Fashion, Tech and Law - I LAW FASHION


Fashion, Tech and Law

Where it all began and what the future holds?


We are in the era of Industry 4.0. Today’s keywords are ‘Internet of Things’, artificial intelligence, 3D, block chain, disruptive technology and the systems that will help us to live in space. Without doubt, technology conquers all the sectors including textile and fashion. Nowadays in the fashion industry, we are talking about the collection developed by an artificial intelligence or the human leather bag collection created in a laboratory. Textile and fashion has been embracing technology since the day one and using law for protected the creations and discoveries in the field. 

Keywords: fashion, fashion tech, technology, inventions, internet of things, artificial intelligence, 3D, block chain, disruptive technology, law, fashion law


” Fashion is not something that exists in dresses only. Fashion is in the sky, in the street, fashion has to do with ideas, the way we live, what is happening. “

         Coco Chanel

Throughout the history, when textile and fashion interact with technology, we witness game changer innovations in the field. These innovations often cause legal disputes as well. Because an innovation with legal protection can change the business and the person who has the patent of it can live ‘forever’.

In this article, we will briefly examine the past, the present and the future of the bond between fashion, tech and law. We will gather the groundbreaking innovations for the sector with their legal protections. We will give examples from global cases and their importance for this sector.

1. Past

1.1 The Tipping Point: Sewing Machine

When we evaluate the past in terms of fashion, technology and law, it would not be wrong to state that the crisis accelerated the inventions in the field throughout the history. In this part of our article, we will start with the Industrial Revolution movement in England in 18th century that we believe the tipping point of the subject and continue the breaking points until today.

In the 18th century, the Industrial Revolution movement in Britain was considered to have begun in the textile sector with the inventions that created factory textile production[1]. At that time, India was the world’s greatest cotton textile producer, and the East India Company imported vast amounts of printed cotton cloth. So much was imported that in 1721, the import of cotton fabrics was banned. The cotton fabrics started to be produced within the country. However, there were no skilled workers as well as those who wanted high wages in Britain. This situation led the businessmen to mechanization in the making of cotton fabrics. Through mechanization, cost reductions promised a large increase in market share and immense fortunes for the successful innovators[2]. Thus, the inventions began to follow one after another.

Another breaking point in that period was the invention of sewing machine and the legal story behind it. In 1790 Englishman Thomas Saint designed the first sewing machine of its kind. The patent described a machine powered with a hand crank to be used for leather and canvas. Nobody knows if Saint built a prototype, but in 1874, William Newton Wilson found the patent drawings. They were so detailed; he built a replica, proving that it did work.

GB 1.764/1790 Thomas Saint July 17, 1790

However it didn’t function, as it should be. Until 1830, many of inventors as Balthasar Krems, Josef Madersperger, John Adams Doge and John Knowles tried to build a working sewing machine and patenting it. The first sewing machine that it’s the closest that we used today was invented by a French tailor, Barthélemy Thimonnier in 1830. He received a patent for it by the French government in 1830, to mass-produce uniforms for the French army, but some 200 rioting tailors, who feared that the invention would ruin their businesses, destroyed the machines in 1831. Thimonnier’s design, in any event, merely mechanized the hand-sewing operation.

London Science Museum – Thimonnier Sewing Machine Replica

After Thimonnier, a New-Yorker inventor Elias Howe built a successful sewing machine in 1840s however he never patented it. Howe’s highly successful machine was widely copied, leading to extensive patent litigation and ultimately to a patent pool that included the design of Isaac Merritt Singer, the largest manufacturer. Singer didn’t invent the first sewing machine, but the one he patented in 1851, was the most practical and the most commercially viable.

Isaac Merritt Singer, Sewing Machine Patent, 1851

The mechanization and the commercial version of the sewing machine accelerated the mass production and fabric prices had fallen. Thanks to the Industrial Revolution in textile sector, garments could be produced more cheaply, and the new synthetic dyes invented in that period offered a much wider range of colors.

