You could say that fashion was in Daniel Avakian’s blood. "My grandmother was a couturier in Sydney," he tells The CEO Magazine. "See, I’m Armenian, but they came from Jordan and she used to make gowns for King Hussein’s Royal Family there."
Magnificent creations were made using her humble sewing machine and years later, she taught her skills to her grandson. "I learned how to sew everything on that machine," Avakian recalls.
It’s fitting then that today, that very same machine sits by the entrance to Avakian’s studio – a reminder of his heritage. "She’s there to welcome people and bring me good luck," he says.
But it was never Avakian’s plan to become a designer. A passionate muralist and graffiti artist with a particular love for the works of Brett Whitely and Van Gogh, on completing high school Avakian enrolled at Sydney’s College of Fine Arts. However, he quickly discovered the course wasn’t for him, dropped out and became a tow truck driver with a friend.
His girlfriend at the time expressed concern about his potentially wasted talent and suggested he try fashion school instead. "It’s a story that the Whitehouse Institute of Design knows well," Avakian says. "I rocked up when I was about 19 in my footy shorts and with my tow truck double parked downstairs on Liverpool Street in Sydney."
"I rocked up when I was about 19 in my footy shorts and with my tow truck double parked downstairs on Liverpool Street in Sydney." – Daniel Avakian
It turned out to be a perfect match – Avakian had found his calling. He topped his year and was awarded a first-class scholarship to do a master’s degree in fashion in Florence, Italy. Again, he excelled and after graduating he moved to London where he worked with luxury designers such as Alexander McQueen and Giles Deacon.
Arriving back in Sydney in 2007 after three-and-a-half years abroad, Avakian launched straight into founding his eponymous label, presenting his first collection at Australian Fashion Week "in a blaze of glory". And while he concedes it hasn’t all been smooth sailing, he says he "never gave up… and I still haven’t given up!"
"It’s been a beautiful rollercoaster ride," Avakian says. "I’m not married, I don’t have kids. This is my baby. It’s been a bumpy road, but when the odds are stacked up and I’m pushed into the wall, I kind of always find a way."
Technology meets fashion
Renowned for his exceptional tailoring, timeless chic aesthetic and impeccable quality, his label, DA, has established a reputation as one of the best in the industry – with high-profile and celebrity clients lining up to wear his designs.
Now, with 15 years, countless lines and fashion weeks under his belt, Avakian is tackling an entirely new frontier – one that will not only help support the next generation of designers, but ultimately transform the entire fashion landscape. How? By cleverly utilising emerging digital technologies.
Initially just a "naughty thoughty over a bottle of Maker’s Mark," about three years ago between Avakian and his right hand man, DA Senior Consultant Mark Byers, the drunken idea is today a fully fledged concept called Real Time Fashion.
Through the use of body scan technology, combined with digital 3D rendering and hyper-realistic avatars, Avakian has worked out how to "integrate technology into one of the oldest industries to see how we could improve the workflow".
"It’s not just trying to plug in a bit of a 3D experience or gimmick, though, it’s about creating an actual pipeline that designers can use and then take to market for their own designs," he explains.
"It’s not just trying to plug in a bit of a 3D experience or gimmick, though, it’s about creating an actual pipeline that designers can use and then take to market for their own designs." – Daniel Avakian
The benefits are multifaceted and immense. The digital model means that one sample can be created, and the rest simulated, which is a significant benefit as the world grapples with sustainability and supply chain issues resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.
"A designer can decide, ‘is this lapel the right width?’ before having to sample it," Avakian explains. "So it saves us costs. And then deciding on what prints or fabrications could work, without having to waste our supply chain’s time."
From the virtual showroom and body scan technology, as well as personalisation of highly realistic avatars, to the creation of virtual runways and even developing NFT’s and Metaverse-ready virtual fashion products, Real Time Fashion has a long list of services it’s able to offer designers and brands.
"This reduces returns from 28 per cent down to less than five per cent," Avakian explains. "And then rendering gives us endless opportunities for simulation. The thing is, every designer still needs to make the one sample, but then it’s the simulation or the rendering derivatives where the tech comes into play and the real opportunities start. Sustainably, it avoids a lot of the wastage and the issues of the to and the fro between."
In addition, Avakian and Byers created Real Time Fashion as an invaluable tool for up-and-coming talent and content creators to plug into. "It is a platform to help not only designers, but influencers or anyone who has a strong connection with fashion and wants an opportunity to create and promote their inspirations, expressions, experiences and products for their customer," Byers says,
"A young designer doesn’t need a CFO and COO and CEO and a head pattern maker and a head of production. They can plug into the platform and all of that comes with it for them, and they can sit in their home and design and market and do what they do best. They don’t have to get distracted.
"The intellectual property and the know-how is missing, but that’s why ours is an end-to-end supply chain. You can pop in and pop out wherever you want, go for the whole ride, and know you’re supported by technology that’s got fashion-relevant technologies that are proven."
"You can pop in and pop out wherever you want, go for the whole ride, and know you’re supported by technology that’s got fashion-relevant technologies that are proven." – Mark Byers
This trailblazing concept is at the absolute forefront of the industry – one of, if not the first model of its kind to exist anywhere on the globe. And it’s not just designers who are set to benefit from it, either – the garment possibilities offered to consumers are unlike anything currently available.
"If you’re looking at that virtual retail space, you can click on a garment and that'll bring a product page facing you with all the details, colour options, costs, and you can actually purchase it, or you can go back into the retail environment and then find another garment you like," Avakian explains. "And it’s all linked to body scanning, too, so you know it’s going to fit you perfectly."
In addition, for big box retailers, a virtual showroom would mean that they could have hundreds, if not thousands of permutations on display, rather than being limited to the size of the bricks-and-mortar space.
Bringing it to the runway
Now, Avakian is preparing to introduce his game-changing platform to an international audience, via his New York Fashion Week debut on September 12. His digital edit of the Blade Runner-inspired collection titled ‘The Tears in the Rain’ was originally presented at Afterpay Australian Fashion Week in May this year, which made waves as the first ever show to feature virtual fashion on virtual models.
It offers a ‘real time fashion’ retail experience on an international runway, which saw the use of ‘commerce enabled video technology’ to allow customers to make purchases directly off the runway as it takes place.
When asked if the model could be applied to other industries, Avakian believes that the possibilities are endless. "Creativity is very important and innovation is very important," he explains.
‘"And we’re not fintech, but we are a tech play. We’re constantly evolving. I think we’ve been embraced quite nicely by the tech players because they’re all on the fringes of the industry." – Daniel Avakian
"And we’re not fintech, but we are a tech play. We’re constantly evolving. I think we’ve been embraced quite nicely by the tech players because they’re all on the fringes of the industry. But I think being a designer with a bit of a legacy, utilising the technology on an international runway is where it’s a bit of a lightning strike moment."
DA and Real Time Fashion have recently been nominated for the prestigious American Chamber of Commerce’s AmCham Alliance Awards. Now, with plenty in the pipeline and the wider world sitting up and paying attention, it’s clear that Avakian, with his grandmother’s sewing machine in tow, is on his way straight to the top.