Rumen leather tops the all-out freak factor coolness list

Every now and again we run across a new material or textile entering the apparel industry marketplace that excites an immediate reaction.  You’ll note we don’t say whether that reaction is positive or negative, just that there’s an immediate reaction.

This is in fact that case with Rumen Leather. We ran across Rumen Leather in our Materia newsletter today.  For those who don’t know what a rumen is, it may be better if you don’t read the next bit.  It’s a cow’s stomach. Moo, yes. Up-cycle a by-product into a product, yes.

Some wizard soul (Mandy den Elzen) in The Netherlands came up with the idea of tanning a cow stomach (and why not, it makes entire sense to us in a weirdly macabre sort of way given that the GI tract of an animal is basically just more skin.) Ignoring where the leather came from (the cow’s stomach) and just looking at it, we confess to being fascinated by the possibilities inherent in leather that has natural papillae all over it.  Forget velvet or fur, this stuff has legs. Well, papillae, actually.

We’re not sure how you’d deal with the ick factor – we also confess to being a bit icked out by the source of the leather itself. But the actual material does look stunning and we could envision a lot of ways it could be effectively used.  And it is unique – we’ve seen a lot of different sorts of leathers in our time. Just about any animal with a skin gets turned into leather sooner or later, from fish to toads to even turkeys, all of which by the way are incredibly cool to work with if you can get past the ick-factor of dealing with what looks like small roadkill.  But rumen leather definitely tops them all for all-out freak factor coolness.

We can imagine designing a new case for our netbook in this stuff.  It would be cushioning and a major conversation piece. “Wow, that’s a cool netbook case, I’ve never seen anything like it…what is that?”….’Cow Stomach.’  OK, so maybe that’s up-cycling a step too far, but we think this material could have real merit.

Leveraging the Power of Virtual Worlds for Collaboration

FRI publishes white papers on topics of interest. Topics can include OpenSim legal considerations; content standards; licensing concerns; virtual world immersion; and new paradigms in on-line immersive education.

This week we released “Leveraging the Power of Virtual Worlds for Collaboration“, which discusses using virtual worlds to restructure entire industries and engineer new business processes, with a particular emphasis on the apparel (fashion) industry. The information shared includes:

* Value Proposition of Virtual Worlds
* Why the Apparel Industry
* B2C Use Case – Avatar Apparel
* Collaboration Use Case – Education
* B2B Case Study: ACLA and FRI
* B2B Case Study: IBM Research
* B2B Case Study: Intel Corporation

You can pick up a FREE copy of this white paper by visiting our website. We hope you will find this information useful and we encourage your comments/feedback.

Applications Open for Summer 2010 Internship Program

Once again the Fashion Research Institute is pleased to announce 5 avatar apparel design internships to be conducted wholly in the immersive workspaces it maintains in OpenSim and Second Life.

The focus of the internship is to develop skills for virtual goods development, specifically apparel with a lesser focus on accessories and footwear.  The intent of the internship is to assist interns to develop private design practices where they can create and sell their virtual goods. Interns are provided with classroom space and creation space in FRI’s OpenSim regions, and store front space on the heavily trafficked Shengri La regions in Second Life.  Interns are taught using the patent-pending design methodology created by Fashion Research Institute, which is applicable to both avatar apparel and to their work developing physical apparel.

This course follows a collection-oriented design sequence, in which the class is expected to develop a mood board, color story, and concept boards for 6 outfits which will be developed for inclusion in a virtual fashion show, which will be designed as a group project. The course includes class work and home work and follows an aggressive schedule successfully piloted with real life fashion design students.  Students have full creation privileges in the online classroom as well as an assigned space for use for the duration of the class.  Students receive virtual tool kit resources as part of their internship.

All texture work is expected to be accomplished off line as part of the homework assignments.  Extensive resources and documentation are provided in the classroom, and students have full access to the classroom during their course.  All work is graded and receives feedback from the instructor. Students will complete 3 outfits, develop an initial label concept, and complete an initial showroom/store design. They will show their work on a runway at the final class, using their avatars as models.

