Nov 172014

Post by: Nilufer Arsala

undercover colors

Photo credit:

“Undercover Colors” is a brand of nail polish that was developed by four North Carolina State University undergrads. According to the Washington Post  the brand’s premise is nail polish that changes color when it detects date rape drugs, mainly Rohypnol, Xanax and GHB. The product isn’t on the market yet and there doesn’t seem to be any word on a release date for sale to the public. The company’s website shows a logo and slogan along with links to Undercover Colors’ social media pages, email and research donation fund.  A quick look at Undercover Colors’ Facebook page reveals a bit more of the happenings behind the scenes, with reference to the product in the research and development phase.

“Thank you for your interest in our company! At this point, we are early in the development of our product and we do not have any photos of the nail polish. However, we were planning on doing a media push in the not-too-distant future, once we have a demonstrable prototype." - Undercover Colors Representative Mock up and quote from: SlashGear- 8/22/2014

“Thank you for your interest in our company! At this point, we are early in the development of our product and we do not have any photos of the nail polish. However, we were planning on doing a media push in the not-too-distant future, once we have a demonstrable prototype.” – Undercover Colors Representative
Mock up and quote from: SlashGear- 8/22/2014

Since the product is still in research and development, there’s little information at the time of this posting about some aspects of the polish. What colors the polish will come in and how much it will cost don’t seem to be addressed by the company, suggesting Undercover Colors hasn’t progressed that far. Some controversy also surrounds this product.

Undercover Colors’ slogan , located on the company’s website is “The First Fashion Company Empowering Women to Prevent Sexual Assault.” In a way, the company does that. By swirling a polished fingernail in her glass, a woman can tell if her drink contains drugs commonly used by perpetrators of date rape. It has been pointed out that this product actually adds to rape culture by placing responsibility back on the woman to keep herself safe, as opposed to teaching men not to rape.  Also, the polish only reacts when coming into contact with certain drugs. The limited number of drug reactions could give women a false sense of security when screening drinks.

Photo credit:

Photo credit:

As a fashion accessory, this nail polish does what normal polish does. It adds to someone’s personal definition of “cool” as discussed in Luke Russell’s Effortless Cool. As a safety mechanism Undercover Colors seems to fall short. It is a daunting task to toe-the-line between perpetuating rape culture and trying to help women protect themselves from violence. The male college students that created this product could use a bit more education on the topic of date rape. Overall they seem to forget that date rape doesn’t just happen at bars or under the effects of drugs.


Sep 232014

By Kristen Taylor

Photo courtesy of

Photo courtesy of

Photo courtesy of

Photo courtesy of

Last week, an acquaintance of mine posted a status on Facebook that said the following: “Yep, you pretty much give up any personal boundaries when riding the tram– some awkward ear caressing and arm caressing happened today.” Several things struck me about her post: it’s extremely matter-of-fact; no one who witnessed this event attempted to stop it; and the post received likes, rather than outraged comments. No one actually seemed terribly surprised that she faced unwanted and “awkward ear caressing” and “hand grabbing” from a stranger. It seems like for many people (especially those who identify as women), physical harassment is just one of those things that you are expected to put up with to exist in public spaces or utilize services.

Enter the the Personal Space Dress. Designed by artist Kathleen McDermott, the dress utilizes wearable technology to expand when someone gets too close to you, therefore preserving your personal space.

While this technology could be utilized in a variety of other situations when one may want to preserve personal space (like for those on the Autism spectrum who dislike some physical contact) it’s clear from Ms. McDermott’s video of the dress that her vision was for use in crowded places like public transit, where proximity can create opportunity for unwanted sexual contact.

Urban Armor# 2: The Personal Space Dress from Kathleen McDermott on Vimeo.

The dress works by using ultrasonic sensors to detect when someone (or something) is too close, which send an impulse that causes continuous motors to expand the dress outwards, like a hoop skirt. It shrinks back to its original size when the area is clear of the perceived threat.

Ms. McDermott notes on her website that this dress is not a product, but rather, an artwork meant to spark discussion. In a country where 65 percent of women are expected to experience public sexual harassment (via Stop Street Harassment), that’s always an admirable goal.

However, the design of this dress limits the conversation in several important ways. It’s pink. It’s frilly. It has more than a passing resemblance to a cupcake. None of these characteristics are inherently bad, but they do reinforce the narrative of feminine, cisgendered, heterosexual women as the only victims of sexual harassment. According to a report published by the organization Stop Street Harassment this year, 25 percent of men surveyed had experienced street harassment, and people of color, lower-income people, and people who identify as LGBT are all disproportionately affected. All people need to be safe in public spaces—not just those who embody traditional femininity and the discourse should reflect that.

The Personal Space Dress does unfortunately also remove the topic of consent from the discourse. Because it relies on “dumb” technology and cannot discern the difference between wanted and unwanted contact, the wearer is effectively cut off from any touch, even those enthusiastically consented to. It also puts the burden of responsibility on the wearer to protect themselves, rather than promoting a shift in culture that would render it useless. Once again, victims are expected to arm themselves against threats—hardly a revolutionary concept—and it’s easy to picture a society that blames all victims who don’t wear the Personal Space Dress for being harassed.

Related projects include a Tumblr blog called “Men Taking Up Too Much Space on the Train (a lighthearted project that shows the ways in which men’s needs in public space are prioritized over women) and Stop Telling Women to Smile, an art series that addresses the impact of gender-based street harassment on its victims. Other projects in Ms. McDermott’s Urban Armor series include a veil that protects your identity from CCTV cameras and a robotic scarf that protects the wearer from pollution. While all three projects concentrate on ways that technology can protect the wearer, the Personal Space Dress is the only one that not only avoids unwanted situations, but addresses them head-on.

