A photo of a woman using a phone (a Microsoft Surface Duo) to take a photo of a QR code on a label of a blue Alhuwalia top

The stories your clothes could tell: How Ahluwalia and EON are powering sustainable fashion with technology

Scanning your clothes to reveal their hidden stories, or immortalising the sound waves of your favourite songs in fabric might sound like the garments of the future, but these are just some of the ways that designer Priya Ahluwalia is harnessing technology to create the next generation of fashion.

In her Autumn/Winter 2023 collection, Symphony, Ahluwalia aims to make garments traceable, intelligent, and interactive.

“Symphony was inspired my relationship with music and the music that has inspired me,” explains Priya Ahluwalia, founder and creative director of her eponymous fashion label. And the life cycle of clothes is, quite literally, woven into the fabric of Ahluwalia’s clothes.

Digital identifiers (or Digital IDs) powered by EON’s Product Cloud platform, built on Microsoft Azure, provide each garment in Ahluwalia’s new collection with a unique personal fingerprint. These Digital IDs reveal the story of the garment’s creation, the journey to your closet and the best way to care for it.

“Music is woven into each piece, creating a story that is personal to me. Thanks to technology, you can hear that story for yourself and, I hope, feel a deeper sense of connection with the piece you’re wearing.”

In a panel to discuss the collaboration, Priya Ahluwalia was joined by Natasha Franck, founder and CEO of EON, and Maruschka Loubser, Microsoft’s Director of Global Brand Partnerships, to discuss the inspiration behind the Symphony collection and the significance of connecting with customers through meaningful stories.

The global potential of moving from analogue to digital

While Priya Ahluwalia confesses to being an analogue girl at heart, the pandemic served as a catalyst for integrating technology into her brand. “As a creative, I really like doing things in analogue, whether it’s printing mood boards or drawing on paper. But Covid made me really think about technology and how it fosters connectivity. Suddenly we couldn’t connect with customers or the community in the same way.”

Covid restrictions shifted the launch for her second book, Jalebi, from an in-store event to a virtual experience, expanding its reach globally. “It allowed the project to travel so much further. Everyone could view the exhibition and that’s when I realised how tech can bring people along on the journey. It’s amazing how far an idea can go with technology and that’s what I love about it.”

Inspired by the Jalebi launch, Ahluwalia was keen to explore more tech innovation. Having already had a partnership with Microsoft, EON – a Microsoft for Startups alum – seemed like the natural fit for a collaboration. Maruschka Loubser, describes the collaboration as a harmonious meeting of minds and values.

“I was excited to bring two great partners together. One of the reasons I wanted to work with both EON and Ahluwalia is the alignment of values that they both stand for. Their innovation fuses what Microsoft aims to do in terms of empowering people through our technology; inspiring creativity and innovating for a better world.”

Product identity: A digital passport for clothes

As Natasha Franck explained: “The Internet enabled us to buy fashion online, and now with IoT (Internet of Things), it’s integrating with physical products. This move connects products to an intelligent and regenerative system, making IoT the link between people and products”.

What sets this integration apart is the potential to unlock accountability across the fashion supply chain, solving a significant barrier to circularity, which Franck believes is product ID. “Imagine trying to run a business without a barcode,” she said. “You can’t manage assets that you can’t identify.”

Just as barcodes revolutionised businesses, digital product passports will require brands to disclose essential information like origin, production, materials, and sustainability details. By embracing IoT and digital IDs, Ahluwalia’s Symphony collection sets a new standard for transparent and sustainable fashion practices.

The inspiration behind the Symphony collection

Tech is seamlessly weaved into Ahluwalia’s collection by authentic storytelling, which she believes to be crucial when asking people to invest in products, especially in the realm of contemporary luxury.

“I think people increasingly want the products they buy to have meaningful values behind them,” she said. Ahluwalia’s experience has shown that storytelling is what resonates with her customers. “It’s clear from my brand that storytelling resonates. It gives people the opportunity to be connected to a world.”

