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Idea of a smart wardrobe – Interview with NICE Alumni project The Internet of Clothes

The Birmingham City University developed with "The Internet of Clothes" a smart system against overconsumption and was nominated for the NICE Award 2016. Project Manager Mark Brill about the idea.

© Internet of Clothes

How was the idea for “The Internet of Clothes” born? Why did you see a need?

The idea came from my thinking around the problem of over consumption, and particularly the problem of over consumption in the fashion industry. I felt that technology could help address some of these problems, especially in a collaborative context. The ‘things as a service’ concept would be something that could help us move away from a consumption to a sharing model. However, changing behviours around fashion purchase is difficult, so I thought ‘what if we can let the technology make the decisions’? That led me to the idea of the Internet of Clothes – a connected wardrobe where the garments make the decision on what to wear, and to pass themselves on if they were ignored.

What kind of obstacles did you face during the development?

Whilst the idea was widely supported, there were a number of barriers - firstly, how to convince people to let their wardrobe decide what they would wear, and secondly we needed to address issues of data privacy from the information held by the system. I experimented with a number of possible technologies, and found the solution through a passive RFID tag. I was fortunate to get in contact with the Textile Technology team at Nottingham Trent University who allowed me to test their RFID thread. Beyond that, the biggest challenge has been in developing the decision algorithm. Without any funding I had to work with the university computing department who generally lacked the time and skills to develop the appropriate software. I have since found a developer who has a PhD in computing science and is able to support the technical objectives. In order to scale the concept further we are now looking for further funding to create beta testing units.

What is the current status of the project? Could you already implement it, how many people have used it since then? 

We now have a team of four people who all bring different skills sets to the project. We have a working prototype and have also honed the details of the concept further. For example, we have addressed the challenge of privacy by keeping the users and their data anonymous. We have also developed our revenue models that demonstrate the commercial potential of the project, along with our brand concept called [TAG] (the tag that you put in the clothes, and the English game of tag, which means to pass something on).

What are your next steps?

We are now seeking further funding in order to build more test units for our beta team of early adoptors. The Internet of Clothes is very much a platform rather than a prescriptive model, so we are interested in how users will find their own benefit from the system.

In how far did the NICE Award help the project? 

Although we weren't successful in receiving an award, the process of writing the application and attending the event was enourmously helpful. By having to explain the concept, we developed the idea further and the discussions with other attendees at the event helped me to gain a greater understanding of our objects.

All NICE 2016 nominees can be seen here.