active and getting out of the city; even just going to a park or somewhere very peaceful works. Another one of my things is really good conversation with a friend or even a person I just met, it doesn’t matter really, it’s just so energizing. That’s how I spark my best ideas – talking to you right now makes me excited!
I also absolutely love boxing. I think working out is the best way to unplug and just forget about everything. It’s just you and your boxing partner or it’s just you and your music and you’re not thinking about anything. Or if you’re angry, annoyed, or if you’ve had a really stressful day, it’s an amazing way to forget about it or de-stress.
How has Interlaced grown since you started in 2015?
As I mentioned, in September of the launch year we did what’s so far the only full Interlaced-owned event, which was a one-day conference and a fashion tech catwalk show. I believe we were one of the first to do a full catwalk show with fashion tech products. Before that, I’d only seen these types of products on mannequins or hanging there without a person wearing it – without movement, without that whole experience. I believe we have around 5,000 people following us on social now too. We took our fashion and technology format to Austin, Texas in January this year for a conference called BodyHacking Con, which was a great success. To be honest, it’s kind of grown organically. I started Interlaced with two co-founders and they were amazing at helping with the first event that we did, but since then it’s mainly been me driving it. Bear in mind that it’s what I call my second full-time job, because during the day I’m also working as a marketing and tech journalist. I’ve been really lucky to meet cool, amazing people who believe in the mission and vision of Interlaced so I look forward to growing our community even more.
Tell me about your other full-time job.
I work for an online and publishing media outlet that focuses on the latest and top creative ideas in marketing, technology and consumer culture. The press publication that we do comes out quarterly and I head our startup department there, so I’m looking at what are the best products in Europe and everywhere else in the world, and I select which ones go in every issue. It’s a very exciting job, and also obviously very complimentary to what I do with Interlaced.
Is Interlaced at a point where you can step away from your other work?
It’s definitely a big thing that I want to develop, but I’m currently not at the stage where I can focus on it full-time. I’m doing as much as I can to grow both online and offline for now. In terms of moving it forward, I am doing quite a bit of consultancy work – that is another type of service we offer, in addition to highlighting tech innovators who are shaping the industry.
So how do you balance being a marketing tech journalist with running Interlaced?
That’s a good question, and I’m still trying to figure out the answer. I mean, it’s a lot of work, but I don’t feel it’s work. I’m very passionate about what I do and I believe in it and I think that’s important. I sometimes cancel on a few occasions, like when people ask me to go out I have to prioritize working, but I don’t think that it’s taking anything away from me. Does that makes sense? If anything it’s contributed to my personal and professional development. I’ve also been introduced to so many amazing people and I’m really grateful to be doing what I’m doing. I guess if there is some sort of secret to balancing I haven’t found it yet. I tend to get bored with things quite easily, so when I started I asked myself if I’d be able to sustain my interest in one thing for longer than one or two years, but I’ve definitely proven to myself that this is what I want to do and the field I want to be in.
What is the fashion tech industry’s main obstacle?
There are obviously lots of challenges within the industry, but one of the biggest ones is people not being open to collaborating. As I said before, fashion can be a very solo industry in a way; if you’re a chief creative officer it’s kind of unusual to work in a team. I don’t know if you’ve seen Project Runway or any of those design shows but when they pair the contestants in teams the designers all react with, ‘Oh my God, no!’ And then engineers are on the complete opposite end of the spectrum – they think and work differently. So when you put these two together perhaps they don’t realize how similar they are in terms of creative goals. People have to learn to work together to make these projects successful; true cross-disciplinary collaboration wasn’t really in the cards until recently, but I think now people have realized the value in it.
What challenges do you have specifically with Interlaced?
Interlaced is still a super startup media company so the funding is quite hard. When it comes to all of these incubators and accelerators people look for if you have software, in terms of product, or if you have hardware, so an actual physical product. When it comes to media, it can be quite difficult to monetize. We try to diversify, so that’s where the events come in, that’s where co-productions come in, and the consulting. I need to be strategic with which projects I take on, so that means sometimes saying no to people because I physically don’t have the capacity to take something on and I don’t want to say yes to things that I can’t do 100 per cent.
How are you addressing this challenge?
As I said, in terms of speaking engagements I try to take on bigger projects that make more sense to invest my time in. So I don’t split myself between four different things because that’s no use to anyone. In terms of content, I try to focus on content that it doesn’t matter if it was published today or if it was published a year ago and pick topics that will continue to resonate with people. When I do features, it’s not just about reporting on what happened and then it means nothing the next day. It’s more like ‘This happened, and this is what it means for the industry, and here are some voices from the industry who are commenting on this topic or product.’ It just makes it more powerful because as a one-person team right now I don’t have the capacity to write as quickly or suddenly as news breaks. Again, it’s important for me to be strategic. If it’s an interview, I try to get a really amazing startup or creative or designer or a really senior person in the company that is established in the field that perhaps not many people can get. I know there are a lot of news outlets reporting on lots of things but I’m focusing more on really quality content and stories that people value and can come back to.
Do you have a vision for Interlaced in, say, five years time?
My hope is to expand the community even more and have a team working with me, because it’s mainly just me running it right now. I’d like to be able to put together more events, talk to people across the world more frequently. That’s the vision – and seeing what will come out of that.