1.2. Synthetic Fibers

After mechanization, fashion and textile sectors continued their progress with the contributions from chemical industry. Synthetic fibers marked the fashion and enabled designers to make new creations. The first such fibers were prepared by Wallace Carothers and co-workers (in particular Julian Hill) of the Du Pont Co. in the early 1930s in studies on condensation polymers. In 1931 the company applied for a patent on linear condensation polymers, and Carothers and Hill presented a paper to the American Chemical Society in which they disclosed superpolyesters that could be extruded and drawn into a fiber with properties superior to silk.

Chemist Julian Hill inventing superpolymer fiber

Carothers’ group experimented with many compositions, in early 1934 they developed the fiber 66, which is known Nylon, and nylon patent was issued in September 1938[1]. ‘’Because of the product’s silk-like qualities, DuPont planned to target it toward women’s hosiery. Sample stockings were sold to company office employees in Wilmington in March 1939, and a limited quantity was sold to the public in Wilmington later that year. Demand was overwhelming. They sold out in three hours..

The first day nylon stockings were introduced nationwide, May 15, 1940, nearly 800,000 pairs were sold. By 1941, nylon had captured over 30% of the hosiery market. When the United States entered World War II in December 1941, however, all nylon output was diverted to military needs.’’

Chemist Wallace Carthers inventing Nylon

After Nylon, Polyester, Polyacrylonitriles (Acrylics), Polyolefins and Polyurethanes (Spandex, and Lycra) were marked by the 1950s and 1960s. Polyester was introduced into clothing in the early 1950s and could be blended with rayon or cotton for use in so-called ‘wash-and-wear’ fabrics that need little or no ironing.New kinds of polyester have been developed that are more durable and have a softer, more natural feel. These synthetic materials became increasingly popular in the late 20th century.[1] In that period, chemical and textile industries created new fabrics as Gore-Tex, Kevlar, Neoprene, Velcro, FoxFibre etc. and they protected their inventions with patents.

1.3. Welcome to the Digital Era

In the 1990s and 2000s, technological advances were progressing rapidly, computerized drawing programs, new generation microfiber fabrics, new dyeing and printing techniques emerged.

We started to design in our computers with licensed programs as Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator. We made first online shopping from Amazon and eBay. We read the fashion news from fashion blogs. We witnessed the massive production and the rise of fast fashion thanks to mechanic developments and the digital systems in the factory.

From 1990s we have been prepared for what we see today in the fashion industry. We made the digital infrastructure of the sector.

2. Present

Today, what we witness in the fashion sector is new. We make innovations like we never used before. Thanks to the technological advances in the field, now the sky is the limit. Regarding fashion, technology and law in the 21st century, we can state that there are four main streams:

1. Fashion Products Combined with Technology

2. Fashion Products Combined with Genetic Technology and Biology

3. Technology in Retail Stores

4. «Fashion Apps» on Mobile Devices and Artificial Intelligence

In the following part of our article, we will explain every one of them by giving most game changer examples for the textile and fashion sector.

2.1 Fashion Products Combined with Technology

When we think of fashion products combined with technology, first three technologies come to our mind immediately: Led, Solar and 3D. The light-emitting diode (LED) is one of the fastest developing lighting technologies nowadays. This technology actually developed around 1900s; however, its practical use, low cost version and application on fashion products become possible only today. Several fashion brands try to design their garments and accessories with LED from Nike to Chanel. The LED dresses made by Zac Posen or the Marchesa version of it partnered with IBM marked MET Gala 2016.

Met Gala 2016: Claire Danes’s Glow-in-the-Dark LED Gown by Zac Posen, Photo Credit: Vanity Fair

The way using LED in the fashion cause also legal disputes. For example, in 2014, Ralph Lauren launched a very special bag called ‘The Ricky Bag with Light’. In this bag, they installed led lights and a USB port to charge the mobile phone.

