Vishal Tolambia is the winner of the second edition of the Imagining Sustainable Fashion Award 2022. His project, an app called Fashion Affair, allows sustainable fashion consumers to find clothing products in line with their values: it is a platform that applies the logic of dating apps to fashion shopping.
Originally from India, Vishal is a young fashion researcher currently living in London. His work and project brings the relationship between fashion and consumers to a new level, injecting both equality and transparency through digital technology. We interviewed him after announcing he won the Imagining Sustainable Fashion Award.
Vishal, tell us a little bit about yourself.
“I’m a 24 years young multidisciplinary design-led researcher with an MA in Fashion Futures (Sustainability) from the London College of Fashion and graduated in Fashion Design from the National Institute of Fashion Technology India. My family has played a crucial role in inspiring me to take my first step toward the goal I feel passionate about: fashion. My father and grandfather have been designing, cutting, and sewing together without pursuing a specialized course for the same. I started with the traditional design pathway, but soon I realized that something was missing, and what was missing was a focus on sustainability. I understood the versatility of sustainability, that design and sustainability can be implemented together into everything. It encouraged me to look beyond the fashion status quo and look at other disciplines to push the boundaries of what fashion could be.
Please describe the winning project and your business
“Fashion Affair, a speculative project, is a new vision of the future. Users interact with their surroundings in a seemingly authentic way, allowing them to access real-time brand supply chain information. Our app provides a mechanism to match users with products that share similar personal sustainable values and commitments to find a perfect match. Think of it as a speculative idea of fashion dating – we call it “Fashion Affair” – for the future using emerging technologies. It is based on the current dating app mechanism, matching people with partners who share similar values. No doubt, new technological innovations have already started to shift the business paradigm of the fashion industry. This power offers an innovative form of technology in the future; visions to make shopping more ethical and transparent, while also being a fun experience. It will pave the way for more digital advancement and a promising future in the fashion industry. I chose augmented reality to reflect on my concept with the medium of communication through a film”.
What does winning the Imagining Sustainable Fashion award mean to you and how will it impact your business?
“Winning the award provided me with motivation and encouragement for my work. It helped me build the enthusiasm that I believe every researcher needs. Sometimes, it is tough to support your creative industry work when you’re just emerging at the beginning of your career. Receiving this award demonstrates that someone believes, trusts, and encourages me and my work, and it will benefit the larger society out there as we make an impact together. This award is helping me focus on opportunities and experiences to help my career development in a strategic way. It empowers my career development and fosters me with wide-ranging opinions and perspectives offering interaction with people and scholars from diverse professional and cultural backgrounds working within sustainability. At the same time, it is challenging for me to explore new creative ideas. And the best thing is that I’m able to learn from experienced professionals who have been at the forefront of this area: CLASS and Connecting Cultures”.
How did you come up with the idea behind the project?
“Fashion Affair was a part of my studies at the London College of Fashion. We were to implement the design perspectives, theories, and methodologies explored within the course in our particular field of study—in the context of sustainability and technology, looking at speculative design as a method to address a challenge and develop an approach that shapes the future. I discovered that consumers are experiencing difficulties making ethical choices due to the highly non-transparent fashion industry, which can be rectified through emerging technologies. I examined that consumers demand transparency; they are willing to buy ethical and sustainable rather than cheap fast fashion products. However, they are unsure which product is sufficiently sustainable to be considered. In times like today, when every brand commits to sustainable values and ethics, their products do not align with customer sustainability values. I recently saw a few more dating apps coming into the market within the UK, and each of them had its unique function: helping people meet new people in a safe and fun way. So I started exploring this idea: what if there was a platform that allowed consumers to match with fashion brands and products. What if consumers could choose products by evaluating brand values and determining which brand aligned with their own personal values? Like any dating app, you check the person’s profile, assess the person, and if you feel confident, safe, and excited, you go on a date. There I envisioned developing “Fashion Affair.”
What kind of impact do you hope to achieve through the app you proposed?
“This app challenges prevailing narratives of consumer problems in the broader societal context, shaping the future of retailing. Emerging technology will be the natural choice for the future fashion business as more consumers demand a seamless shopping experience replete with digital innovation. In terms of impact, it will lead to a completely transparent fashion industry where consumers can review each product’s lifecycle before shopping. It will be a game-changer as it will compel all brands to be ethical and sustainable; consumers can decide for themselves if a brand meets their criteria. Suppose, for example, a brand doesn’t live up to its claims. Consumers will have this information at their fingertips and this app will lead consumers towards a better and more sustainable lifestyle. Currently, there aren’t platforms where consumers measure their sustainability footprint via their buying behavior. This app will provide them with the data needed to do this. They can evaluate brands and make better decisions. We all know that today’s generation of consumers is well aware of the realities of the fashion industry, and if provided with the proper support, they can lead a transforming change and impact with this app”.
Is the app in production? When do you foresee it going live?
“I have been working on Fashion Affair to develop it in the real world for a long time. I have finished the design, its functioning, and how it will compare the real-time information of products to consumers. What technology am I going to be using within it? However, I still lack funds with so many projects in development with Humanity-centred designs. Currently, I’m applying for various grants and funds and also connecting with diverse people who can support us with our projects in any way. After the app development, we need to connect to brands and fashion organizations who would like to share their real-time supply chain information with us for Fashion Affair. As we all know, companies within our industry are still not fully sustainable and transparent to the consumers. There’s still that transparency gap that needs to be filled, and which eventually we’re filling with Fashion Affair but it needs effective collaborations with companies. If you’re a brand or a company looking towards transparency and would like to invest or collaborate, I will be much happier to discuss it further. To get back to the answer, I believe with technological advancements moving at a breakneck pace; we will be able to develop it within a year, maybe earlier if we are able to acquire the right support”.
As a young entrepreneur in sustainable fashion, what do you feel are the most pressing issues facing the industry that need to be addressed right now?
“I feel every sustainability enthusiast and researcher has their work domain, and everyone does their best to solve the issues they most connect with. Within the industry, I feel there’s less focus on micro-small production factories in developing countries, such as India. They face many challenges, and surprisingly the current textile operations management of these apparel MSEs is now coming under increased scrutiny worldwide. As we all know, these apparel manufacturing MSEs are almost entirely unorganized, decentralized, and based mainly on household infrastructures. Due to their poor waste management, operations have been chastised for polluting the environment, terrible working conditions, and resource overuse. I believe it is one of the essential issues for industry leaders, sustainability enthusiasts, and consumers. We all need to work upon these challenges together for a transforming change.This is a concerning issue within the current fashion industry and needs to be highlighted at the earliest. These are key players within our industry and act as a backbone. They should be provided with the proper focus and support for their sustainable development, eventually leading to a better prospering fashion industry”.