will.i.am Fashion Tech Forum

Will.i.am was largely mum on just what it is his company i.am+ is up to these days, but its initiative is incredibly ambitious in the desire to blend the worlds of technology, fashion and pop culture.

To that end the artist, whose real name is William James Adams, told a crowd during the Fashion Tech Forum in Culver City, Calif., Friday that if the fashion industry didn’t innovate, it would largely render itself irrelevant.

“The future of fashion is going to be a tech company unless fashion gets up to speed right now,” Adams said.

I.am+ gained a supporter in tech company Flex, headquartered out of San Jose, Calif., which is an investor in the firm and also helps other companies across industries — from fashion to auto — build connected products.

“What we do at i.am+ is about — without revealing too much — we try to dream up new ways to interact with things,” the artist said.

The company, founded in 2013 and based in Hollywood, is known for its Buttons bluetooth headphones. Adams told WWD earlier this year the company was in the midst of building something AI-related, but declined to elaborate and was even more ambiguous during last week’s tech conference.

Adams has since also collaborated with contemporary brand Theory on a connected jacket, the goal of which he said was to reimagine the garment’s function.

“Right now your jacket, if you have one, has pockets to store stuff and those things that you’re storing are things like phones and keys,” he said. “Depending on what type of car you have, you probably don’t need keys. The phone is the only thing that you panic about when you leave it behind, so we went into that to decide what the jacket should do and how can it connect to the phone.”

The resulting product is a jacket with microphones and ear phones woven in. It’s also washable, ensuring the circuitry isn’t damaged during washes.

All told, Adams appears to be operating with an urgency that has one foot planted in the present and the other constantly in the future in hopes of anticipating the inevitable disruptions to industries such as fashion.

“I love fashion, but as an industry, if you were to take consumer electronics and fashion, one is really slow and kind of blind from what’s actually happening right now and that’s the world of fashion,” Adams said. “The world of fashion does not realize how their jobs aren’t going to be around 10, 20 years from now because of how slow you are moving to innovate. The world of fashion will have the same fate as the music industry and the car industry if they don’t realize the urgency to innovate.”

For More West Coast Coverage in WWD:

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