The Ricky Bag with Light – Ralph Lauren

However, in February 2015, Jimmy Bryan applied to the court with the patents (6,340,235 (1999) & 6,637,909 (2002)) that proved this technology actually belongs to him.

A significant example for solar energy used in fashion garment is from Tommy Hilfiger. In 2014, Tommy Hilfiger designed a solar jacket that charge electronic devices like smartphone or tablet by converting energy from a series of removable solar panels attached to their backs.

Tommy Hilfiger’s Solar-Powered Jacket

Tommy Hilfiger used this technology from the utility model patent called ‘solar energy power generation pyrogenicity intelligence outdoor jacket’ developed by a Chinese inventor.

Another important today’s material is 3D. According to 3D Printed Company, 3D printing had its idealization in the 80s, when Dr. Hideo Kodama filed the first patent application for rapid prototyping technology (Rapid Prototyping / RP). This process was initially designed for rapid creation of prototype industrially developed products.

However, due to problems occurred, the patent was not registered. In 1986 the first patent was issued for Stereolithography Apparatus technology (SLA). This patent belongs to Charles Hull, who invented the SLA machine in 1983. Hull co-founded the 3D Systems Corporation, which is currently one of the largest in 3D printing technology industry.

In the 2000s, 3D technology evolved and the costs declined. Since 2012, alternative methods for 3D printing have been opened to the market. The fashion designer who marked the fashion history with her way of application 3D is no doubt Iris Van Herpen.

Iris Van Herpen’s couture 3D printing stars in Paris Fashion Week 2018

Besides exclusive designs as Herpen’s work, 3D printing is also used in mass production pieces. For example, Nike was granted a patent in 2015 to produce its shoe soles with 3D technology. Nike’s new patent, according to a statement by Nike officials, includes a system for reducing the number of parts of shoe soles. We know that Nike’s arch-rivals Adidas, Under Armor, New Balance and Sketchers have begun their shoe production trials with 3D technology, and even some of them launched their first models. Recently Nike applied also for the patent called ‘Footwear Assembly Method With 3D Printing’. In the future we can witness patent wars for sneakers.

For those who like to ride in the city, Levi’s and Google co-designed a fabric technology enables the user to perform functions from changing the music to getting the road coordinates just with a one touch on the arm. Google’s Advanced Technology and Projects (ATAP) group has hold the patent with the US Patent & Trademark Office for this technology.

Another breakthrough for today’s fashion sector is of course wearable smart accessories. CNBC reported that according to Euromonitor, wearables will become the world’s best-selling consumer electronics product after smartphones. Sales of autonomous wearables, or smart wearables, are projected to exceed 305 million units in 2020, with a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 55 percent.[1] That is the reason why more and more technology and fashion companies invest in smart accessories and protect them with patents. For example, in 2014 Fitbit collaborated with Tory Burch for a smart accessory collection by using patented Fitbit Flex technology. 

2.2 Fashion Products Combined with Genetic Technology and Biology

Nowadays, new fashion ateliers are the genetic and biology laboratories. We use high-tech laboratories for inventing new kinds of fabrics as self-healing fabric or yeast-based silk. A group of researchers at Pennsylvania State University invented a fabric healing itself. The research led by Melik Demirel, a Turkish professor of engineering science and mechanics at Penn State and he stated “for the first time we are making self-healing textiles.”

SRT coated fabric self-heals.  From left, fabric with hole, wet fabric and patch in a drop of water, self-healed fabric. Image: Demirel Lab / Penn State

Washington based fashion brand Imperial Motion make the commercial use of self-healing fabric. They built ‘Nano Cure Tech’ collection for jackets and bags that are never torn. 

Stella McCartney also partnered with biotech firm Bolt Threads. They studied on sustainable material development and made a dress from yeast-based silk.

Stella McCartney with Bolt Threads CEO Dan Widmaier. Image Forbes

Last but definitely not least, we should also show Tina Gorjanc’s project as an example of how biotech and fashion can collaborate and this collaboration legal aspects.

