Technology & Fashion: Part 1 - Footwear

To the average consumer technology and fashion are two entirely separate industries, rarely coexisting or collaborating. But if we pause, and think about where our clothing comes from, we will find that without technology the brands that we adore and love today would struggle to exist.

Technology - A Key Selling Point for Footwear

These days, major brands like Nike, Adidas, and Under Armour are using scientific technology to position themselves as leaders of the footwear industry. To be clear, this is nothing entirely new. In 1988, Reebok was one of the first companies to use technology as a key selling point, claiming that their Reebok Pump could be quite literally pumped up to fit your foot in the most ideal way possible, giving consumers a shoe that felt more natural to the design of their feet. Never before had a shoe been designed with a fully adjustable fit, and it didn’t take long for the shoe to gain national attention: when Dee Brown pumped up his shoes right before throwing down a monster dunk in the 1991 NBA Slam Dunk Contest, Reebok knew it struck gold and quickly developed a new line of Pump’s dedicated for all major sports, ranging from the tennis court to the golf course.

Since then, technology has played a major role in the development of these major brands. Nike captivated an entire generation with their line of Nike Shox, a basketball and training shoe that came out in the early 2000’s with one simple promise: you’ll jump higher than ever before with a pair of Shox on your feet. I myself had a few pair of Shox’s, and I can vividly recall the feeling of owning a pair. Did they make me jump higher? Absolutely not. But I felt pretty cool wearing them, and my 10 year old brain trusted the technology enough to buy into their promise of making me a better basketball player.

Shoes like Nike Shox, or the Reebok Pump, made large promises to the consumer with little scientific research to back it up. Yes, it was new and exciting, but did it really make a difference? There wasn’t, and still isn’t any hard evidence that the shoes truly lived up to their competitive advantages, but that didn’t stop Americans from rushing into retail stores to get their hands on the latest drop.

10 Years Later - Things Have Changed

Gone are the days of gimmicky promotions, at least to a certain extent. Industry leaders are now backing up their competitive advantages with impressive, detailed reports of scientific research that neatly outline the technology behind their high-end products. Nike continues to dominate the shoe game thanks to their advanced Flyknit series, a shoe designed by a team of engineers, and programmers. The Flyknit material is woven and ran through computers with immense processing power, creating a lightweight shoe that has taken the market by storm thanks to it’s key influencer's like Kobe Bryant.

It’s not just Nike, as Adidas continues to release shoe lines with impressive technology behind their footwear. In hopes of disrupting the industry the company infamous for it’s 3 stripes recently collaborated with BASF, the world’s leading chemical company. The two industry giants created the Ultra Boost, a shoe that is now often regarded as the most comfortable and fashionable shoe on the market. Engineers and developers blew up a material known as TPU, then remolded it in a way to capture and give back the most energy possible to the wearer of the shoe. The Boost has been so successful that Adidas has adopted it to all major sports: if you’re a basketball fan, you can currently see James Harden rocking his own version of the Boost in the NBA playoffs.

Taking It One Step Further

Following the success of these major companies, entrepreneurs and angel investors have quickly realized the benefits of combining technology with footwear. But they’re not interested in creating a shoe like the Boost. Instead, they want to take things one step further and bridge the gap between footwear and online connectivity.

Iofit has revolutionized the golfing industry with their smart shoe served to improve a golfer’s game. If you’ve ever golfed, you know how important it is to have a balanced and smooth swing, appropriately shifting your weight as you follow through and drive the ball towards the green. But if you’re like me, you struggle with consistency: you’ll drive a ball 250 yards only to come back and slice a ball 30 yards in the wrong direction. That’s where Iofit comes in. The impressive shoe deeply submerged in technology can relay data that details the golfer's motions while hitting the ball. You can find out how much pressure you’re putting on each foot, which heel is supporting your swing the most, and how evenly balanced your hips are. The shoe not only relays this data back to the user, but it also makes suggested improvements that fit the golfers style of play.

If you’re not a fan of golf but love the idea of a smart shoe and enjoy outdoor activities then you’re in luck, as the company Aria has recently developed an insole dedicated towards maximizing your comfort during outdoor activities. The smart-sole is controlled through an app on your phone that allows you to customize it however you please. It has plenty of cool features that incorporate social media and data tracking, but what really makes it stand out is it’s adjustable temperature that can either cool or warm the user. Yes, you read that right, insoles can now literally warm you up or cool you down by integrating technology and online connectivity.

Onward & Upward! 

