For the June edition of The Circuit Online, we were thrilled to be joined by educator and futurist, Karinna Nobbs, founder of HOT:SECOND, a circular economy concept store – the first of its kind – where physical products are traded for digital experiences. Karinna shared how her career path has lead her to the exciting projects she's working on today, and where she sees the future of digital fashion heading

Weren’t able to attend? Don’t worry, because below we have summarised the top takeaways.

Karinna's top tips for anyone starting out in the fashion industry today

  • Talk to everyone: go to events, meet people, make connections
  • Listen to your instincts: what are they telling you is right for you?
  • Always do your research
  • Collaborate: cross-sector collaborations are especially key right now and are being taught and encouraged in universities
  • Consumer journey/ecosystem mapping: if your curriculum doesn't teach this, do a skill share with someone or register for a course that does because:
    • It's essential to map out who your consumer is, how they’re going to find you, what the key touch points are where they’re going to interact with you
    • If you want to innovate, you must establish a positive customer journey
    • Find out what the customer journey of a business you admire is, and tailor this to your business model
  • Experiment: don't be afraid to test the waters, get feedback, and make alterations as you learn
  • Be brave
  • Be persistent: it can take time to get to where you want to be, but if you know what your goals are, persevere until you achieve them
  • Direct experience is the only way to understand if something is right for you. Figure out what you’re good/not good at by trying things out.

What is digital fashion?

  • The most sustainable approach to fashion
  • Involves the use of a computer-generated render of a garment/accessory that you can view on an avatar, via augmented reality or by using AI - by swapping your face or body with that of the model/mannequin
  • It's great for e-commerce, but so far doesn't have many benefits for the in-store environment
  • Other companies are trying to do it in reverse, whereby you scan yourself and create your own avatar, but this is very complex technology
  • It is still being researched and experimented with
  • Body scanners will become widely used for ordering custom clothes online, and also for ensuring you buy the best size of a garment

How Karinna got to where she is today

  • Karinna started her career working on the Benetton shop floor
  • She observed that if you manipulate things in a physical environment, you can see an instant effect on people’s emotions and behaviours
  • She became a full-time retail academic for ten years, researching everything from flagship stores to popups, and also explored the digitisation of the retail environment through the development of in-store technology
  • She has a curiosity to understand people’s behaviour, and how people behave within organisations
  • She left academia so that she could experiment more and make more of an impact in the industry
  • She wanted to find out what she was good at and how she could make a difference, so she met with everyone she knew, had open discussions with them, asked them for feedback
  • She decided to quit everything and take six months off - something she highly recommends
  • After returning, she was asked to speak on a fashion panel, where she asked people's opinions on the topics she was discussing about digital fashion, and was amazed that people didn't know much about them. She saw a space in the industry that she could contribute to and develop, that would enable her to join up all the threads of her previous career experiences.

How did HOT:SECOND come about?

  • She's always admired the USA business of instant consignment, where you exchange clothes for money/credit
  • She wanted to know if she could do something in the digital fashion space, so talked to others in the industry
  • The digital fashion field was very new at the time and she wouldn’t make money directly from it from the get-go, so she came up with the idea to ask people to exchange physical goods for a digital experience
  • She opened a prototype concept store to test the appetite for her idea, and to see how much knowledge and awareness there was of digital fashion
  • People often consume the physical and digital at the same time, without realising it
  • She discovered it's always good to add an element of human interaction to technology, as this helps increase the sustainability of the idea/concept
  • Through HOT:SECOND, she built partnerships with social enterprises, and set the goal to save 500 garments from landfill through donating them for re-sale or customising them for re-use

Some key features of The Think Retreat, Karinna's residential education programme

  • A flexible, multi-disciplinary innovation roadmap, either for individuals personally, for their businesses or the businesses that they work for
  • Teaches a dynamic process of introducing innovation into everyday life
  • Encourages participants to change their mindset about the culture surrounding innovation, and to reassess their definition of what innovation is

Where Karinna sees the future of fashion heading

  • It will be strained in the short-term due to the ongoing impact of coronavirus
  • Many smaller brands were already struggling and just making ends meet before the pandemic, so sadly they will likely be closing down
  • Those that are more financially stable will be able to experiment with innovation within their sphere
  • The pandemic has highlighted that physical shop floor space doesn't need to be as large or as numerous. Bricks and mortar shopping will continue, but in order to survive there will be fewer but better stores, that offer a more special shopping experience.

What Karinna expects from the first London Digital Fashion Week

  • A combination of fashion films, interactive videos, podcasts and virtual fashion shows
  • It will be challenging to elicit the same emotions on a screen as designers do in person. They will need to come up with new ways to enable narratives and personalities to shine through digitally.
  • It's disappointing that brands aren’t investing more in augmented reality to make fashion experiences come alive

Will customers pay a premium for exceptional digital fashion pieces?

  • Yes, but the only way brands will do this is if the digital item can be authenticated
  • The most sensible way to authenticate items is via blockchain, which could provide an authenticity certificate
  • This would reduce the risk of consumers of being scammed
  • Developers are working on this now