Students must provide their own computer, internet connection, scanner, and image editing program(s) as well as have Second Life and Skype accounts.

Recommended text book: Designing Dreams, Shenlei E. Winkler, available on Amazon.com

At the end of their internships, Interns’ work will be presented in a virtual fashion runway show, with avatar models which the interns will style from hair to shoes.  All interns will complete their internship with Fashion Research Institute with a completed collection of avatar apparel including concept boards to product ads, which may be added to their portfolio. A final presentation of their work will be created.  Our Summer 2009  interns’ runway show can be viewed here.

Requirements:

Interns must provide their own Internet access and computer hardware and software sufficient to allow them access to the Institute’s classroom and facilities in the immersive OpenSim and Second Life regions of Shengri La.  Interns must have experience with and access to Photoshop (not provided). Interns must have a Second Life avatar account (available free), and are solely responsible for any fees related to their Second Life account.  Interns must also have a Skype account (free) with access to it during training periods.

Interns who successfully complete the 12-week long program will receive a certificate of completion and may be eligible for admission into the Fashion Research Institute incubation program.

Applicants may be currently enrolled in design school or recent graduates. Some design experience and background is required; these internships are not suitable for freshmen.

To apply, send your resume with 1-2 fashion images you have sketched or illustrated along with contact information to admin @ fashionresearchinstitute.com.

Little Tiny Fingers

One of our new avatar apparel designers, Misteria Loon, sent me a gorgeous gown she just finished designing and developing.  I enjoyed wearing it to Calli’s induction into the Museum of SL Photography  for a couple of reasons.  Not only was it very lovely and new, but I also know that the glamorous look was humanely achieved.   

As a designer and as the CEO of a company dedicated to reducing the environmental impact of the apparel industry, I am always deeply aware of the various inputs that the real life apparel industry requires which avatar apparel does not.  It’s a topic on my mind at this time of year in particular, when retailers are starting to display gorgeous beaded and embroidered sweaters and dresses just in time for the winter holidays. 

The holiday season is upon us with the shimmer of Christmas tree lights and the flicker of candlelight from menorrahs.  We love to wear special clothing at our most festive season of the year, because they connect us strongly to some of our deepest emotions about family and friends.  Such garments make us feel good – glamorous, sexy, or simply special.   All of which is wonderful, except for one thing…how these garments are manufactured.

Being immersed in the apparel industry, I quite often forget that most people outside of the apparel industry do not know how their clothing actually gets made.  They think that machines do it, like cars or airplanes get built.  Big robots move things around while some well-paid robot operator pushes buttons to get their glittery beaded sweater made.   That would be great, if only it were true.

Guess what?  That’s not how it works.

People make your clothes.  Not robots.  Not machines.  People.  I say this a lot in my talks, but it’s hard to make it sink in that people and their fingers make your clothing. These people may use machines but those machines are still primitive relative to the welding equipment that Detroit or Japan provides to make cars.  Ultimately, it’s one person bent over one machine, sewing piece after piece after piece.  And those glittery, wonderful sweaters and dresses that look so pretty when you wear them? Each and every one of those beads or sequins are hand-sewn, using age-old methods of single needle and thread or tambour embroidery.  One person, one pair of hands, 1 needle with thread, stitching each bead, one at a time.

What’s more, the actual hands doing the sewing, one stitch at a time, too often belong to people who in any developed country would still be in school. Not college, not middle school – grade school.  The people sewing, stitch by stitch by stitch, the beads and sequins onto your sweater that you may buy this year for $49.99 is often a child.  Not only is your sweater likely made by a young child, but it is often likely that that child is underfed and malnourished.  That child worked very long hours – 12 to 14 or more – with very few breaks of any sort.  The working conditions themselves are worse than anything people in developing countries would provide to their pets.   And quite often, if these children do not make their stitching quotas, they are brutally beaten with rubber hoses — because rubber hoses do not leave marks that can be seen by human rights auditors. 

Please keep that in mind – small weary fingers stabbing a needle frantically through cloth, trying desperately to complete her quota for the day so she doesn’t get beaten and (hopefully) will get fed – so you can look good at your holiday party.