Remember going to the mall and seeing the pop-up stores that sold shoes that had lights on the bottom of the soles? Not too long ago, that was a pretty big deal. Entrepreneurs could turn a quick profit by simply putting in some cheap LED lights that lit up when a person’s foot would touch the ground. At the time, that was kind-of-sort-of considered cutting edge technology, because there had yet to be a healthy amount of shoes deeply integrated in the tech world. But oh how things can quickly change. In 10 years, we’ve gone from gimmick to woah, it can do that?! My feet are tingling just thinking about what will come within the next decade!

Vertical farming: the future or a fad?

The Problem

200 years ago there were less than 1 billion humans living on earth. Fast forward to 2018 and the human population is above 7 billion with no indication of slowing down anytime soon as experts expect it to be over 12 billion by 2050. This rapid growth can be attributed towards a number of positive developments and improvements within the technology space and medical fields, but with all that growth comes plenty of problems. One of the most critical problems that a rapid growth in population brings is food. Because of the growing demand for food humans are currently overfishing oceans and without drastic measures to prevent this we could see every seafood species fall below commercially viable levels as soon as 2048. You don’t need to be a math wiz to understand that more people means more food, begging the question: how will we continue to address our rising populations as we have less space to work with and more people to feed?

The Solution

Vertical farming. It’s as simple as it sounds: grow crops vertically instead of using great plains and open fields. Sky scrappers, schools, apartment buildings, the potential hosts of vertical farms are nearly limitless. It’s a solution that is already being implemented within major cities across the globe with a wide variety of leading experts believing it to be the most effective way to combat the growing food crisis. A major bonus that comes with vertical farming is how environmentally safe it is. Indoor farming reduces the waste of fertilizers and water and because of the controlled climate it also requires ef pesticides and harmful toxins that can often be found in expansive outdoor crops. One of the world’s largest vertical farms currently produces heads of lettuce using 40% less power, 80% less food waste and 99% less water usage than their outdoor competitors, clearly indicating the eco-friendly benefits that come with vertical farming.

The Promise

What type of food can be grown and how much of it greatly depends on the availability of space and resources surrounding the vertical varm. However, almost every vertical farm will aim to work around developing a plan that includes greater water preservation, an increase in yield, more efficient use of urban space, and renewable production on top of being environmentally friendly. Vertical farms are also weatherproof and can feature year round crop production, something that many outdoor fields fail to accomplish through blistering winters or scorching hot summers.

How It’s Done

When it comes to vertical farming there is no one-size-fits-all solution. But there a few practices and commonalities found within every vertical farm, including:

  • Stacking crops

    • Instead of laying out crops in an open row farmers instead stack them on top of each other

  • LED lighting

    • Used as a energy and light source, replacing the need of a Sun.

  • Using technology to aid the growing process

    • Humidity and temperature control

    • Control monitoring of nutrients and fertilizer

    • Timed treatment of crops

  • They feature some type of “ponics”

    • Every vertical farm will include some variation of a nutrient and water delivery system intended to feed the crops (Aeroponics, Hydroponics, Aquaponics, etc.)

While these features can be found in almost every vertical farm a number of newer developments are including plans that collect their own rain water and produce their own energy for the entire building through wind turbines and solar cells. As vertical farms continue to develop, a greater sense of community involvement continues to arise; these farms aren’t just looking to maximize their profits, they’re looking to give back to their communities and help pave the way for future generations.

The Benefits

The U.S. manages to waste $165 billion in food each year. 40% of the food in the U.S. today goes uneaten, much of which finds itself in local landfills contributing towards a large portion of our current methane emissions. Vertical farming combats this growing crisis by providing food for only one city rather than shipping it off to people across the globe. A large portion of food is wasted through transportation and quality standards that overemphasize appearance, which results in less profits for the farmers and higher prices for the consumer. Vertical farms eliminates all of these problems by eradicating the need for shipping and transportation: all of the food that is grown will go towards feeding the city, so there is no need for large shipping containers that often compromise the integrity of the produce. As previously mentioned vertical farms are also extremely environmentally friendly as they greatly reduce water usage and wastage. The efficiency behind these farms also save farmers quite a bit of money on their energy bills, not to mention the 24/7 capability that shields crops from extreme weather.

