What the Tech Industry Can Learn From Vogue

How tech is missing out during an age marked by product collaborations.

On the Vogue Runway Instagram page, a recent post highlights how the last twenty years, or the twenty-first century thus far, have been marked as an age of collaborations. Fashion companies, more than ever before, have come together to release new projects, integrate strengths, and raise the intrigue of customers. Some of the earliest, most notable collaborations begin with Karl Lagerfeld, the first of many designers to collaborate with H&M back in 2004, and lead up to a recent pairing between Virgil Abloh and Evian. Yes, Evian, the bottled water company, just launched a plastic bottle designed by the man who’s currently dominating Louis Vuitton.

Fashion industry collaborations are not only profitable, but also push brands and designers to promote creativity and step outside of the box, if only to further fashion & reignite consumer interest. How else can fashion move forward if not by exploring even the most challenging and obscure (see: Off-White x Ikea). I mean, nothing screams “pushing the bounds of creativity” like when high-fashion brand Balenciaga collaborated with….Crocs? Who asked for this?

Even the music industry is reaping the benefits of collaborations. Take DJ Khaled, for example, who in the past ten years has seen 24 of his collaboration tracks make the Billboard Top 100. I guess being buddies with Drake can really save your career.

Mr. Khaled aside, data from the Billboard Top 100 charts shows that collaborations make up nearly one third of today’s hit songs, demonstrating the power of artists joining forces and sharing their talents, audiences, and profits. Ed Sheeran literally just released an entire album of solely collaboration tracks, which the New York Times praised for not only showcasing Sheeran outside of his usual range, but also for his sharing the spotlight with other, lesser known artists (that’s you, A Boogie Wit A Hoodie).

So, where does the tech industry fit into this world of product collaborations? Turns out, it doesn’t really.

In the tech industry, there actually exists a specific term signifying the isolation of technology and a system’s data and infrastructure: silo. A great example of silo nowadays is Apple products, where everything down to the color of iMessage bubbles, an iPhone’s headphone jack, and iOS applications is limited to solely Apple Products. Besides product acquisitions — for example, of Dr. Dre headphone products — Apple has not looked for tech from anywhere other than, well, Apple.

At Google, I’ve been working as a Developer Product Engineer on Cloud’s G Suite team. A large part of my project has been utilizing machine learning to propel data analytics and, during my time here, I’ve been offered a looking glass into Google’s immense machine learning tools and advancements. For example, one of the reasons why Google’s Pixel phone camera is so extraordinary and up-to-par with Apple’s iPhone camera, while only using a small fraction of the hardware, is due to machine learning.

Much how Instagram users filter images and perfect lighting pre-posting, machine learning in the Pixel’s camera can actually make favorable adjustments for you, before even snapping the shot. As a result of lowered hardware needs, the Google Pixel is available at just half the price of an iPhone.

Apple, on the contrary, specializes in hardware advancements to improve and produce its high quality phone cameras. So, we have these two amazing tools — camera hardware & machine learning software — and they exist solely on two differing products. Imagine a world where you could purchase a mobile phone using both Apple’s hardware & Google’s ML — now that’s a phone camera I’d like to have. So, how do we know this is a viable step to take; that collaborating products and software can make tech stronger?

A high-tech McKinsey & Co. case highlighted that ‘innovative collaboration techniques’ improve productivity from 20 to 30 percent for ‘global software development teams’. What it stated as key hindering factors were poor code re-usability coupled with engineers’ distrust in using unfamiliar development products, or ones they did not build themselves.

Perhaps the reason big tech companies produce so many rival products instead of turning to collaborations stems from the very silo-esque culture ingrained in many of its employees. Well, tech world, maybe it’s time to learn that sharing really is caring — and could make you lots of money.

Other industries — notably fashion and music — are already demonstrating these higher productivity traits and have long abandoned the very walls that could be keeping tech behind. With advancements in software and hardware occurring in so many differing technology firms at competitive speeds, perhaps the road to better product development lies in joining forces.

Maybe it’s time us engineers took a step back from our computers and start flipping through an issue of Vogue.

You can view my Google Internship Project, Machine Learning & Data Analytics for Fashion Companies, on my GitHub.

I am by no means an expert on this topic — if you are working on fashion & tech-related projects, I would love to hear from you!