Our poor planet

Invited to the Coburn Ventures‘ annual gathering as a “thought leader” this week, for the fourth year in a row! – always a fun gathering of the best and most interesting thinkers (thought leaders + investment professionals) from around the globe, pondering the future direction of various technologies on business and humanity.

What to wear…always the question.

So to the intertoobz I go. And it struck me: why am I internet shopping in exactly the same way I have been since, well, pretty much the beginning of ecommerce? Searching based on some key words, ending up on a store’s website with a bunch of thumbnails, mostly on young gazelles who I think I could probably stick two of into one of my dresses…maybe there’s a filter, sometimes even with filtering categories I care about. Ordering 2, 3, 4 alternatives – which will be returned if not right.

Such a waste. Of time, of delivery gasoline…of raw materials. I am imagining the mountains of clothing, made in amounts forecast to be roughly correct – but then it’s 60 degrees in November in New York, and they all waste away in some warehouse, somewhere. Or in stores….some end up in outlet stores…some go back to the manufacturers, only for some to be sent to online clearance sites…or some far away country, dumped on a market that cares less about trend.

Sigh. Our poor planet.

Where’s my 3d printed clothing, made to my (scanned) body size, to my specs? What if I am not a 20 year old gazelle, and I want the skirt to be a few inches longer? Shorter?

Why has there been so little disintermediation in the way we shop and dress ourselves?

I ponder this as I push the “buy” button, and pay and extra $20 for fast delivery, contemplating all the bells, widgets, gizmos and wheels which immediately starting turning in response. And think back to this blog entry, which was based on a lot of thinking I did in 2006. 10 years!!

Our poor planet.

Temporary interactive tattoos


The ultimate “wearable”; smart temporary tattoos that have functionality. Seriously I think all the gadgets we currently carry – phones, trackers, health monitoring devices will very soon just be stickers that we attach to ourselves (or be woven into our clothing) – wrote about both of those before (http://lindaricci.com/body-stickers and http://lindaricci.com/quantifying-apparel).

These are fascinating. Coming out of the MIT Media Lab, these temporary tattoos have different configurations: one iteration has an NFC chip embedded in it (allowing for interaction with nearby gadgets), another lets you use your finger to interact with your computer screen…made out of real gold or silver leaf, anyone can make their own design / circuits, and “tattoo” them on their skin.

While it’s early days on how powerful the interaction is, the battery / power needs are limited – and of course, the programming that drives the interaction is a big question mark for me! – it’s a harbinger of the future and has fascinating potential applications.

We are already moving towards being a disposably minded society. From apparel to jewelry, electronics to furniture, we are in the midst of a revolution in attitude about how we acquire and consume goods. Clothing isn’t bought to wear for years, but is increasingly cheaply made and sold, intended to be worn and discarded a few months later…people aren’t buying a “serious” piece of jewelry once every few years, intended to be eventually be handed to children and posterity, instead cheap “fun” mass produced jewelry that scratches a trendy itch prevails. Once, our grandparents bought a sofa when they got married and meant for it to last decades; electronics are traded in for upgrades every six months.

Even music has gone from owning physical albums to streaming, meaning we don’t have to “own” anything, but can stream whatever we want on demand.

So is it any surprise that when the need for a piece of equipment is eliminated because we can have one to do whatever we want at the moment, the desire or need to own an object dedicated to one function will disappear?



Quantifying apparel

3d printed textiles / apparel

Fascinating work on invisibly embedding technology that measures us throughout the day (and night?)…someday wearables will be disposable, 3D printed textile-based “devices” that can measure whatever we, and our doctors deem important (or maybe…not so important; I call that navel gazing); then our pharma printers can supply us with our customized supplements and medicines to compensate for whatever we need.

Opportunity Lost: NikeFuel, Gamification & Making a Difference

Nike+ & NikeFuel are beautiful examples of a brand living their values (Just Do It!) via technology and community. A new campaign by one of the biggest consumer brands in the world brings those elements into sharp focus by combining user’s NikeFuel points with love for their favorite college basketball teams.

But they missed an opportunity to create something really special.

Nike Fuel Points
Screenshot from the Fuel Your Team site

A good friend posted on Facebook today, requesting his friends who were fellow alumni of his college to “pledge their Nike+ Fuel and get on board!”. As someone who has been working with Quantified Self ideas / technology, is a fan of Nike’s marketing efforts, and pays way too much attention to the use of game mechanics in digital experiences, this was definitely worth a look.

NikeFuel (part of the Nike+ ecosystem) is a line of products including wristbands, apps, and watches that all collect data on movement (calories burned, steps taken), let you set goals, provide insights and convert all of this to points for personal optimization and social sharing. It is a great example of Quantified Self, a movement where users are collecting, analyzing and learning from the their data (via mobile, wearable and pen-and-paper techniques). The Fuel Your Team campaign allows owners of NikeFuel products to “claim their team” from a list of US college basketball teams. As each person claim’s their team (you can claim any team, whether you are alumni or just a huge fan) they can pledge their NikeFuel points to that team, which raises their standings on the leaderboard.

Screenshot from the Fuel Your Team website showing the teams and the Fuel points their fans have earned
Screenshot from the Fuel Your Team website showing some of the teams and the Fuel points their fans have earned and pledged.

