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Why is fashion so interesting, and why should we care about its big data future, potential, and limits? Fashion is culture. A unit of fashion is a unit of culture. Make no mistake that every decision made in fashion is probably the purest and most concrete example of what sociologists term a social action. In sociology, social action refers to an act which takes into account the actions and reactions of individuals (or 'agents'). According to Max Weber, "an Action is 'social' if the acting individual takes account of the behavior of others and is thereby oriented in its course". Let me repeat this: fashion is culture. It reflects the current culture, but it also recreates culture. Sure, you can say that movies and books do this, too, but unlike movies or books, fashion is quick to change and recreate. So we know we should care about fashion if we hope to explore and understand culture shifts. But then, how does big data fit into fashion? So far, big data and fashion seem to be concerned with collecting data for commerce, decision algorithms, and multivariate regressions. This is understandable because private enterprises have always been the first ones to try to find as many metrics and predictors for increasing profits. In fact, I will be discussing many aspects of this throughout the blog. However, I am not terribly interested in these efforts. Instead, as a sociologist, I am interested in imagining fashion throughout the span of human history, in making connections and uncovering patterns that have yet to be unraveled because of our previous technological limitations. The main purpose of my exploration will be to consider how to make big data work for fashion.


There is something profound about the changes we are seeing in the fashion world that have been facilitated by the special properties of technology. I will borrow an idea from a media scholar to delve into a little theory and apply it to the world. Think of the ecosystem theory in the biological science. Now, imagine the fashion world as an ecosystem. According to Naughton (2006), one can see that a new ecosystem is forming under the pressures of new mediums of communication -- digital convergence, personal computing, and global networking. These new mediums introduce a host of new nutrients into the environment. The nutrients, or elements, are in essence: interactivity, digitization, and accessibility. For instance, to elaborate, one new nutrient, or a new condition, is that our system is overfilled with an abundance of resources available to almost anybody with an Internet connection. The Internet blurs the range of places where we can encounter, interact with and contribute to media content (Gauntlett, 2009, p. 3). Another new condition/nutrient rising from these incredible technological resources is that the separate categories of producer and audience are collapsing. Everyone can become a content creator and remixer of fashion. More and more people and the fashion world are calling for a way of digitizing fashion in some way in order to further use the advantages afforded to the modern world due to technological advances. The days of simply collecting physical fabric samples and creating mood boards on their walls are gone. These changes essentially produce an urgency to remix, produce, and participate in the fashion industry even among non-professional designer. This also creates an urgency to consider how to continue to work in this new ecosystem. I will elaborate on the idea of remixing, production, and participation later.


In the fashion world, an imperative topic to consider if we are to use big data methodology and tools is the digitization of collections and pieces of clothing throughout history. After all, physical clothes are not born digital. Beside the obvious reason that we need to have digital versions of clothing in order to process the data on a computer, everyone in the fashion world references every historic time period as well as each others work, so its important to capture the history of fashion as much as possible.

Source: http://www.ted.com/talks/johanna_blakley_lessons_from_fashion_s_free_culture.html

I am all for making everything available freely because it has always been the case that remixing and inspiration from other work has influenced the fashion world and we should stop pretending that everyone doesnt sample each other and reference each other in their works. Instead, this sampling and referencing makes fashion all the more exciting. I shudder to think of a world where chevron or polka dots become proprietary. Instead, this digitization of fashion makes everyone more innovative and exploratory in his or her designs.


are many examples of online archives containing past collections from high-end designers that look like this: http://www.prada.com/en/fashion-shows

However, as we all know, the world of fashion extends far beyond collections from people of the high-end fashion world. Thankfully, the non-high fashion collections are also a part of the new digital world. Street fashion blogs help digitize clothes that may otherwise be missed because they are not high fashion or featured on a photographed runway show.

For instance, a vintage piece (a real piece, not an inspired piece) from the 1920s may now be happily viewable to millions of people if some blogger out there finds it in their attic and chooses to photograph themselves wearing it.

Handmade, one-of-a-kind clothing can also now be featured easily online via street fashion bloggers showing off their wares.

Beyond street fashion photos and runway photos to digitize clothes: the case for standardizing fashion into archives with metadata The problem with photos of clothes from bloggers or other sources is that its not purely about the clothes---the images of the clothes are not standardized, that is. The background, angles, shadows, white noise, body type, and such, all distort clothing. These pictures of people wearing clothes may begin to digitize fashion, but they are not the best solution. To illustrate how un-standardization of photos of clothing affects digitization, see below. Think about how different these photos are, despite being photographed by the same source:

I would argue that beyond street fashion and personal blogger lookbooks that digitize fashion to an extent, another way to consider the digitization of clothing is in a concentrated effort to archive clothing in a methodical and standardized way, such as what we are seeing with book directories or online art directories.

