You Will Not Believe What You Missed at the Pioneer Mode Conference



The Pioneer Mode Conference, the second of its kind, was held at the inspiring Brooklyn Fashion & Design Accelerator space and organized by designer and technology consultant Nicole Lenzen and designer and creative strategist Lee Anderson. I attended the first day of the summit, which featured several speakers focused on issues of sustainability, the media, and the changing trends within fashion. The crowd drew experts and enthusiasts in the fields on sustainable fashion design, sustainable textiles, marketing, and more from across fashion, all dedicated to supporting the industry in making serious strides towards a more environmentally and socially friendly field.

The day started off with a “creative tensions” exercise, where attendees had to take a stance on two opposing issues. Lively discussions were had on topics such as Imitation: Plagiarism or flattery?, MBA or MFA?, Wearables: fad or future?, and age or youth? Special guests Jasime Aarons, Founder, CEO, and Design Director at VOZ, and Sabine Seymour, CEO of Moonlab, weighed in from their expertise in the field.

Lucy Collins, Assistant Professor of Philosophy at the Fashion Institute for Technology was the first of the speakers, focusing on the how fashion can become more sustainable by focusing on three things: fashion as armor (to enhance ourselves and transform ourselves), fashion as relationship (with those who made your clothes or those who have worn them before, the history and story of people) and fashion as play (art, regarding fashion as worth preserving and caring for).

We heard a fascinating talk on how luxury became mainstream by Dana Thomas, author at The Penguin Press. In her talk Thomas outlined how everything in luxury has changed in the past 202-5 years as it has been bought up by business moguls and made increasingly more highly transactional. The shift from small, highly coveted businesses with just a few stores to ubiquitous chains has led to the downfall of several talented designers, notably Galliano and Alexander McQueen, and the burn out of both Raf Simmons of Christian Dior and even Donna Karan of her own line.

Rhett Godfrey of Loomstate encouraged sustainably-focused communities. He shared that “you are only as sustainable as the community you are a part of.” Individuals, he explained, can never be self sustaining, and the companies involved in the process make decisions so much slower than the consumer. In order to incentivize businesses, you need to demonstrate impact and create empathy. He shared the example that at Loomstate he sent the CEOs to a farm to see the impact on the farmers first hand. By moving beyond data to building a relationship, the CEOs felt that much more strongly about doing things sustainably.

Leo Bonanni, Founder and CEO of Sourcemap, and Erikah Whillas, Chief Product Office at CoClear each gave fascinating talks focused around supply chains. Bonanni showed off his technology to trace supply chains from all over the world. He shared that in this day and age “there is no excuse not to know where you stuff is coming from.” Whillas shared with us the shocking fact that at this point in time, the earth take 1.5 years to regenerate what we use in a year. At CoClear they analyze the lifecycle of products and make a business point for sustainability by showing the financial and environmental metrics.

A brief talk from John Campbell, Founder and Creative Director of Matuse focused on the intersection of design and function.

We heard an inspiring and motivational talk from Courtney McDermott, Writer and Business-life Strategist at Cort, Inc., on getting rid of physical and emotional clutter to focus on what’s important to you. McDermott emphasized defining what you are trying to achieving first, thenen figuring out how to get there.

We had a fun an hands-on Design Thinking Workshop led by Google where we split into groups and had to design carry-on luggage for a “client.” I played client and ended up with quite the lovely suitcase with a detachable handbag. It was an entertaining and important exercise in user empathy.

By far the most curious, intriguing, and extremely confounding segments of the day was the last— a segment on Fashion in the Age of Cyborgs. We heard from Neil Harbisson and Moon Ribas, Founders of The Cyborg Foundation.  Harbisson was the first person ever deemed a cyborg by the government for his color-sensing antenna he had surgically attached to his head. Harbisson has a rare form of colorblindness that only allowed him to see the world in greyscale. He set out to change that by learning the sounds of colors— which each contain a frequency — so he could experience the world like everyone else. After years of building up this ability he had an antenna attached to his skull which not only allows him to hear colors all around him, but also to sense colors that humans can’t, such as infrared and UV. He jokes that he can’t tell you how your outfit and face sound, but in fact, it’s not really a joke at all. He even once got hacked (yes his antenna is connected to the internet via bluetooth), but he shared that he actually liked it.

Ribas, a dancer, wanted to increase her sense of the ability to feel movement. Initially starting with earrings that allowed her to sense how fast the world moves around her, she wanted something deeper that allowed her to sense something you could not experience visually. Ribas has an implant in her arm that allows her to feel any earthquake across the globe. She has put on several art installations which she stands in a cube and waits for an earthquake and moves proportionately.

Together they stated The Cyborg Foundation, which helps humans become cyborgs, promotes cyborgism, and defends cyborgs’ rights. They consider themselves cybernetic organisms, not humans, and feel closer to the earth because of their abilities to connect more deeply with the earth than humans. As for the future of fashion as it relates to cyborgism, they explained that since most humans won’t go for implants to become cyborgs, fashion can serve as go-between as it is a second skin of sorts.

Overall the highlights of the day included the impressive range of expertise and knowledge from the speakers, great snacks, and wonderful attendees from whom to learn from and who share common interests.

About the author: Sara Weinreb

Sara Weinreb is a necessary troublemaker respectfully challenging the status quo. Sara is the founder of IMBY, curating American-made everyday essentials that are anything but basic. Additionally, Sara facilitates design thinking and human centered design workshops, and writes for several tech publications.  Sara has previously served professionally in leadership roles advising to social enterprise accelerators and hundreds of entrepreneurs as Vice President of Programs and Strategy at PresenTense and Director of Operations at PurposeFuel. She is passionate about sustainable fashion, design, impact entrepreneurship, travel, and using business as a force for good. You can find Sara on her yoga mat, taking photos, eating her way around the world, and on her blog.

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