How fashion designer Thebe Magugu uses high-tech to tell a story

by | Nov 25, 2019

Technology has been instrumental in mechanising and speeding up the manufacturing process of clothing. Now, we’re turning to new technology to better manage these processes to slow the industry down and to reduce waste. Technology helps consumers and brand owners trace supply chains, creating transparency. In LVMH Prize Winner Thebe Magugu’s case, he wants you to stop and read about a period of South African history.

Thebe has used near-field communication chips in the label of each garment in his latest collection, Prosopography SS20. On his Instagram, he explains that the label, “if tapped with a smartphone using the Verisium App, will reveal all my research and interviews conducted on the inspiration behind the collection, that being the women of the Black Sash.”

Black Sash is a 63-year old veteran human rights organisation advocating for social justice in South Africa. Thebe writes on his Instagram that, “When people think of South Africa’s history and its heroes, its all too often the men who come to mind. The Black Sash is a phenomenal group of women, who put themselves in a direct line of danger protecting P.O.C during our country’s dark past”.

The latest in-depth report, “The State of Fashion 2020” by Business of Fashion and McKinsey & Company highlights the pressure fashion players are under “to be digital-first and fully leverage new technologies, to improve diversity across their assortments and organisations and to address growing demand for the industry to face the sustainability agenda head-on”. Cutting-edge technology, says the report, can create cleaner and more efficient processes. It can also be “a critical enabler of the knowledge, empathy and operational efficiency”.

Thebe’s fashion agent Annette Pringle-Kölsch has experienced greater success with designers who tap into new technologies, address social issues and are transparent about their value chains. “I feel sustainability is key and brands are communicating more and more to their customers what impact their business has on the environment,” she says. She uses the example of Thebe’s use of Verisium’s near-field communication chips. Besides the storytelling aspect of this technology, Annette explains that the chip gives full transparency to the value chain of each product Thebe designed and manufactured in his winning LVMH Prize collection. “This chip also enables the brand to communicate directly with the customer, it is not just giving a once-off product information,” she says.

Thebe told Twyg, “I really like reading about new things, and I want people to gain something from my collection”. When he met the Verisium team earlier this year at the Conde Nast Luxury Conference in Cape Town he found a way to directly communicate stories and information about his brand.

Verisium is a Russian technology start-up that helps fashion brands communicate with their customers. According to the company’s business development manager, Anna Andreeva, the PET plastic chips can be enriched with pictures, videos, care information, the story behind the collection or the identity of the brand. Anna says that brands can create unique post-sale experiences to increase the loyalty of their customers and build a community around the brand. For instance, they can send an invitation to a private event, pre-release a music track or offer a unique service. She adds that NFC chips are copy-proof. “We use Blockchain technology for extra security”.

Thebe has used this technology to its full advantage, with storytelling possibly being the most powerful as he uses it to share knowledge and create empathy.

  • For more information about Thebe’s work, follow @thebemagugu and @thefashionagent
  • Images: Main image (c) LVMH Prize. Other supplied by Verisium. First two images are of the Thebe Magugu Basotho Poncho, made from cotton. The second image is of someone scanning the Red Twill Coat, made from high twist twill and recycled polyester (plastic bottles). And the last image is of someone scanning the poncho’s label
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