The future of fashion is tech-empowered customization

A global team of passion-led technologists is putting the power back in the hands of the consumer by building tools that create a symbiotic, sustainable relationship between people and their clothes.

Kitty Yeung is a creative technologist whose passion for sustainability and self-expression sparked an initiative with the power to transform an entire industry. By day, she’s the manager of the Microsoft Garage program in Silicon Valley. But in her spare time, she’s the driving force behind a global movement within the company that’s reimagining how fashion works.

The fashion industry should be driven by art, creativity, and need.

Kitty Yeung, Creative Technologist and Manager, The Garage
Kitty Yeung - Microsoft Garage

Kitty has approached fashion like a scientist from day one. While finishing her Ph.D. in Physics, she realized she needed a creative outlet and taught herself to sew. The hobby quickly became a passion. But when she tried to produce her designs for family and friends, she realized fashion production was in dire need of innovation: producing custom clothing is prohibitively expensive, patterns are still made using physical samples, and overproduction of garments is rampant.

“Right now, fashion manufacturing is dominated by mass production rather than demand. And as a result, 30% of the garments produced in a year end up being trashed or burned,” Kitty says. The more she learned, the more she felt it wasn’t the “industry driven by art and creativity” that she’d fallen in love with.

Determined to find solutions, Kitty and a team of five colleagues turned to technology. Their goal at the 2018 Microsoft One Week Hackathon was to build a tool to enable sustainable garment customization. Step one was creating an open-source digital pattern library of clothing designs. Dan Marshall, a Principal Research Software Development Engineer at Microsoft, who’d created his own Javascript drawing library, was eager to help out with the initiative. 

It’s about creating sustainability and less waste but then you also get clothing that’s tailored specifically for you.

Dan Marshall, Principal Research Software Development Engineer
Kitty Yeung sits at a desk in front of a laptop.
Kitty Yeung on fashion and consumerism

The team saw that the Azure pattern library had potential to replace the fashion industry’s cookie-cutter mass manufacturing with a made-to-order model. “Now we won’t be making a million things without knowing whether or not they’ll be bought or used,” says Dan.  It was clear that this project had staggering implications beyond garment customization. They were on to something big—something that could reshape an entire industry.

To take the project to the next level, Kitty set up a company-wide hackathon project. The response was overwhelming. Microsoft employees from around the world replied, eager to volunteer their skills outside of working hours. And the momentum continued into the next year.

50 global employees united for one goal

Kitty and her team returned to the One Week Hackathon in 2019 with even greater ambitions. The team is made up of more than 50 creative employees from across Microsoft’s global offices including software engineers like Anika Radiya-Dixit of the Sunnyvale Yammer team who previously has integrated her technology and design experience by founding the Art Factory, an initiative to spark artistic creativity in a tech-oriented workplace. Ultimately, the team’s goal is to decrease the massive waste generated by the fashion industry, while maintaining a focus on interactive, highly customizable fashion.

The Garage team fashion shirts

So where are their sights set for the future? From revitalizing the brick and mortar experience by harnessing mixed reality, to reducing waste in the fashion supply chain, the possibilities feel endless. The momentum is resonating outside the company as well with major brands and retailers taking notice of their vision for a more accessible, creative, and sustainable fashion industry—all made possible by technology.

Two girls sit at a desk with a laptop open in front of them.

Driving a culture of innovation

The Microsoft Garage delivers programs and experiences to employees, customers, and partners that drive collaboration, creativity, and experimentation—all guided by the motto of “doers, not talkers.”