WAKEFIELD – In the second podcast of our new series, Mike Schragger speaks to Edwin Keh, CEO of the Hong Kong Research Institute of Textiles & Apparel (HKRITA), about his views on how the fashion and apparel sector is still playing catch-up with other industries when it comes to breakthrough, disruptive technologies.
Formerly at Walmart and Donna Karan, Keh explains how he left his commercial career behind to looks at ‘bigger issues’ such as innovations in technology and sustainability, where he says todays fashion sector “lags behind other industries in some ways,” but claims the industry is not at the point “where it’s right for disruption.”
“This whole area (fashion) has now become a science and we still think of it as an art,” he says with some provocation. “It’s still quite an emotive, impulsive, creative process without the backbone of and engineering or business case behind it.”
Keh goes on to say that change will come in the form of how things are made – but not in the form of robotics and other technical disruptions, but that the sector will be governed by data and using data so that: “we are making things that customers want, and specific applications for customers … apparel and fashion hasn’t made the transition yet to the knowledge age, we are still operating in the industrial age.”
In this wide-ranging interview he also talks about ‘breakthrough work’ at HKRITA on the hydrothermal separation of textiles – without the need for chemicals; his deep conviction that the fashion sector needs to do R&D very differently; and why industry innovation – for its own sake – is misguided.
And if that’s not interesting enough for you, the “professor,” as Mike refers to him, also weighs in on the historical relationship between China and “the West”, the fundamental limitations of today’s business models, why he has become the “favourite son-in-law,”; and why for the fashion industry, the “era of living in denial is over.”