John Jones’s take on fashion and technology

Do androids shop for electric suits? Or, why does a fashion director care about technology?

Before I came to MR Magazine and the world of menswear retailing reporting, I worked in public relations. At one point, one of my most interesting assignments was working with the Consumer Electronics Association. The CEA was launching a program that introduced home surround-sound systems to consumers. My other accounts at the time were all fashion-related, including a milliner, a women’s sleepwear brand and a men’s trouser company (Louis Raphael).

It might have seemed like a stretch for a boutique fashion p.r. agency, but it made sense—like menswear, there were certain relied upon brands, from high-end to low, which held guy’s loyalty. There were certain aesthetic considerations to take into account when making a purchasing decision. There were large retailers that called the shots for the industry, but plenty of independent local stores, and some brands were experimenting with direct-to-consumer retail.

The big difference was this: it was a lot easier to convince a guy to drop a thousand bucks on a sound system than it was to get him to spend that much on a suit. Some things don’t change. Sure, you can probably get a comparable quality sound system for a lot less now, but I’ll bet you can get a comparable or even better quality suit for a lot less, too.

How often in the past few years have we heard retailers lamenting that they wished they could get their customers as excited about a jacket as they are about an iPod? Or envying the lines of people headed into the local Apple store?

A few months ago the amazing David Wolfe mentioned during one of his Doneger trend presentations, the importance of applying technology to our business…and not just on the back-end, but actually incorporating it into apparel! He pointed out the LED gown that Katy Perry wore to the Costume Institute Gala (If you haven’t seen it, it’s worth checking out: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hQgw4etpyCs). Tasteful? Maybe. For everyone? Definitely not. But David’s comments got me thinking (don’t they always), so I started asking around about technology’s impact on menswear.

Ravi Ratan USB cufflinks from Cufflinks.com

Ravi Ratan USB cufflinks from Cufflinks.com

A few weeks ago I interviewed Ravi Ratan of Cufflinks.com (more on that to come later). What was the site’s best-selling item for holiday 2010? Links with USB flash drives built in.

On a related note, Ralph Dunning has been incorporating performance into sportswear by adding wicking fibers to merino wool sweaters. He said retailers were hesitant, but it became a best-seller at his own Toronto-based store. A subtle touch, but a bit of technology that a customer who has been trained at the pro-shop can appreciate at his regular store.

Dunning Coolmax Merino Long Sleeve Crew Neck

Dunning Coolmax Merino Long Sleeve Crew Neck

So what’s next? MTM suits that can organize our “on-the-cloud” appointment calendars? Jeans that can automatically adjust to an extra dessert (or two)? My challenge to myself is to get out there and dig for the next big thing, and to share it with you here on the new MRketplace.com. My challenge to you is to get out there and create or buy these things and let’s see if we can grab a little market share away from the electronics guys…and please keep me posted on your progress via your Dick Tracy watch-phone.

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