In the apparel industry, designers love beads and sequins.  We love to show them on our garments.  When we design for runway, we send our garments out to reasonably well-paid sample makers, who also make up the garments, by hand, each stitch placed one at a time.  But the working conditions of the sample maker, who is usually an educated adult often in a developed part of the world, is very different from those of the child working in an overseas factory to make the sweater you will buy for $49.99.  When we as designers create a design for the mass market that features beads or sequins, we know that it will take lots of little tiny fingers to apply those beads and sequins. 

One of my colleagues coined the phrase ‘little tiny fingers’. As we were reviewing keep samples one day, she said to me that she loves the look of beads, but she won’t use beads or sequins on her designs because she can’t bear to think about the children who (probably) will ultimately make them. Not all designers will make that choice.  If we, as designers, are instructed by our employers to design beaded things, then we do it or lose our job.  It is as simple as that. We have a choice: design or get fired.  Most of us choose to design or we find a job where we aren’t asked to design those sorts of garments.  But whether or not we choose to keep our job and design the beaded garment, or to move to another job, that garment will ultimately be designed and the design sent to these overseas factories.  Little tiny aching fingers which don’t have a choice will manufacture the garments, which will then be sent to the retail store. 

You as a consumer also have a choice.  I am not saying you have to choose to give up your glitter and glamour.  You can always get your fantasy fashion kicks in Second Life for a tiny fraction of the cost of one of these real life garments, and you can rest assured that the designer of your garment is an adult being reasonably well compensated for the work. In the atomic world, your choices become more interesting and reflective of your own inner ethics landscape.  For instance, you can choose to buy the beaded sweater from a manufacturer that uses labor that contributes to human rights abuses.   But not all of these garments are manufactured using child labor, so you can also choose to educate yourself about which companies adhere to high labor standards.   You can buy a more expensive garment that is made in a factory where humane practices are followed.  You can choose to buy garments that use a less labor intensive technique such as a metallic yarn used in the knit, or a hot-transfer rhinestone pattern applied to the garment.  Or you can even buy a garment that is produced domestically, which will cost more, because the laborer producing it is paid a living wage.    

If you can afford one of these garments at all, perhaps it’s time for you to pay it forward and buy the sweater or dress sold by a company that gurantees that it does not use factories that support human rights abuses.  If you buy a sweater made using the less-labor intensive techniques, you may find it’s not as glamorous as the hand-beaded sweater.  But ask yourself: how beautiful will you feel in a garment manufactured in such an ugly way?

You do have a choice, which those little tiny fingers do not.  I hope you will make the humane choice.

IBM Signs Services Agreement with Fashion Research Institute

New York, October 9, 2008  —  IBM (NYSE: IBM) today announced it has signed a multi-million IBM Global Business Services agreement with the Fashion Research Institute (FRI)  to implement a first of a kind Virtual World Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) Enterprise System. 

Fashion Research Institute, headquartered in New York, NY conducts research into technology-based initiatives and develops emerging technologies to overhaul traditional fashion practices and methodologies. FRI’s mission is to reduce the carbon footprint and change the environmental impact of the industry in ways that are sustainable, replicable, respectful of the practitioners, and meaningful for all stakeholders.  FRI maintains Shengri-La, a five-island complex in Second Life, and an OpenSim complex.   

“We’re proud to pioneer the first big business solution that leverages the OpenSim virtual world platform to address economies of scale.” said Shenlei Winkler, FRI. “The Fashion Research Institute understands how to design real world consumer goods using a virtual world environment, and IBM understands the scaling challenges of global enterprise. Taking on both simultaneously is a winning move.”

 

This virtual world enterprise solution, expressly created as a product design environment, will offer a fundamentally new work flow addressing critical issues facing the design industry, such as ensuring manufacturability of designs and decreasing substantial sample costs by two-thirds.   Users of this solution will ultimately be able to enter a virtual world, receive training on the systems, and take a design from concept to prototype – with every step short of actual manufacturing being done virtually.  

