Fashion startups strut the runway at Montreal’s Digital Spring


Montreal’s McCord Museum was packed full of cocktailers Thursday night as Montreal’s Digital Spring celebrated its opening.

Mayor Denis Coderre kicked things off with an opening speech while a cluster of local fashion startups took much of the spotlight, including Nathon KongStefankaAnastasia Radevich and students at the École de mode du Cégep Marie-Victorin and Collège de Bois-de-Boulogne.

But fashion tech wasn’t the only thing on the lineup. Two DJs and two free drinks per person got Montreal’s bespectacled, hip-dressed intelligentsia in that special mood while “tomorrow’s fashion and unprecedented technical innovation” were on display.

This included fashion mapping, 3D scan stations, wearables, immersive demonstrations, interactive experiences, encounters with designers, VR fashion designs and creative workshops. There was also contests and prizes throughout the night.

Montreal’s Digital Spring introduces people to the works of local digital creators. Last year over 514,000 people attended events. Digital Spring includes screenings and public installations, interactive spaces, visual performances, the latest in electronic music, immersive activities, 3D productions explorations into the world of visual effects, gaming and VR, studio tours and more.

Within tech, this evening of minimal personal space, bass-pumping computerized music and questionable attire choice fell into two main categories: smart fashion tech and wearables.

My first stop was to Nathon Kong and his bespoke suit creation business display. Kong told me he was invited by Digital Spring to create a pop-up station in collaboration with the famous street artist Whatisadam. One lucky contest entrant would win a tailor-made suit created by both Kong and Whatisadam.

The contest, said Kong, was to promote Montreal’s artistic community along with mental health. He wanted the special suit to be impactful, so Kong partnered with local artists, Montreal event company MASSIVart and Les Impatients, a group that helps people with mental health issues through artistic expression.

(PHOTO: Jean-Michael Seminaro photographe)

(PHOTO: Jean-Michael Seminaro photographe)

Whatisadam’s pieces usually sell for thousands of dollars or more, and Kong was able to get one piece of art to be printed and sewn into the lining of the suit for the winner.

“It’s one of a kind, but we’re not talking about art value here,” said Kong. “I want my customer to stand for the Montreal art and mental health community, so we’ll match the artists with the customer and they’ll talk about the product and be proud of what they’re wearing. It’s not just a piece of clothing.”

Kong isn’t an entrepreneur by trade. He’s actually a Microbiologist who went to school for his MBA, eventually working in hospitals and government pharmaceuticals. His mom is an entrepreneur who owns a donut factory, but Kong never thought he “had the guts to become one.”

He took the plunge, bought a truck and started driving around, designing suits for people via a 3D body scanner. Kong uses fabric from Italian designers like Zenga to customize suits that usually go for between $1,000 and $2,000. He doesn’t carry any inventory, rather designing suits for clients from total scratch.

My next stop was to Elizabeth Stefanka. Her team’s technology at Stefanka uses 3D scanning to measure a woman’s bust size, recommending pieces they can buy at stores. Traditionally Stefanka’s targeted clients have been large clothing stores where the scanners could be embedded in fitting rooms.

More recently, she’s been working with clients from the military and law enforcement spaces.

Elizabeth Stefanka, left, CEO at Stefanka

“We’ll take your measurements, put it in our database and you’ll get the best recommendation,” said Stefanka. “And for women we have our interactive scan here. They get their torso scanned, they enter their emails and they receive an email with the recommendation and their own measurement profile.”

A long line waited for both a 3D-scanning booth (for women) and manual, in-person measurements for men. I was measured by a few lovely assistants and was prompted to enter my information into an iPad. Seconds later I received an email from Stefanka and La Maison Simons with a suggested shirt I could order in my specific measurements.

One lucky winner would get their recommended threads for free.

On Montreal’s Digital Spring, Stefanka said “It’s important to show off that Montreal is still a great fashion innovator. Even though fashion is sometimes seen as slow to innovate, we’re here and we want to have a big impact with our innovation. I hope we can show off our innovation to the world.”

I switched it up for my last visit, choosing to visit Imagine 360‘s virtual reality pop-up. Onlookers affixed with a VR headset got to design a dress on a bust using Google’s Tiltbrush, a room scale 3D painting virtual reality application. The dress designs were uploaded as gifs on Imagine 360’s Facebook page after completion. The dress design with the most votes received free tickets tot the McCord Museum.

(PHOTO: Jean-Michael Seminaro photographe)

“We’ve chosen a very particular experience for people here with Tiltbrush by Google,” said Imagine 360’s cofounder, Waël Chanab.

Imagine 360’s cofounder, Waël Chanab

“We’re interested in seeing what people will come up with in terms of using different colours, lights, elements and technologies to express themselves.”

Founded over four years ago in Montreal, Imagine 360 calls itself a worldwide leader in Virtual Tours, Virtual Reality and 360 Videos. The company started off creating virtual tours, then moved on to 360 videos and VR creations for Oculus.

360-degree videos, also known as immersive videos or spherical videos, are video recordings where a view in every direction is recorded at the same time, shot using an omnidirectional camera or a collection of cameras.

Chanab described Digital Spring as “excitement about technology.”

“It’s all about showcasing the innovation of the city, showcasing the brilliant creative minds when they intersect with technologies in all sorts of domains. These can be fields with very practical uses to very innovative and creative as we’re seeing here like projection mapping on brushes. It’s a presentation of Montreal’s vibrant technology culture.”

For Chanab, the objective in presenting at Digital Spring was to introduce more people to the possibilities of VR.

“Some people have heard about it but never tried it so we wanted to help show its function and how it can be something that’s ‘more than just cool.’ It’s a great honour for us to be part of this,” he said.

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