The latest fashion trends can be found in couture magazines and the runway at Bryant Park, but did you know that you can also spot the latest innovations in fashion here at MIT?
In fact, MIT has a long history at the intersection of high fashion, high tech, and innovation—from our pioneering efforts in textile programing, adaptive clothing for people with disabilities, wearable computing, new biologic fabric that literally breathes, and the many successful ventures spun out of our Martin Trust Center for Entrepreneurship.
A surge of startups
For years, fashion-minded MIT students and alumni have been creating companies targeting niche consumer styles and voids in the retail industry. These companies include everything from traditional ventures in textiles and garments to tools that enhance the online shopping experience to completely reinventing the stiletto.
- Ministry of Supply, co-founded by a group of MIT Sloan students and an MIT engineering alumnus, uses thermal analysis, robotic engineering, and advanced materials to design better-fitting men’s business attire. The company has developed a rapidly growing science-based clothing line and the industry’s first 3-D robotic knitting machine.
- AHAlife is a curated online marketplace of thousands of luxury fashion items and other high-end products. AHAlife re-creates the in-store experience of discovery while shopping online by featuring quality, well-crafted products with a story.
- Sundar, a global mobile search engine startup for sourcing materials and suppliers, was incubated at MIT and founded by MIT Sloan alumnus Jag Gill. “Our mission is to streamline the discovery and sourcing process by providing sophisticated search, curation, and data-driven insights on what to purchase, produce, and stock, to buyers and sellers 24/7,” said Gill in this Forbes feature.
A minisurge of MIT start-ups like these in recent years is driven by a budding category of fashion industry entrepreneurs. “About two years ago, we thought these companies were outliers,” said Bill Aulet, Managing Director of the Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship, in this Boston Globe article. “Now the pace has definitely picked up.”
Fashion forward innovations
MIT has long been on the forefront of advancements and innovations related to fashion, textiles, and even wearable computing.
- MIT Professor Alex “Sandy” Pentland is known as the Godfather of Wearables, having spearheaded or inspired the development of everything from Google Glass to fitness trackers.
- In 2014, the MIT International Design Center launched the Open Style Lab as a public service project dedicated to making style and clothing accessible to people of all abilities. Open Style Lab’s 10-week research program teams designers, engineers, and occupational therapists to create functional yet stylish wearable solutions with and for people with disabilities.
- Earlier this year, the Advanced Functional Fabrics of America (AFFOA) opened its new headquarters steps away from the MIT campus. MIT was a founding member of the AFFOA team that launched this new institute as a public-private partnership. This facility includes a Fabric Discovery Center that provides end-to-end prototyping of new textile-based products and a startup incubation space for companies that are innovating advanced fabrics and fibers for applications ranging from apparel and consumer electronics to automotive and medical devices.
- A group of researchers at MIT have recently invented a new type of workout material that can breathe using biological cells. The project, called bioLogic, is essentially a “breathable workout suit” covered in small flaps. These animate cells are harvested in a bio lab, assembled by a micron-resolution bio-printing system, and transformed into responsive fashion—a “Second Skin." The synthetic bio-skin reacts to body heat and sweat, causing flaps around heat zones to open, enabling sweat to evaporate and cool down the body through an organic material flux. Tangible Media Group at MIT Media Lab is leading the project in collaboration with MIT Department of Chemical Engineering, Royal College of Art and New Balance. (Watch the video.)
Preparing future leaders of the fashion and luxury industry
The fashion industry is facing historic disruption as a result of big data, digitalization, and social media. Success in this industry now requires new strategies and adaptable, innovative leadership. The ELLE International Fashion and Luxury Management Program—a collaboration among ELLE (the world’s number one fashion media brand), MIT Sloan Execuitve Education, and Universidad Complutense de Madrid—is a unique, international program designed to provide participants with a global, forward-thinking outlook on the fashion and luxury industry. the program is divided into four modules that will focus on fast fashion, haute couture & luxury, premium brands, and innovation.
The innovation module will be led by MIT and will focus on strategy and innovation, marketing, financial decision making, and operational effectiveness in a digital world. Within our renowned innovation ecosystem, participants in this new program will explore the challenges and opportunities of today’s fashion and luxury industry through an MIT lens, from generating sustainable competitive advantage to increasing supply chain performance to understanding consumer demand data—with the goal of developing a more innovation-driven and strategic mindset.
These core topics will be presented by MIT Sloan’s internationally renowned faculty, including Professor Renee Richardson Gosline, recognized as among “The World’s 40 Best B-School Profs Under the Age of 40“ by Poets and Quants. Gosline’s research uncovers the intrinsic social meanings that are associated with name brand consumer items and the social signals that are sent when buyers choose one brand over the other. She will be joined by professors Duncan Simester, Zeynep Ton, and Jake Cohen.
Image above © 2012 Tangible Media Group / MIT Media Lab / Photo by Hannah Cole