 

This first-of-a-kind system will allow fashion and consumer packaging designers to access and use 3-D tools with the Second Life client interface. In addition it will also connect to the OpenSim virtual world platform to create packaging and fashion products, provide efficient workflow queues, and allow groups with an interest in the product to collaborate and modify designs.  The program will also generate virtual product samples and accurate factory specifications that enable high quality product mass-manufacturing in the real world.

 

FRI will offer an IBM-backed and co-developed enterprise solution providing a simpler and more intuitive user interface than currently existing design-industry-oriented software including scalability for businesses of all sizes.  Users of the IBM-built technology could see product sample creation costs and time to market decrease dramatically. 

 

The initial proof-of-concept solution expected to go live in 2H09 will be piloted with up to 20 international design houses.  Ultimately this solution will be offered as a design service or enterprise installation, to creative industry design houses of all sizes globally.

 

“As the Fashion Research Institute continues to enhance the IT capabilities of the fashion and consumer packaged goods industries, IBM’s deep knowledge in product design, enterprise systems, and virtual worlds, will help FRI bring new market opportunities to the fashion world,” said Jeffrey Russell, IBM Global Business Services.  A design house implementing this solution could reduce dozens of weeks of design time, minimize the number of physical samples manufactured, and increase product manufacturing quality enough to put into development and production many additional collections”.

 

The initial agreement was signed in March 2008 but was expanded in August 2008 to include consumer package design.

 

 About the Fashion Research Institute

Fashion Research Institute conducts research into technology-based initiatives and develops emerging technologies to sweepingly overhaul traditional fashion industry practices and methodologies.  FRI’s mission is to reduce the carbon footprint and change the environmental impact of the industry in ways that are sustainable, replicable, respectful of the practitioners, and meaningful for all stakeholders.  FRI maintains Shengri-La, a five-island complex in Second Life, and an OpenSim complex.  FRI is an IBM business partner, and has been working closely with top IBM architects and researchers over the last year to develop its virtual-worlds-based product design solution. For more information, please visit http://www.fashionresearchinstitute.com.

 

About IBM

For more information, visit www.ibm.com.

 

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Where’s Your Data?

I’ve received several comments with wild-eyed claims and various anecdotes about OpenSim, including a recent one about a simulator with a build of 100,000 prims. Folks, this entry is for you.

While I’m waiting for Spirit to be groomed and tweaked and made ready for my next assault, I’m going to take the opportunity to talk about why we’re doing what we’re doing.  The Fashion Research Institute didn’t actually set out to be alpha testers of open source code. 

As CEO of the Fashion Research Institute, I’ve done my due diligence about virtual worlds. I personally have explored all of the virtual worlds out there in the last year of developing the Fashion Research Institute, and our virtual world-based product design and development technology solution.   But after a hot-eyed tour of the many virtual worlds out there: Blue Mars – stunningly beautiful.  World of Warcraft – lots of users.  Stardolls? Shopping for the tween set…and the many other worlds out there…it became crystal clear that none of the existing virtual worlds was going to be what we needed for our solution.  

These virtual worlds all had issues, not least of which is that most of them are games.  Entertainment for the marketing demographic of choice, which means we can’t use it for our solution – the Fashion Research Institute isn’t serving the media and entertainment industry.  We’re building an enterprise-ready virtual world-based technology solution. 

There’s nothing playful about it, unless you regard business like Edith Wharton: “He had the Saxon love of games, and the best game of all was business.”  We’re in business in the apparel industry, and part of our business demands that we have an appropriate platform.  As I’ve reiterated at my many talks, the real value proposition for virtual worlds isn’t in marketing or serving the consumer base.  It’s in helping enterprises succeed at their business by using virtual worlds to enable their work flow – at which point, the consumers will follow.

The Fashion Research Institute was facing a dilemma.  Second Life tm has graphic quality that is ‘good enough’, and a richly immersive experience.  But Linden Labs’ tm Terms of Service agreement alarms me as an entrepreneur.  It’s fine for individuals, but an enterprise that is serious about their business information and intellectual property would never allow their proprietary information to sit on a Linden Lab server. 

And then, OpenSim was presented to me as an option.  It was an option that was ringed and garnished with a lot of cautious warnings like ‘well, you know, this is very alpha code’, and so on.  And at the point where I first went in, in October of 2007, it really was quite rocky.  But it was also very clear that it was our future, and I’d better embrace it.

