Fashion of the future: Skolkovo startups present innovations at Russian fashion week
Amid the hazardous hairstyles and improbable outfits on display at the Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Russia last week, it was hard to stand out. But in one of the cavernous rooms of Moscow’s Manezh, where the event took place, some of the startups displaying their innovative fashion tech solutions managed to do just that.
Konstantin Deblikov demonstrates a bionic arm made by Skolkovo startup Motorica at the Fashion Futurum. Photo: Sk.ru.
Opposite the queue of people waiting to have their makeup done at the Mary Kay booth, a line that was only slightly shorter formed at the stand of Motorica, as groups of excited young women lined up to have selfies taken with a young man wearing two bionic arms.
Motorica, a resident of the Skolkovo Foundation’s biomed cluster, is generally more frequently found at events devoted to rehabilitation devices and robotics rather than at fashion shows, but at the Fashion Futurum conference, the startup was displaying its innovative prostheses under the slogan “A functional prosthesis as a contemporary fashion accessory.”
The man starring in so many glamorous selfies was Konstantin Deblikov, who was demonstrating a prosthetic arm made by Motorica with inbuilt buttons for making music, such as creating different drumbeats.
“We’ve made the first musical instrument-prosthesis in the world, which can be used to create various sounds,” Deblikov told Sk.ru during a brief break between photo sessions.
“The drum is just one example; all sorts of sounds can be made by pressing the buttons on the arm,” he added.
The musical arm continues Motorica’s philosophy of making 3D-printed prostheses that are also smart gadgets. The company began by making brightly coloured prosthetic hands for children with inbuilt functions such as video cameras and MP3 players with the aim of turning the wearers into “superheroes,” before developing its first adult limb last year. That arm – the Stradivary – is also planned as a smart gadget that will connect its wearer to the digital world around us.
The prosthetic arm doubles as a musical instrument, and can recreate the sounds of a range of instruments. Photo: Sk.ru
The musical arm was made especially for the Fashion Futurum exhibition in just a few weeks, said Deblikov.
“This is just a design concept so far, but it’s interesting and we plan to develop it. There are lots of things we could add to it to broaden its functions, but I already like it a lot,” said Deblikov, who represented Motorica last year at the world’s first Cybathlon. He said the prosthesis was as easy to use as a keyboard or remote control, and weighs the same as any bionic arm.
The fashion industry is on the verge of a tech revolution, according to Yekaterina Inozemtseva, the Skolkovo Foundation’s vice president for strategy and investments.
“New materials, smart clothing and accessories, new approaches to design, robotised production, changes to offline and online retail – all of this is forming demand for developments in IT, energy-efficient, industrial and biomedical technologies,” she said ahead of the Fashion Futurum, which was held as part of the fashion week and devoted to new approaches to fashion in Russia.
“There are already startups supported by the Skolkovo Foundation that have tech solutions capable of ensuring the rapid development of the fashion industry. We have a unique opportunity not to catch up with existing market leaders, but to create and occupy new tech niches, whether in the new materials market, 3D printing, design solutions or other areas,” said Inozemtseva.
Another stand at the Fashion Futurum attracting interest from passers-by was that of SC-TEK, where water poured from a tap over a piece of material, running off it like water off the proverbial duck’s back.
SC-TEK has developed a technology for treating materials that leaves them completely waterproof. Photo: Sk.ru.
Unlike traditional hydrophobization methods, SC-TEK does not need water-based solvents to apply the film that makes the fabric waterproof, but uses supercritical carbon dioxide (highly pressurized carbon dioxide gas) to make its hydrophobic textiles. This means it covers even the tiniest pores and every fibre of the material, said Dmitry Kolomytkin, the company’s research engineer.
“The most likely use for our material, we expect, will be for everyday wear, such as shirts and coats, and especially materials used at home, such as curtains and furniture upholstery,” he said.
“We expect the cost of our treatment to be about 500 rubles per square metre – less than $10. That’s more expensive than our Chinese competitor, which uses the traditional method, but firstly, we are still optimizing our process, and secondly, our treatment lasts for 20 wash cycles. That means that after 20 cycles, the effectiveness of our treatment decreases by 10 percent. The Chinese technology loses its effect completely after 10 cycles,” said Kolomytkin.
