why are major tech brands so obsessed with fashion?

From Yahoo to Google, i-D looks at the technology brands that are taken with fashion.

by Lynette Nylander
17 April 2015, 2:40pm

$15.4 Billion. That was Google's net profit for the first quarter of 2014. Let that figure sink in. In a mere three months Google amassed a profit that most major companies in the world can only dream, let alone fashion conglomerates, LVMH made less in the whole of 2013 and 14 combined. Up 19%, from the same quarter of the previous year, Google CEO Larry Page humbly said of the growth "we got lots of product improvements done, especially on mobile. I'm also excited with progress on our emerging businesses." One of these emerging businesses was Google's now defunct Google Glass, one of the most definitive wearable tech launches of the last few years. The optical hardware was seeded early on to fashion editors and tastemakers such as Diane Von Furstenberg, Net-a-Porter's Alison Loehnis and The Telegraph's Lisa Armstrong as they perused the shows, in an exercise in the ease of using the glasses, as well as attempting to bring observers that much closer to the runway. As the most used website in the world, Google is in no need of an influx of cash, nor a boost in its users, the site has cemented itself as an integral part of the world wide web for generations to come, so it begs the question, why are Google and other major technology brands such as Yahoo and Apple trying to get in on the fashion act?

Brand positioning is likely to have a large part to play. Scroll through the Daily Mail's side bar of shame and the goings on of the global fashion weeks are amongst some it's most popular content. The accessibility of fashion, or arguably the lack thereof, is a constant discussion point and with it has brought a wave of new publications and digital sites making it their business to discuss every element of the business and its personalities. This fact didn't go over the heads of the top dogs at Yahoo. The multinational internet corporation recently launched Yahoo Style, self defined as a "fresh take on fashion for everyone, from enthusiasts to those who love it from the sidelines" even managed to poach seasoned fashion veteran Joe Zee away from his Creative Directorship role at American Elle to head up the new venture, which will look to engage Yahoo's 800 million global users, a number far out of reach for even the most read fashion sites. Joe Zee said of his aim of his role to the Business of Fashion, "I think that the biggest irony of this industry has been that it's an industry that has always prided itself on changing every six months. Every six months we all have to get together just to show that we've changed and done something totally new, yet this industry still refuses to change. That's the part that's fascinating to me. Watching them refusing to embrace social media or new levels of communication and technology, not seeing that it's already here. Its not a passing fad, it's not about either or."

Indeed, technology brands have the capability to take what people are talking and tweeting about, as well as what designers are creating on the runway, and bring it to life. As some of the world's biggest companies, and with users that reach the far corners of the globe, Google, Yahoo et al have the ability to analyse their years of statistical data on how we consume information and surf the internet to best serve their interest when making fashion part of their portfolio.

Apple's all-singing, all-dancing launch of the Apple Watch on April 24th, which is priced at $349 for a Sport version right up to $10,000 for the top-end, gold Apple Watch Edition, is the biggest indicator yet of technology's unrelenting pursuit of a piece of fashion's luxury goods market. Beyond its insanely popular iPhone and Macbooks, the Apple Watch is the company's first wearable fashion product and offers the ability to do your everyday errands from your wrist. From paying for goods to answering calls and tracking your fitness, the watch almost renders your iPhone useless, signposting an exciting new entry into the wearable tech arena. And if proves successful you can bet Apple's rivals will quickly follow suit with their own versions.

Amazon, everyone's online purchasing go-to, has its sights firmly set on becoming a $200 billion dollar business. With fashion providing the biggest growth potential next to food according to Forbes, the company is charging the fashion industry and looking to plant its flag and stake a claim on fashion's thriving world of e-commerce. The company has recently been announced as one of the principal sponsors of New York's menswear fashion week as well as hiring ex-Barneys New York fashion director Julie Gilhart as an advisor, sponsoring the 2012 Met Gala, and opening a 40,000-square-foot photography studio in Brooklyn. The e-commerce and technology juggernaut not only retails fashion via its Amazon Fashion site, but also acquired fashion retailing sites Shopbop and Zappos to help bolster its sales as well as hiring former Vogue Editor Caroline Palmer to help with its editorial output.

The tech brands' insistence on hiring some of fashion's most notables names shows that they know that the credibility of some of fashion's long-time players is what will help cement them as the fashion media, retailer and designer platforms of the future. It's impossible to know how technology's relationship with fashion will evolve and grow as advancements in both arenas happen quicker than anyone can predict, but what can be guaranteed is that what moves units at brick and mortar stores, what happens within your favourite magazines and what soars on social media after fashion week will provide a pretty strong indicator.

But where other industries have intertwined technology as a part of the fabric of their output, the long term position for tech remains unknown as fashion and beauty conglomerates and top titles dip their toe into the technology pool instead of diving in; a surprising move as fashion no doubt has the resources, time and money to control the industry. The brands who have been early adopters of tech have already seen big rewards like Burberry, who under the tutelage of Christopher Bailey have seen record profits by exploring the full scale of what it can do, from shop floor to e-commerce and their catwalk shows. With technological innovations we've seen in the last few years alone from e-textiles from London based company CuteCircuit, virtual make up try-ons courtesy of Covergirl and magazine covers brought to life via your phone from Dasha Zhukova's Garage Magazine, the first firm steps have been taken in an integrated future for fashion and tech.


Text Lynette Nylander
Photography Mitchell Sams. Diane Von Furstenberg spring/summer 13