Centre for Applied Research of the Faculty on Digital Media & Creative Industries

Data-Driven Craftsmanship should take the lead in fashion

17 Sep 2021 09:00

Fashion has become a statement, but we no longer understand what we are actually wearing, for example the properties of wool or cotton. ‘We have lost our connection with the material’, says Troy Nachtigall, professor of Fashion Research & Technology at AUAS. By designing with new technology and above all with data, fashion will realize a new form of craftsmanship. This will also help us to regain the connection with the material, which is crucial for a sustainable clothing industry. This is what Troy Nachtigall pointed out in his inaugural lecture on Tuesday 14 September.

Inaugural read Troy Nachtigall

Fashion as a practice concentrates on concepts and making a statement; leading many of us to no longer pay much attention to the material. ‘These days many no longer realise that wool has a warming effect, or that cotton cools us down’, explains Fashion Research & Technology professor Troy Nachtigall. ‘This is due to the large-scale use of plastic since the Second World War and the rise of mass production. Since the 1960s, fashion has been all about something you want to convey, a symbol or meaning, and we have lost sight of the realistic aspect, which is what we are actually wearing.'

Tailored to individuals

In order to make fashion and the clothing industry more sustainable, it is important for people to become more aware of the materials they are wearing and more conscious in their approach to clothing. The same applies to designers, developers, branders and marketers of fashion. New technology can bring about this transformation, says Nachtigall: ‘Data will become the material par excellence for designing, if we want sustainable fashion that is tailored to individuals.’

For example, designers can see how a person's foot is built, how they walk, what kind of support they need and design the material which suits them best, while keeping the aesthetics, self-identity and social interaction in the piece of attire. ‘Data enabled fashion products would lead to a lot more appreciation for the item in question.’

Nachtigall: 'Fashion works best when the symbol and the thing come together to create a larger meaning'.


New methods such as 3D knitting and 3D printing are time-consuming and place many demands on fashion professionals, as they require knowledge of both materials and programming. Experimentation and exploration are an intensive process in which the designer, developer and ‘wearer’ are in close contact and work together to create the product (co-creation). One example is the shoe that Nachtigall designed for former Dutch Minister of Education, Culture and Science Jet Bussemaker using the 3D printer.

New form of craftsmanship

Fashion loves to believe the idea that clothes used to be tailored to the individual, says Nachtigall. ‘In the 15th century, fashion was invented by the Medici’s as a craft tailored to the individual, incorporating their wishes and their size and shape. The system was sustainable, but not democratic as this tailored fashion was reserved for the rich, powerful and famous.” Nachtigall knows what he is talking about, as he was a fashion designer and lectured in Florence, Rome and Venice for years.

Nachtigall strives for a new form of craftmanschip: “How do we democratize the Craftmanship to create fashion for all? This is the central question in my research. We need to enable and empower users, and let them be part of the process.’

Shoes for Jet Bussemaker

Critical awareness

In part, Nachtigall and his fellow researchers are examining which methods from the past can be used again in order to change the fashion world and breathe new craftsmanship of data. Nachtigall is also focusing on new technology, but doing so with a critical making perspective. ‘Sustainable fashion innovation is a combination: we should take steps forward, but we should also take steps back looking at past systems that were sustainable. It’s about being really critical: not only designing the garment, but also the system behind it.’

Do this for everyone

Students at AMFI learn about this critical attitude and focus on more sustainable fashion, which is more personal, inclusive and diverse. They experiment with new methods, such as the research groups 3D knitting Fieldlab and GAP studio, where fashion stakeholders work closely with the people who will wear the designed garments. ‘Data and new technology allow us to create fashion that empowers people, because it supports them in exactly the right way, both physically and aesthetically. In the end, I believe we can find a way to do this for everyone.’