By Kaycia Ainsworth
As OVF Studio launch their first ever capsule collection, Fashion Editor Kaycia Ainsworth sat down with CEO Olivia Vaughan-Fowler to discuss sustainability, technology and standard sizing systems.
Life on earth is complicated. The philosophically perplexing task of balancing the yin and yang, the light and dark, the good and bad of existence is one faced by all. In our man-made society, it can be easy to ignore this task, even though it is the premise of all issues faced on earth. Millenia ago, this meant tackling issues such as attempting to define right and wrong, moral and immoral. Since then our advancement has led to the development of new technologies, liberating us from the carnal chores which previously dominated human life. We no longer have to hunt for food, nor create fire from flint. However, whilst we are no longer forced to adhere to our basic needs in this way, we lose an understanding of the innately natural forces which drive us. This can, and has, led to a society which values its creativity and human advancement more than it values the needs of the planet we need to survive; establishing a social climate where technology and nature are situated as opposites. Our current experience of the world begins to deconstruct these ideas as a fallacy.
As we search to balance the yin and yang of nature vs technology, we have discovered that the balance we seek is in the intent of both parties. When we are conserving or researching nature in favour of advancing technology, it benefits technological advancement, and when we are developing technology in favour of conserving nature, it benefits all that is natural. By advancing technology which helps us to conserve nature, we are approaching what scientists call a “threshold moment.”
A “threshold moment” describes the exact moment that the universe is able to develop itself by reaching absolute perfect conditions (known as Goldilocks Conditions) making it possible for anything as we know it to pass the “threshold of increasing complexity” ie. advance in ways previously unimaginable. The Goldilocks Conditions in this example, are both the development of technology as an ecological aid and the vast knowledge of nature which has allowed us to build these technologies. With solar power, electric cars, plant-based plastics, plant-based meat and much more we are sitting at the threshold of what technology can become when it is no longer vital to balance development with sustainability, but can instead incorporate it. We are living in the extremely early ages of this new complexity but we are already reaping the benefits from the different ways brands are beginning to incorporate sustainable technology into their business model.
OVF Studio is a fashion design brand doing just that. Incorporating modern technology using 3D body scans to measure each individual client for their own personal clothing. This ensures that their bespoke-made garments fit each client perfectly. The body scan technology that they use can be used at home, making garments much cheaper than the thousands usually paid for such a personal service. The brand's founder Olivia Vaughan-Fowler was originally a tech consultant, but the pandemic made her rethink her career. “I learnt how to use a sewing machine at the beginning of the pandemic. My niece had just been born, so I gravitated towards sewing baby clothes. I was still consulting for some tech companies at that time, but started thinking about my own fashion brand.”
Olivia realised that custom-made clothes were key to reducing the masses of clothing sent to landfill each year. “The pandemic had really shone a light on [the industry], and what would need to happen for brands to survive, and for the industry as a whole to stop being so catastrophically bad for the environment.” Deep into her research, it became apparent what an issue standardised sizing was for the consumer and the planet, and Olivia set sights on creating a technology which would be able to both reduce waste and challenge the sizing system. “Body scanning and fit technology, like AR try-on experiences, certainly aren't new, but much of the unrealised potential exists in lacking formal theory of how a body relates to a piece of clothing.”
Olivia began drafting her own theory - one which would include using technology to extract data from 3D body scans and use it to automatically draft the sewing patterns needed to make each garment. “My solution is unique in its focus on how pattern theory might be changed to better represent the complexity and uniqueness of each of our bodies,” Olivia explains, “and how tech can be used to make these new ideas compelling for other brands. Part of being compelling is being able to communicate the added value of challenging the status quo, and creating an accessible and seamless user experience.” After spending time developing her theory, she contacted Dr Simeon Gill, a senior lecturer at the University of Manchester who she describes as “the real game changer” for the development of her idea. “He has spent the last 30 years investigating relationships between body dimensions and patterns/garments. I read some of his papers online, bothered him via email and Zoom for a few months, then we ended up working together to develop the theory over the last 6 months.”
For their first launch on May 6th, OVF Studio are releasing a capsule collection of made-to-measure women's suits. The designs are inspired by some of the most notorious suits throughout fashion history: The high-waisted, trouser suit favoured by Marlene Dietrich and Katherine Hepburn, the feminine tapered waist and flared hem of ‘Le Smoking’ jacket by Yves Saint Laurent, the wide lapelled white trouser suit worn by Bianca Jagger, and the broad shoulder of the Giorgio Armani jacket worn by Grace Jones on the cover for her album Nightclubbing. The fabric is a floral print and is available in four different colourways. “The womenswear suit was a no-brainer” says Olivia, “it's the hardest thing to tailor well, so it was always going to be the best test of whether or not my auto drafting theory could work. The design actually came quickly. I knew I wanted the suit to have some strong features, but ultimately be really comfortable and suitable for any occasion hence things like the straight looser leg on the trousers, and the box pleat at the waist which provides some extra space when sitting down, while also looking really smart as a form of draping when standing. Given that there's only one design, and the idea being that it works for multiple bodies, I tried to think about what the design needed to achieve that versatility.” After using body scan technology to extract your measurements at home, your suit is made and sent within three to four weeks, made locally in East London.
Aside from choosing suits to test her pattern drafting theory, Oliva was also inspired by their connection to history. Olivia explains, “From the 1800s to the 1990s, the suit has been the uniform for women's emancipation from wildly sexist legislation. Our fight to be allowed to wear trousers is synonymous with our fight for respect, authority, and most importantly, equality. While suits gone before have been symbols of more courageous struggles, I hope the legacy of this suit will be the reminder that our clothes are meant to fit us, not the other way around.”
After years of research and hard work, most brand owners would be keen to keep their cards close to their chest. Olivia, on the other hand, thinks that sharing her secrets is the best way to ensure a better industry for everyone. “There is so much incredible innovation happening at the moment, but I think the real impact of that technology in the future comes from various organisations working together,” she shares. “Collaboration is always the best way to ensure you're making a tool that's actually needed, and building it in the best, most effective way. [I want] to help other brands make clothes that really fit. I really want to work closely with brands to understand what they would need to either help elevate a pre-existing made-to-measure model, or make one more compelling to a ready-to-wear brand. And for those that don't want to make the switch, at least make it easier for them to make more precise and accurate fit recommendations to their consumers, as well as learn from that data to perhaps alter their garment ranges to cater to a wider audience in order to be more size-inclusive.”
Olivia also sees potential to make positive change within the fast fashion industry. “The continued popularity of fast fashion brands is really nerve-wracking given their exploitation. If we can't avoid making new things, then we need to really lessen planetary impact and to ensure garment workers are treated ethically and paid properly. As fashion embraces digital worlds and the ecommerce opportunities that come with them, I hope they don't use the excitement as a smokescreen for bad practices.”
Olivia’s plans not only include making better quality garments for the global client base, but extending the life of each piece of clothing, so that it is less likely to be thrown away. “I think all the platforms focussed on circularity and extending the life cycle of a product are amazing, so I hope they all continue to grow. Often we're all just looking for convenience and by making it super easy to alter something you own, or resell it, or rent something someone else owns, you get that wardrobe reinvigoration hit without buying more stuff. I hope my sizing tool will be used by these platforms too.”