And to that end, I had my people set up the first of our OpenSims, and we started playing with them.  I now have the abandoned ruins of four or five OpenSims laying about on my boxes, and of course, Shengri La Spirit alive and well on an IBM-hosted Blade.

Fast forward to where we are now: testing the code.  And, I’d like to think, doing a service to the OpenSim community, and in the spirit of open source, making our data available for everyone to see and use, in the form of this blog, and feedback from Kurt, Sean, Dale, and Zha into the community.  Open source means just that: being open about what you are doing, and showing your work.  Being transparent about it, so everyone can benefit. 

For example, I’ve had a lot of technologists tell me that the prim limit in OpenSim is arbitrary.  I am first and foremost a visual learner – I like to look and see for myself….and that means actually seeing the  performance limitations for substantive builds.  Now, it is true, I could have just asked my IBM team to create a script that would have rezzed prims in a loop till the system ground to a halt.  It wouldn’t really have impressed anyone, particularly those who write loops. And we wouldn’t have learned anything in the process – a machine cannot alpha test because it isn’t human and it does not have the sensitivity to learn from the experience.  All it would have done is dumped in as many prims as it took to grind the machine to a halt. 

But having a server full of prims, with no active observer, or worse yet, an observer who is unable to log and report what she observes, really doesn’t serve any useful purpose.  You can’t actually learn where the FUNCTIONAL prim limit is – you know, the one where the overall user experience degrades to the point it becomes unacceptable to the human user – a clearly human condition that a program can never identify. 

So we’re building out to find and push the functional prim limit, on a specific box, and we’re benchmarking the performance of that machine, with the given installation, and with a lot of user parameters being fed back.  I make no secret about the fact that we’re performance tuning as we go along; that we are not yet pushing textures, inventory, scripts, or a range of other parameters (that’s coming, soon enough).  We’re systematically focusing on prim limits first, which in our case is a human-created substantive build that uses primitive-based objects, including basic system, tortured system, sculptured or flexible primitives.

And we’re going to keep running out onto the ice until we fall through, at which point we will know where the functional prim limit is, for this set of parameters, and we’ll push it further.  When we find that functional prim limit based on our parameters, tuned for the IBM Blade hosting it, we will have a benchmark, which we will share so that the OpenSim community also has that benchmark. 

And this is why Spirit is so important.  Benchmarking performance, and sharing our data.  If you, my reader, have done something awesome with your OpenSim and you haven’t shared your data….well, anyone can SAY they did something.  But in the Spirit of scientific exploration, if you haven’t shared your data, you’ll forgive me if statements about ‘what you did in your OpenSim’ aren’t received as anything more than your marketing material to be circular filed. This is an open source community effort, and in that Spirit, I’d ask you, “Where’s your data?”

I’m not clearing space on my calendar to beat on Spirit because I love games or alpha testing.  I’m doing it to move the platform forward, because alpha testers who can actually test and provide worthwhile feedback are tough to find.  And I’m talking about our work because I feel strongly that the results of my alpha testing are important to the community as a whole, and that there are some very dedicated and capable people out there who will grab the results of what the Fashion Research Institute is doing in our collaboration with IBM, and run with them. 

Personally, I cannot wait to see the results.  Thank you again, to all of the dedicated open source & OpenSim supporters, coders, programmers and technologists who share their work openly and publicly.  You rock.

The REAL value proposition of virtual worlds

This morning I read yet another pundit’s informed view that virtual worlds are ‘just another marketing platform.’  I don’t know how people get to be a ‘pundit’, but they don’t seem to need any real knowledge, or they wouldn’t say such uninformed things.
 
Given what we know about virtual worlds – not just OpenSim, not just Second Life(TM), nor any of the others – it should be obvious by now to anyone using them for any length of time that the user base, the consumers, just isn’t there in any real, meainginful metric.  You have hardcore gamers, you have nongamer early adopters, but what you don’t have is what makes the grist for the marketing wheel:  namely, the mass market consumer.   
 