Tina Gorjanc studied at Central Saint Martins and for her graduation collection called ‘Pure Human’ she made a breakthrough for fashion, technology and law. Gorjanc found Alexander McQueen’s hair in the labels of his first collection and she extracted his genetic information for her research from that hair. With his DNA material, Gorjanc grew the skin in petri dishes.

She filed an application for patenting McQueen’s DNA samples as the source for a procedure that would result in laboratory-grown leather made from human tissue. Tina Gorjanc’s human leather collection aims to highlight the shortcomings of current legislations, which cannot protect our biological material from being marketed without permission.

2.3 Technology in Retail Stores

For competing online stores, retail stores also come up with technological solutions in the 21st century. Zara, Nordstorm built ‘Guide Shop’ or ‘Click-and-Clock’ concepts which enable customers to try the product but purchase it online.Another great example is Sehpora, leading specialty retailer in beauty sector. Sephora launched a new 3D augmented reality mirror by ModiFace that simulates cosmetics on a user’s face photo-realistically in real-time, with expectations to transform how women shop for cosmetic. This technology developed by ModiFace has a patent protection.

2.4. «Fashion Apps» on Mobile Devices and AI

Today, almost everybody has an application related to fashion in their mobile phones. However the breaking point of the fashion apps is the version combined with artificial intelligence (AI).

Fashion brands from H&M to Nike use AI for reaching their customers. For instance, Net-A-Porter invested £442 million in technology and personalization and developed a robot that can select clothes for customers based on their future plans. The system uses AI to offer the personalized service. Net-A-Porter’s investment continued in 2018. Their sub-brand Yoox launched a collection developed by AI that combed fashion content across social media and fashion sites in key markets.

Amazon Echo also offers Echo Look which uses a video camera to take photos and videos of users outfit selection of the day and offer feedback on outfit choices with the voice-driven AI personal assistant, also known as Alexa. With this patented technology[2], Amazon is named the UK’s number one digital innovator with Amazon Echo,

3. Future

From 1800s until today, important technological advances have changed the textile and fashion. What we witness today is just a beginning. Since our technology develops faster than the decade before, groundbreaking innovations are around the corner. It is predicted that we will soon print our clothes in our own homes. For example, if we want to buy a Chanel bag, it will be enough to buy online its template and print from our 3D printer. In NBC News, designer Danit Peleg explained this phenomenon by stating that “We used to buy CDs, and we had to go to the physical stores to get music and now we can just download it everywhere. I believe that the same thing will happen with fashion eventually — clothes will become more and more digital.”

In the near future, for fashion and textile sectors, we will see more AI and less human. From this perspective, we will talk about AI designers rights, AI employment regulations etc. 

Also one of the main issues of our time is, of course, Mars. In next ten or twenty years we will develop fabrics and create designs suitable for Mars-wear. Some brands already thinking about our daily wear in Mars. For instance, London based brand Vollebak launched a product named “100 Year Hoodie”.

Vollebak – 100 Year Hoodie

There is a reason behind why it’s called “100 Year”. Because this product tried to be worn out by exposing to all kinds of external factors for 24 hours; however it is not damaged in any way and keeps its original form. The company conducts a number of experiments on the product, records them in video format. They’re claiming that the 100 Year Hoodie can be worn on Mars and Mercury.

The hoodie, made of Kevlar fabric, can withstand temperatures from + 300 ° C to -200 ° C. At the same time, it can be washed 2,000 times, worn 4,000 times and withstood 100 strokes. Even if it has these features, it looks like an ordinary hoodie which you can wear anytime in anywhere. So get ready to wear “multi-planet guarantee” labeled and patented fashion products soon.


From sewing machine to Human-Leather collection, we had an extraordinary ride. Fashion and technology continue to feed each other and this journey will not be end any time soon. However, for making a real progress, another important thing is to legally protect what we invented.

Unfortunately, current legal regulations cannot keep up with the fashion and technology. That is the reason why we need fashion law and we need it fast. Because, the future is here and now.


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