Some currently existing examples of this standardized archiving of clothes include:

http://www.yoma.com/catalog.html?p=cadeaux Some other online archives: http://www.textileasart.com/archives.htm http://textilearchives.com/antique-prints.htm http://ulita.leeds.ac.uk/wiki/mediawiki-1.10.1/index.php/Clothworkers_Digital_Archive These kinds of archives ought to be encouraged. After all, think about how clothing has been archived in real life: Currently, in-person textile archives, like those at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) let people view samples of textiles, prints, and patterns from clothes from the past (see here: http://www.fitnyc.edu/3468.asp), but I am not sure how far into digitizing these traditional physical-world textile archives we have come. Can we scan clothing for online digitization like we do for written words? What would that process look like? How do we add the metadata, like what the textile is made of (cotton, wool, polyester?), and what kind of metadata is important? How would we organize the online samples? These are the questions that are still being answered by those

in the business of adding metadata for archives in arts and literature. Is a book from the Victorian era or should it be labeled under English Classic? For instance, fashion is often divided along social status, so part of the metadata should include whom the fabric or pattern was intended for. Was this pattern created for beautiful ball gowns? For casual clothing? For the lower class masses? Perhaps metadata should also include some of what is listed here: http://www.fashionincubator.com/archive/how_i_kind_of_organize_my_fabric/

The organization of this persons fabrics include details of retail price, manufacturer, and color profile. I think the most feasible thing for now is focusing on prints to archives as opposed to other features that make clothing unique such as textures/fabrics or silhouettes. Let me illustrate my point: For instance, there are a lot of interesting features about this skirt:

The silhouette is unique, there is some layering that is visible, and it looks like its some sort of heavy pleated material. However, the easiest, and one of the most interesting, aspects to digitize would be the print featured on it.

Like this:

Plus, we could feasibly scan some sample fabrics that have yet to be photographed to make them all digital!

Finally, besides lookbooks of people wearing clothes and scanning fabrics to digitize them, other technology users are doing the work of digitizing clothing by posting textiles into their personal archives. We could feasibly grab the prints if users continue to post textiles online. Here are some links of archives of prints. The best part is that users are using their own time to upload prints and contribute to the worldwide collection of prints available online and thus available to be grabbed by a particular code or script: http://www.ahonenandlamberg.com/tag/clothing-prints http://www.tumblr.com/tagged/fashion%20prints http://pinterest.com/vintageandretro/clothing-prints/ Why focus on prints and patterns? The constraints of clothingthat it must confirm to the human body-- mean print decisions are very particular and thought-out. Prints are an art in themselves that try to say something about the wearer and construct emotive responses. Prints reflect moods, culture:

New images being made available to us, like what DNA looks like, and images of outer space inspire new designs and prints:

New technology in textile printing make prints all the more interesting to track New textile creation facilitates the creation of unique prints that could not have been possible years ago. Printers can now print these vibrant scenes or images easily:

And then anybody can grab a tablet, doodle a print, and send it off to be printed onto fabric Now is the time to focus on prints: born digital fashion prints Speaking of anybody being able to doodle a textile print, I would also argue that now is the time to begin to archive prints online because prints, a major part of fashion, can also be born digital For clothing, I imagine that born digital means prints that are featured in a way that make them easily movable online such as a jpeg file. Many people are sharing their own print creations online, such as this user, who designs prints in software programs and posts them freely as jpegs:

http://orchlondon.tumblr.com/post/44887142364/print-design-3-4-using-imagery In fact, if I wanted to, I can grab this:

Manipulate it, and essentially create a new print if I were to send it to a textile printer.

One last reason to focus on a print database Also, finally, something interesting in the laws of the commercial fashion industry make archiving and collecting prints all the more compelling Fashion has no patents. No patents means fierce innovation in design and prints every year. CASE STUDY Let me illustrate how a print database is the beginning of a foundation for big data studies and analysis I will describe a hypothetical research design: RESEARCH QUESTIONS: HOW DOES A TREND TRAVEL? HOW ARE TRENDS MEDIATED BY DIFFERENT DESIGNERS AND FINANCIAL CONSTAINTS? THEORY AND BACKGROUND: The concept of no patent laws in fashion create so many new prints: Fast fashion companies like H&M and Forever 21 constantly copies or remixes high-end designers in a matter of weeks. High-end designers have no protection against this remixing and referencing even if they are the first to create a new print. Guided by patent laws and a desire to be too complicated to be copied, the brand Alice+Olivia has a dip dye process they use to create a unique spin on dip dye that even though they cant patent, they can put their signature mark on anyway. The only way to recreate the same kind of dip dye effect is to use their dye mix made from high-end ingredients and the same kind of fabric that takes the dye in the way they have done. Some other companies try out the trend. HYPOTHESES AND EXPECTED PATTERNS I hypothesize that trends travel from high-end designers to low-end retailers at an average time span of 5 weeks.