Given that I spent the last several years successfully designing product for the mass market, I am rather more intimately acquainted with that marketplace than the pundits who want businesses to roll their brand campaigns into virtual worlds.  When I designed a product style, I put anywhere from 300,000 to 1,000,000 units into production for the North American marketplace alone, and I could safely expect to sell 18-20 such product styles.  Given the statistics out there, I think anyone can see that real mass market numbers just don’t equate with the consumer actually being in any one given virtual world at any given time, to receive a marketing message to ‘buy my stuff’.  The mass consumer just isn’t there yet.  She will not be there until enterprise steps up and figures out how to use virtual worlds specifically to enable themselves to do business more efficiently and effectively, and then pays to harden the virtual world in a way that makes them ready for business, which will have the collateral effect of making the user experience consistently easy.  Then and only then will we see mass market adoption of virtual worlds.
 
Until then, enterprise enablement is the real value proposition for virtual worlds.  Virtual worlds enabling enterprise to conduct business more efficiently.  It’s not brand extension, social networking (consumers, remember?)  or even collaboration.  Sure, all of these are important trends, but they are trends that are time units away from seeing their full florescence.
 
RL businesses entering virtual worlds to use as another marketing channel need to understand that their consumer base probably isn’t there yet, so these businesses need to use caution about rolling out branding campaigns.  Think about what sort of ROI they really expect, and get real about returns.  Tie any virtual world marketing into a longer term, full marketing campagin with the full bricks and mortar backing and you’ll get buzz.  But I would be seriously surprised if any enterprise is getting anything more out of a VW than a good, targeted direct mail campaign would give them. 
 
Likewise, the case studies for using virtual worlds for collaboration are fairly well known by now, including some of the pitfalls businesses may experience in bringing their workers into a virtual world, and what sort of accelerants and benefits they can hope to achieve.  It’s harder to put metrics to achievement with regards to virtual collaboration, though, especially metrics that the executive staff is going to get excited about.  Savings improve margin, so talking about travel costs and travel time saved is great, but savings don’t actually increase the company’s top line.  
As an executive, I am always looking at both the bottom and the topline of my company.  A solution that enables me to address both of these concerns is something I’ll look at closely.
 
We’re more forward about our use of virtual worlds, because I do see the very real value of using virtual worlds to enable business.  That’s where I see the real money is – and anyone looking at my product development numbers realizes pretty quickly that I’m all about making my numbers.  We’re specifically interested in using virtual worlds to enable product design and development both synchronously and asynchronously.  This is where businesses will see huge gains in productivity, in savings, in waste reduction, and in business intelligence and management metrics.  The Fashion Research Institute currently has a research agreement with IBM, to investigate how to best use virtual worlds in this way.  We are specifically addressing the apparel industry, which is an old and traditional industry that has never been computerized in any meaningful way. 
 
Our initial results have shown that the entire process of design work can be expedited using virtual worlds, substantially reducing development time.  Substantial waste can be cut from the process with concurrent time and cost savings. Executives have data transparency and management metrics for an area that has been traditionally resilient to any attempts at time management. 
 
The ease of collaboration helps with the product development process, but the true value proposition for us lies in the inherent nature of virtual worlds like Second LifeTM: 3-D modeling capabilities, real-time design capability, persistence of the work space, and above all, the data transparency to all stakeholders in the design and development process. 
 
We’re using OpenSim as our virtual world of choice for our enterprise solution.  OpenSim is open source, and it’s still being developed.  It has some advantages, in that it uses the standard Second LifeTM client to connect to an OpenSim backend.  New users can be trained to use virtual worlds using Second LifeTM, which has deep user-generated content and a rich, immersive experience which is critical to user acceptance.  When the user is trained to use virtual worlds, they can be easily brought into an OpenSim backed environment with no loss of accuity to the user.  The user ‘sees’ the same user interface and does not have to learn a whole new set of commands. 
 
Virtual worlds used to help business do business is where enterprises will see real value for their investment. Ultimately businesses that do not make the digital leap will simply not be able to compete against businesses who have cut their costs and have better business intelligence data gathered from their virtual world installations.