Quantified Self?
Very sharable (don’t ever underestimate the power of school pride) and Nike has real brand love, and the resulting message amplification to make this take off
Personal earning of points AND seeing my points result in my team’s standings change = YES. Nike has foreshadowed that as the program rolls forward more achievements will be unlocked (presumably for the team)

All in all, it’s a pretty simple, yet compelling effort. Users of NikeFuel are advocates and LOVE to talk about their FuelBand and how it helps them. For fans of College Basketball this is the “most wonderful time of the year” (you can blame me later for having that song stuck in your head). For all intents and purposes, this program is a win as it stands (will it drive sales of FuelBand? Probably). But there is one thing in the whole program missing, especially all these years after Social Media went from being an experiment to an expectation.

Where is the social-good moment in the program? How is the world’s biggest sneaker company/iconic brand / driver of sport-as-lifestyle around the world paying it forward/giving it back/starting a movement of people beyond adding points? They have the “megaphone” of brand awareness, channel and spend. They have a product their users love (and have racked up over 4 billion points since it’s launch a little over a year ago). What if they did something different?

  • Every College in the Fuel Your Team program decided to “adopt” a cause they and their fans could rally behind:
    • Gonzaga decided to join the fight against Juvenile Diabetes
    • Michigan State fans took on Pancreatic Cancer
    • Syracuse rallied it’s fans to support the Wounded Warrior Fund
  • Nike and select partners pledge to donate money to the individual causes based on the Fuel points earned.
  • Each school organizes to raise Fuel points from students, alumni and fans AND works on fundraising drives for their “adopted cause”.

To get there would take a considerable amount of work, but the concept of Social Good (ht to Drew Olanoff) isn’t a new one. The effort would require choosing the participating causes, negotiating the minimum contribution they could receive, matching the cause to the individual schools in a way that is fair, getting the budget together for the donations, organizing the fundraising infrastructure that would properly allocate and credit the schools for the donation, digital and mobile efforts, PR and Marketing, the privacy policy and a lot more – but none of these things compares to the work that goes into launching a sneaker, and NIKE literally wrote the playbook for that.

We wonder what this program would look like when the schools and fans got behind a great cause
A composite photochop of what we think  this program could be – where teams, causes and fans are aligned, brought to you by the awesomeness of NIKE

I love what NikeFuel is doing with this program (simple, direct, crowd-driven and based on love for their product AND College Basketball AND the individual schools). NikeFuel + Gonzaga is a fun idea, but NikeFuel+Gonzaga+Cystic Fibrosis is full of awesome. Considering how often Brand-Cause partnerships are looked at with distrust, this is a tough sell, but think about much real change in the lives of real people that Nike, the Colleges and their fans could create with a program like this?

Love it? Hate it? How would you hack this idea?

Leave a comment below and tell me what you think.

Virtual me

A few years ago I met with a company that was in start up phase, with a cool vision: they were developing body scanning software (not new) BUT – and this is the cool part – they were taking it a step further by planning on installing kiosks in malls which were tied to the apparel inventory in the store at that mall.

So you could be scanned, tell it you were looking for a red dress, and it would give you the list of options: “At Macy’s Liz Claiborne has a red dress in your size. At Bloomingdale’s, Tahari”.

Note: as any women can tell you, sizing is a “rough estimate” not an absolute – so you can be one size with one brand, and a different one with another. The body scanning software eliminated this fuzziness – it correlated your actual measurements with individual brand measurements and then checked inventory there to ensure you didn’t have to waste a lot of time searching and trying on things that didn’t fit. It would send you to the right place/brand/size without all the hassle.

Aside from the fact that some don’t find shopping a hassle and it’s a very utilitarian approach to searching and finding, this is clearly genius. But I’d like to see it taken a few steps further.

The body scanning /real time inventory integration should be combined with avatars and virtual world technology. Not in Second Life, although that can be a real hoot (hey, I know, I’m a geek) – but the ability to scan, build an avatar that actually does resemble you (not the idealized 20 year ago in my wildest fantasy version), with correct dimensions, and then – and this is the next steps – have it try on apparel that actually is based on real manufacturers styles and sizes. You could *immediately* actually see if that dress fits, how it looks in 3D, and whether it’s flattering.

This would be a huge cost reduction for what is a practice barely improved since the advent of the Sears catalog back in 1888. Currently catalog or Internet sales are a fuzzy science – a teeny picture (maybe, a shot from the back too), that’s no where close to your size/body shape. I don’t even bother, but when I have, I order two sizes and return the one that doesn’t fit – or return them both in disgust.

These returns cost both the retailers and the manufacturers a huge amount of money and hassle. It keeps inventory management a guessing game for the manufacturers, who have to take back inventory that doesn’t sell in the retail channel and also share – if not own – any sales price reductions that the retailers implement. So, if something comes back, it either goes to the sales rack or gets returned to the manufacturer. For the retailers it’s more about hassle and the costs associated with logistics.  

With body scanned avatars – and accurate sizing reflected in a virtual garment – the number of returns would be greatly reduced, because you would *know* it fit, and that it looked good. It’s such a win-win-win solution for everyone involved (consumer, retailer, manufacturer) that I don’t understand why I’ve not seen any movement towards developing this.

I’m not sure I really want to see what I look like in 3D, which I’m sure is a concern for many (I like my delusions as much as anyone….). But the amount of hassle and guessing it would eliminate would be a powerful incentive to try it.

And then when customized apparel manufacturing starts to go mainstream – it will be a necessity. Straight from scan to cutting table, so to speak, even if a laser is doing the cutting. But this disintermediates the retailers to a large extent, so has less incentive to be implemented.

I’m disappointed that in truth, I’ve been thinking about this for at least 5-6 years and as yet, it seems the industry is sticking with the old.

The good news is that my delusions are for now, still safe.