The project arose out of the team’s research at the physics faculty of Moscow State University, he said. “When we wanted to do something with our research, we found out about the Skoltech translational research and innovation programme, similar to an accelerator, took part in it, met people who helped us a lot and showed us which direction to move in, and a year ago we set up our own company and became a resident of the Skolkovo Foundation’s energy cluster. Now we have successfully upscaled our process out of the lab and are ready to sell our invention,” he said.
SC-TEK set up a pilot production line in January in Nizhny Tagil together with its partner NPO SV Khromatographiya, and is now preparing to make its first sales. The startup also plans to launch production in Moscow with the help of Skolkovo and its shared resource centres, said Kolomytkin.
Dressing the disabled
A few stands away, Skolkovo resident Agat was showcasing its dresses with panels that change colour in response to heat, together with clothes designed for the disabled made by Agat’s partner company Ortmoda.
Ortmoda demonstrated its clothing designed especially for wheelchair users on a stand shared with Skolkovo resident Agat, which showcased a dress with thermal panels that change colour. Photo: Sk.ru.
Ortmoda specializes in orthopedic shoes, including for people suffering from diabetes, who may be prone to foot ulcers. At the Fashion Futurum, however, it was showcasing its clothing and accessories, such as a zip-up blanket resembling a sleeping bag designed to keep wheelchair users warm in temperatures as low as -10 degrees Celsius. The blanket is fastened to the torso like dungarees so that is doesn’t slip down.
“We’ve just developed it further and made this heating element for it,” said Yury Lobov, head of Ortmoda’s sewing workshop, demonstrating a small battery-powered heating pack that can be put inside the blanket. “The battery lasts for up to two hours, and you can take spare batteries if you’re going out for longer.”
The company also makes jackets and trousers, all tailored to meet the requirements of disabled people, including children with cerebral palsy.
“One of the factors to take into account with wheelchair users is that when they’re sitting down, often the small of the back is bare, so we make the backs a little longer with that in mind,” said Lobov.
Given Russia’s climate, the demand for warm clothing is very high, he said, adding that the company receives orders from all over the country.
More than window shopping
In addition to innovative clothes and devices, there were also companies offering interactive ways for fashion retailers to boost their sales.
Surfancy, a resident of Skolkovo’s IT cluster, has developed a technology that can turn any surface into a touch screen. The startup, a graduate of the retail-focused acceleration programme run by MEGA malls, recently made an interactive shop window for the Quiksilver store in Mega Khimki, which customers could use to find out information about discounts and offers.
“There were 1,700 interactions with the window during the pilot project, from December 26 through Feb. 1,” said Dmitry Litmanovich, Surfancy’s general director.
“The window also gave customers the option of obtaining a discount card, and the store saw a 3% increase in discount cards issued during that time,” he said.
Following the pilot project with Quicksilver, the company has already agreed with other stores in the mall to create similar projects for them.
“There is undoubtedly concrete interest from major brands,” said Fedor Gabibov, Surfancy’s commercial director.
Skolkovo resident Texel offered visitors to the fashion show the chance to be scanned on its ever-popular 3D body scanner. Photo: Sk.ru.
Interaction of a different kind was being demonstrated by GetShop.tv, a resident of Skolkovo’s IT cluster whose technology enables people watching smart TVs (or TVs equipped with add-on media-streaming boxes) to buy goods shown on screen using their remote control.
Interactive ads enable viewers to request a callback or sign up for SMS alerts, as well as to buy items online directly, said Elizaveta Chernikova, representing the company.
“TV is really underestimated, in that everyone talks about the number of people using the internet, when in fact, there is a large percentage of Russians that have only a superficial knowledge of computers,” she said, adding that the interactive TV format is particularly effective for reaching older people, who are less likely to use the internet but who generally watch a lot of TV.
“We had a project with a travel show on the TV channel Pyatnitsa, where viewers could buy items featured in the show: if you liked the presenter’s laptop computer, for example, or a hotel booking app shown, you could get it there and then,” she said.
The technology is not one sided, and requires input and initiative from the advertiser, she said. Once up and running, it allows product makers to monitor how many people clicked on their ad, for example.
“Ideally it will reach the stage where you’ll be watching ‘Sherlock,’ for example, and you like Benedict Cumberbatch’s cape, and you want it, [and you can buy it],” she said.