The Negatives

It’s not cheap. Yes, you will save a great amount of money overtime, but that cannot be achieved overnight. Urban land is going to generally be more expensive to purchase than rural farmland. Creating a controlled weather environment is going to cost much more than gathering natural rainfall and sunlight from an open field. Unlike a rural farm you cannot employ just a farmer or two as you will need a team of engineers and scientists behind any project that is meant to serve an entire city. Another serious disadvantage is that you can only grow a limited amount of crops as not everything can be perfected under controlled climates. Plenty of produce can be grown in these farms: such as strawberries, kale, lettuce, basil, and other herbs. But some of the most widely eaten food cannot be grown under these conditions, including wheat, and rice.

Conclusion  

The world has a serious food epidemic taking place. We’re overfishing our oceans, wasting produce at an alarming rate, and not giving enough support or help to farmers who continue to lose profits on their crops. Vertical farming is a creative solution to these serious problems, and it’s a great idea and should continue to develop in cities across the globe, but is it enough? People are starving, farmers are losing money, and wasted food continues to build mountains of trash in our landfills. We need more than one creative solution to combat these serious world crises.

Disruption - an investors favorite word

“Disruption,” a word that your competition will be fearful of, but one that your potential investors will love. With the recent successes of disruptive companies such as Uber, Airbnb, and SpaceX, the word has become extremely trendy within startups, as entrepreneurs are beginning to recognize the value placed behind the simple adjective.

Where it took off

Disruptive companies, products, or services are nothing new. Inventions such as the first drivable car, or the modern refrigerator can be seen as disruptive. But the word disruptive still never caught on among entrepreneurs until the early 90s when the World Wide Web was first launched. Slowly but surely, the internet caused disruption all over the planet, from helping fuel massive social or political uprisings to providing the backbone for large E-commerce websites. The internet of things has drastically changed how we live and function both as a society and as individuals. Without it, the disruption we are currently seeing within almost every major industry would not be happening.

Now It’s Everywhere

In major industries such as healthcare and technology, you expect quite a bit of disruption from newer companies looking to gain traction, simply because of the recent advancements of modern technology. But it doesn’t stop there. Retail, hospitality services, the media industry, and even professional sports, are all experiencing impactful surges of disruption. For example, in just the past five years, the way that fans are consuming live sporting events has drastically changed. Professional leagues and companies are starting to invest more resources in mobile streaming, as well as virtual reality, and the entire fan experience will see a dramatic shift both at home and in the stadium within the coming years. Some leagues such as the NFL are experiencing such a decline in viewership that major adaptations or changes will be needed sooner rather than later, or else the league will simply die out.

Not Everyone’s a Fan

As previously mentioned, disruption is a word that your competition won’t take lightly, and in many cases, a heavy amount of backlash will surround your company because of it. I don’t want to say something such as ‘there is no such thing as bad PR’, because that’s one the biggest myths surrounding public relations, but there is some truth behind the statement. For example, in early 2014 when cab drivers across Europe were protesting Uber the company saw a 850% increase of signups in just one week. If your product or service upsets a decent percentage of the population it is not something to be concerned with, as the negative attention will only increase your consumer awareness. When the cab protests began, many citizens within Europe were still unaware of Uber, but thanks to the negative attention they were able to fully understand the consumer benefits of the service, which helped pave the way for the wild success the company is currently experiencing. Simply put - if you believe that you have a competitive advantage over the competition than their negative reactions or feedback won’t plague your company, and in most cases will only help it rise to stardom.

Opportunity Ahead

As previously mentioned, disruption is a word that your competition won’t take lightly, and in many cases, a heavy amount of backlash will surround your company because of it. I don’t want to say something such as “there is no such thing as bad PR,” because that’s one the biggest myths surrounding public relations, but there is some truth behind the statement. For example, in early 2014 when cab drivers across Europe were protesting Uber, the company saw a 850% increase of signups in just one week. If your product or service upsets a decent percentage of the population it is not something to be concerned with, as the negative attention will only increase your consumer awareness. When the cab protests began, many citizens within Europe were still unaware of Uber, but thanks to the negative attention, they were able to fully understand the consumer benefits of the service. Thishelped pave the way for the wild success the company is currently experiencing. Simply put - if you believe that you have a competitive advantage over the competition, then their negative reactions or feedback won’t hurt your company, and, in most cases, will only help it rise to stardom.

Disruption will only increase, not slow down

10 years ago, everyone wanted the Motorola Razr Flip Phone, as it was heavily praised for its sleek design and modern functionality. But now we all want smart computers that act as a phone, and if it flips? Forget about it! As a society we are rapidly advancing the technology behind the everyday tools we are using, and don't expect it to slow down anytime soon. What was once science fiction is slowly becoming our own reality!