I hypothesize that the length of time it took for a trend to travel has been reduced at least 25% between 2000 and 2013. I hypothesize that we will see considerable differences in gradient differences, palette choices, and fabric compositions. The differences will be predicted by the price point of the clothing. OLD MODEL SMALL DATA ANALYSIS

versus So here we have these two un-standardized images of clothes collected by the lone social scientist and his assistant. A lone social scientist would make some comparisons about pricing and the length of time it takes to show up at a lowerend store. While interesting, we cannot compare other aspects or consider doing these kinds of comparisons on a larger scale because it would take too much time and effort to individually collect data. SMALL DATA IS SO LAST CENTURY A single comparison and analysis doesnt say a lot under this current research model involving small data collection, and if we made simple comparisons on the small scale, we wouldnt be able to make more sweeping statements of how fashion travel through culture, through history, and is mediated by social factors like socioeconomic status. NEW MODEL BIG DATA, BIG FASHION

BIG DATA RULES If we recorded these prints in an online archive with the right kind of metadata, we can begin to say some really interesting things about culture and the role of fashion in determining social class, and even how long it takes trends travel in the commercial worlds. We could take into account thousands of other prints and how they travel through global cultures and global markets. By standardizing and adding metadata to an online print archive, we can use powerful computer techniques to make the same conclusions made by small data collection, but also gather even more interesting and compelling cultural and social patterns. From here we can see that designers are inspired, but not the same, and these comparisons of prints become part of a huge body of sociological evidence of a culture shift, pattern, as well as evidence of the differences between consumers of high-end fashion and fast fashion (social class). With just one trend, we can analyze so much about clothing already. Yet, imagine what else we can uncover if we allow prints to become a part of a massive database. Billions of existing prints can be analyzed and patterns can be unveiled.

Here is my initial attempt to do this: MALE BLOGGER SET


Other data sets for people Insert vogue covers Insert textile culled from google search and batch download imageripper software tumblrripper

Possible critiques:

Anotehr point to make is that even of all of our archives of avaialbel textiles prints are digitized, as scholars have noted, there is a flaw: These objects cannot provide direct and unmediated access to the past because archives are merely a selection of objects that have been preserved for a variety of reasons (which may include sheer luck). I want it to be mandoratory to make every print made from now on to be available in digital format so we can always have a record and more indepth colelctin of prints. We have the technology to put every print ever made from now on online so we should.

Responding to a critique: Perhaps some people are afraid that complete openness and collections of prints will mean that fashion will cease to be an art and a reflection of culture or even a social action. Fashion will cease to have meaning behind it is the allegation. I dont think this argument is sound. Why? [I DUNNO XX] The argument seems absurd because although bits and pieces will be widely available and massive inspiration abound, why would anyone wants the same thing? Why would anyone wants to have the same when they know there is so much more out there? And besides, fashion is about more than print and color choices. There are fabric choices that completely change a look, there are fabric choices that change how a piece rests on the body, how it flows, how it skims the body, there are dye choices, there are silhouette choices. Soon there will be more material choiceslook at the rapidly growing body of innovations in textile nanotechnology!

Exploring Google Data to Gauge Interest in Mens Fashion Just out of curiosity, I wanted to see if there was a quick way for me to explore the theory that men are significantly regaining interest in clothing and being well-dress. Current studies suggest that some groups of men are indeed now more concerned with their appearance and style choices, but I wanted to do a quick study to see if there is any empirical data supporting this theory. I decided to look at the history of the search term bespoke. Why the word bespoke? Bespoke is a word that is often used by men who are interested in dressing well because bespoke means:

I theorize that if the word bespoke is being Googled more often, then more people, likely men, are Googling it because they have heard of the term being used by friends, other Internet users, or in the media, and wanted to learn more about it. Essentially I am using interest in the term bespoke to measure interest in mens fashion and style.

Conclusion Google trends can be used as a preliminary tool. Here, the line graph is suggesting that there is definitely a trend in more people increasingly Googling the word Bespoke since 2004. For whatever reason, it seems more people are interested in the concept of Bespoke, which essentially means more people are interested in learning about tailoring, customized suits, and male fashion style. Fashion and big data in commerce Besides prints, data about fashion from a social perspective can be gleaned from social media sites especially. This data is already being organized and analyzed by companies such as the start-up, EDITD, who uses mainly Twitter to measures popularity, sentiments, and buzz around certain trends or designers based on tweets. They claim to analyze over a million tweets during every fashion week in NYC, Milan, and Paris. For instance, if someone tweeted: I hate the peplum trend, it would be marked in the category of negative sentiment and I love that flower chanel jacket would be in positive sentiments.

These techniques are an interesting development for the commerce side of fashion because we can begin to discuss whether social media sentiments actually predict commercial success. Eye tracking is being used for fashion shows to obtain metrics that are supposed to demonstrate interest or fascination with certain products so buyers know which pieces to order. Below are some visualizations provided by EDITD