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SA Designers harness AI for Volvo’s fully electric car the EX30

To show its commitment to sustainability and technology, Volvo South African has unveiled a collaboration with designers Fikile Sokhulu and Nao Serati Mofammere, who crafted pieces using AI and sustainable upholstery inspired by the electric Volvo EX30.

“Designed with AI, crafted by humans”, fashion designers Fikile and Nao – both known for their thought-provoking designs and well-considered use of materials – were briefed to create an Autumn/Winter 2024 ready-to-wear garment inspired by the Volvo EX30, using both AI technology and sustainable design practices in their respective creative processes.

“With sustainability in mind, the interior of the new Volvo EX30 includes several renewable and recycled materials. This forward-thinking, fully electric car is also fitted with many advanced driver-assistance and safety features, which we see as forebears to AI technologies that could be used in future models,” explains Marishka Govender, Volvo Car SA’s chief financial officer.

“We wanted to inspire the public to view sustainability and advanced technologies, such as AI, as concepts that can exist in harmony with the human-centric ideas of beauty and creativity. In addition, as a brand that is always pushing the boundaries of what’s possible in automotive technology and beyond, we wanted to spark conversations about potential applications for AI,” says Govender.

Durban-born designer Fikile, who holds a master’s degree in business and brand management from the Milan Fashion Institute, is renowned for her work with natural fibres, which she values for their biodegradable qualities.

Fikile, who also holds the title of GLAMOUR’s Woman of the Year 2023 for being a Fashion Game-Changer, draws inspiration from her cultural heritage and has a deep respect for nature, echoing Volvo’s dedication to the ideals of sustainability and responsible luxury.

Using materials from the Volvo EX30’s expressive Indigo interior theme – which includes a studio-inspired recycled textile paired with Nortico, as well as denim fibres reclaimed from discarded blue jeans – Fikile integrated Meta AI into her creative process to help come up with an outfit tailored for EX30 Champion author and ESports team owner Thea Booysen.

“Accelerating in the EX30 feels something like taking off in an aeroplane, so I wanted to convey that sense of freshness and lightness in my design. The fabric was also surprisingly simple to work with, allowing me to easily incorporate natural ideas of both symmetry and asymmetry,” explains Fikile.

Nao – a LISOF graduate who launched the Nao Serati brand in 2014 – specialises in unisex garments with a distinctively South African flavour. Considering his ability to blend conceptual fashion with high levels of practicality, Volvo saw the Johannesburg-based designer as an ideal partner to push the boundaries of how automotive materials can be reimagined as fashion.

Incorporating input from Midjourney AI, Nao’s design includes upholstery from the Volvo EX30’s Mist interior theme, which features a responsibly sourced, tailored wool blend, and textile inlay mats made using discarded fishing nets and other recycled materials.

The eye-catching outfit was conceived specifically for EX30 success he has without power and strength. I also wanted to create a garment that, much like the Volvo EX30, has a quiet power, volume and sporty elegance. On exploring the EX30, I also found some of the materials that were used in making the car’s interior inspiring, for example the use of recycled fishing nets inspired a woven element in my garment.

GLAMOUR : How did you use AI technology in your creative process while designing this garment?

Nao Serati: My first thought was to allow AI to to use large quantities of uncut fabric as cutting many different pattern pieces usually creates a lot of waste. By pleating and draping a lot of the garment, we were able to limit our cut wastage even further.

G: What elements from the Volvo EX30 interior and features did you find most influential in shaping your design?

NS: Volvo’s Henrik Otto said “Good design is about applying brain power intelligently to bring pleasure and peace of mind”. Learning about Volvo’s ideology and ethos helped me in the process of creating this garment. The cotton was breathable and malleable around the body, which was great to create with. I would say that it was a cohesive and comfortable collaboration of thoughts.

Photographer: Mighty Fine Productions. EX30 Champion entertainer Lasizwe Dambuza and Designer Nao Serati

G: How did the sustainable upholstery sourced from the fully electric Volvo EX30 influence your design choices and material selection?

NS: The sustainable upholstery sourced from the fully electric Volvo EX30 was so enjoyable to work with, so much so that not much other fabric was needed in this process. It has breathability and comfort, while also allowing shaping and moulding. I also really enjoyed that it is sustainable and could be applied in a new way through this design process.

G: What message or statement do you hope your EX30-inspired fashion item conveys to the fashion industry and consumers?

NS: I hope the fashion industry sees that we have some power over the future of the world. We need to keep working on sustainability and creating new ways of thinking and creating, because essentially that’s what design is, fixing problems … but making it fashion!

G: Looking ahead, how do you plan to continue exploring the intersection of AI, sustainability, and fashion in your future projects and designs?

NS: For as long as I’m creating, I hope that I have the passion and energy to try new ways of doing things. So yes, I plan on learning more about how to create more efficiently using AI, and being more sustainable.

Photographer: Mighty Fine Productions. _EX30 Champion entertainer Lasizwe Dambuza wearing Nao Serati’s creation

Q & A with fashion designer Fikile Sokhulu

GLAMOUR: Tell us about the inspiration behind your EX30-inspired Autumn/Winter 2024 garment.

FS: The soft symmetry in nature and the rigid symmetry in technology were the main inspirations behind the EX30-inspired look. There is a symmetry present in nature that is soft and feminine, and there is a symmetry present in technology, which is rigid and perfect. These two phenomena were explored in the creation of the design. The Volvo EX30 electronic vehicle represents innovation and creativity, and we included these elements in the garments. The resulting look displays innovation, care for craftsmanship and a custom design.

G: Which sustainable design practices did you use in the creation of your fashion item, inspired by the Volvo EX30?

FS: The main inspiration behind the fashion creation is nature and technology. We used the Volvo EX30’s upholstery, which represented the sustainable element of being able to repurpose materials to create something new and exciting.

Photographer: Mighty Fine Productions. Thea Booysen and Fikile Sokhulu with the Volvo EX30

G: How do you think AI can contribute towards changing the fashion industry, especially in terms of sustainability?

FS: Artificial intelligence has potential to make big changes in many industries. In fashion it can accelerate sustainability, given the right research and direction.

G: How did you approach the balance between innovation and sustainability in your design process for this project?

FS: We were eager to work with the upholstery fabric from Volvo, which is the same fabric used in the seat upholstery of the EX30. We essentially wanted to incorporate the idea of creating a new visual aesthetic with clothing, as the EX30 electronic car brings a new feel and completely new experience.

Phtogapher: Mighty Fine Productions. Thea Booysen inside the Volvo EX30

The process of making the look was more driven by innovation and creativity. The look was completely created using Volvo upholstery, which we were very happy to work with. It’s a durable fabric, which aligns with sustainability. The fabric is strong, medium weight, and folds perfectly.

G: What message or statement do you hope your EX30-inspired fashion item conveys to the fashion industry and consumers?

FS: Different industries could work together to promote a culture of sustainability, which is centred around creating now and for the future.

Photographer: Mighty Fine Productions. Thea Booysen with the Volvo EX30

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