A photo of a woman using a phone (a Microsoft Surface Duo) to take a photo of a QR code on a label of a pink and orange Ahluwalia dress.

A mobile phone is used to take a photo of the QR code on the label of the ‘Kiara’ Ahluwalia dress.

As a Londoner with Nigerian and Indian heritage, Ahluwalia is committed to promoting a diverse world through her stories. “The stories I tell are about representation. That means a lot to people in an industry that has, until recently, not been very representative.”

The result of her efforts is Symphony, a culturally rich tapestry laid to the soundtrack of Ahluwalia’s life. “Some pieces draw inspiration from vintage Indian sitar music, Nigerian musical instruments, album covers, music videos, the soundwaves of my favourite songs – everything to do with world of music. It’s never a literal interpretation but it might be the energy I get from it, the soundwave from a song, or the colours from an album cover.”

Weaving technology into sustainable fashion

The stories themselves are unlocked through digital technology. QR codes on the labels lead to exclusive content; customers can access behind-the-scenes details, interviews with the creative team, and sustainability information, ultimately fostering a personal connection with the garments they invest in.

“The stories you see in the clothes aren’t obvious because I like things to be nuanced. There’s a lot of detail that someone who buys it might not be aware of. The technology enables people to find out the thinking behind each garment. There’s a reason why one of the wave prints is three centimetres and not four – there’s a lot of thought that goes into each piece.”

Generally speaking, one of the most exciting aspects of digital ID is that the stories they represent can continue to be shared from one owner to the next. As Franck, explained, “It enables instant resale, contributing to a circular fashion economy.”

She sees this as a tipping point for the fashion industry, where digital twins may have a cloud storage impact, but their contribution to sustainability outweighs the nominal storage cost. “That’s another reason we chose Microsoft: their cloud storage is one of the most sustainable in the industry,” Franck explained.

The art of the possible with technology

Symphony Unlocked — the collaboration between Ahluwalia, EON and Microsoft —  is the culmination of months of hard work. Loubser describes it as “piloting the art of what is possible with technology, within the fashion space. Our work empowers people to create their own solutions; we utilise AI and Azure Cloud to democratise technology, allowing everyone — from small start-ups to big companies — to achieve their vision.”

Franck echoes this from her own experiences at EON. “Adding new capabilities, such as streaming, becomes easier as leverage technologies that already exist.  We don’t need our own cloud or data storage centres as we can quickly build using Microsoft’s prebuilt tools.”

Priya Ahluwalia and Natasha Franck stand facing the camera, smiling

Priya Ahluwalia and Natasha Franck

Ahluwalia admits feeling daunted at the prospect of venturing into the digital sphere but emphasises the importance of a clear vision and strong partnerships. “Tech can feel scary or intimidating when you’re not in that space. Partnering with Microsoft and EON enabled us to innovate in spaces that we’re not typically in. For me and for my team, it’s important that we learn from other people.”

As Loubser explained, the partnership was seamless. “I think, partly because the EON technology already existed, we could move seamlessly to creative storytelling as well as the transparency and itemised level of information.”

“The challenge lies in finding a cohesive tone of voice and creative input for all three brands for an end product that is public facing,” concedes Ahluwalia.

Panel attendees agreed that the messaging of the brand was clear to see. Fashion inclusive influencer, Arooj Aftab, said “The language around sustainability and sustainable fashion is often confusing. The approach by Ahluwalia, EON and Microsoft makes it easier to understand and help clarify the nuances behind circular fashion.”

But what is Priya Ahluwalia’s favourite piece from the collection? Looking at the rail of clothes — from the vibrant Kiara dress to the colour blocked ruffle dress — she gravitates toward the denim pieces. It’s the same print as on the denim jumpsuit she is wearing on the night of the panel event.

“The print on the denim features the sound waves from Whitney Houston’s I Will Always Love You; it was playing on the radio when I was born.” The epitome of powerful meaning woven into fabric.

Find out more about Ahluwalia’s Symphony collection here and download EON’s recently launched app here