Further Reading:

View the instructions at Urban Armor

Mar 182014
Clothing by Suzanne Lee - made from Kombucha SCOBYs and natural plant dye

“Bio Couture” by Suzanne Lee – sustainable clothing made from the combination of bacteria, yeast, sugar, and tea

London-based fashion designer Suzanne Lee is a Senior Research Fellow in the School of Fashion & Textiles at the at Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design. She is also the founder and creative director of Bio-Couture, where her work centers around the production and manipulation of sustainable biomaterial textiles. Suzanne is exploring ways to grow cellulose material using a common fermentation method that combines a simple sweet tea solution with a symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast to brew kombucha. This symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast (“SCOBY“) naturally produces microbial cellulose.

What’s so great about cellulose? It is Earth’s most common organic material and serves as the basis of many plant-based fibers used for textiles like linen, cotton, and hemp. Cotton itself is comprised of almost 95% cellulose. However, cotton is becoming increasingly more expensive to produce and has a significant negative impact on the environment. According to the IDH Sustainable Trade Initiative, about 10% of all agricultural chemicals used worldwide are processed by the cotton sector. While there is growing demand for sustainable organic cotton, the market remains relatively small and the organization is still in the midst of an uphill battle making sustainable organic cotton a mainstream standard. Continue reading »

Sep 122013
images of two garments showing regular light, dark, and infared signatures.

Adam Harvey’s Stealth Wear: “Countersurveillance 2013” via

Symbolic of the concerns rising in the United States over the NSA and flying surveillance cameras (or drones), artist Adam Harvey has created Stealth Wear: clothing that claims to conceal the wearer from drones, almost like a real life Invisibility Cloak.

Stealth Wear claims it can do this by utilizing a flexible, metallized fabric that uses fibers to reflect a human’s body heat and conceal his thermal signature. The metal in the fabric blocks the photos from being taken, as well.

Although the garments were originally created more as artistic pieces meant to create conversation over security and privacy in the public sphere, they are also being produced and sold to private individuals. There are three styles of the anti-drone Stealth Wear currently being produced: a hoodie (which actually only reaches the midriff), a scarf (meant to be a hijab), and a burqa.

However, the price points and styles of the pieces raise important considerations for this type of wearable technology—the hoodie is $350, the scarf is $450, and the burqa is $2,500. At this cost, only the wealthy will be the ones able to buy this technology—are their lives worth more?

These garments will be sold in a pop up museum shop like those mentioned in Fashion: A Very Short Introduction, and this type of shop suits this project perfectly due to its attention-grabbing nature and conversation-setting agenda.

The artist also said that he chose to design his Stealth Wear as a hijab and burqa because they act as a metaphor—just as the garments are seen by traditional wearers as “separation between man and God,” he designed the anti-drone versions to “provide separation between ‘man and drone.’” This cultural appropriation seems to make light of a garment significant to Islam, which reveals s a lot about Westerners designing for international audiences and about a lack of respect for sacred garments. Is this a political message or just a move to seem “edgy” and receive publicity? I would venture to say it’s more of the latter, which is something to really be aware of when recreating wearable tech.

As others have said, wearable technology won’t be wearable unless it’s fashionable; the overtly political and frankly, bizarre designs of the Stealth Wear render them both outlandish and impractical for popular consumption.

The artist said “Stealth Wear is (about) combining fashion with privacy, exploring how fashion can provide ways to adapt to a surveillance environment.” It’s easy to imagine a situation in which these items could become widely available and shift the conversation from “should we use drones?” to a victim-blaming attitude in which those surveilled are responsible for protecting themselves against searches, rather than focusing on governments changing their invasive policies.

Similar projects include the OFF Pocket (a phone sheath that prevents electromagnetic rays from transmitting data), CamoFlash (a clutch that uses LEDs to thwart attempts at flash photography of unwilling subjects) and Pixelhead (pixelated mask meant to confuse face-recognizing software). These projects clearly are meant to spark conversations about the intersections of privacy, surveillance and fashion in public space, and I’m interested to see what’s next.


Further reading:
Stealth Wear Aims to Make a Tech Statement
The Anti-Surveillance Clothing Line that Promises to Thwart Cell Tracking and Drones
Adam Harvey Launches Stealth Wear, an Anti-Drone Clothing Line

May 222013
Runway Models holding picket signs

We are at a crossroads where we need to be mindful of the ethical implications of electronic fashion.

There are a lot of interesting ideas in this week’s Wired piece, “Why Wearable Tech Needs Fashion.”

I admit, however, that very early on I was struck by this sentence and I found it difficult to focus on anything else: “However, unless these technologies converge with the fashion industry, there’s a danger they will fail to become popularised and remain unaffordable.”

In my other work on issues like race and class in digital environments, one constant cause for concern is the conditions in electronics manufacturing and recycling and their effect on particular populations. While trying to read the Wired piece I found myself reflecting on these conditions as well as the collapse of a clothing factory last month in Bangladesh, which has brought recent attention to the tenuous ethics of the world of fast and cheap fashion. Perhaps it is just me, but the idea of these two industries coming together makes me a bit nervous. Equitable access is an important issue for consideration and I’ve blogged elsewhere on this site about my hesitation with high priced accessories like Google Glass. However, I’d hate to see the move toward “affordable” lead to manufacturing conditions that amplify the worst of both worlds.

Right now, the crew at Fashioning Circuits works mostly with the SparkFun Lilypad and the Adafruit Flora. Both wearable microcontrollers are produced in house and we feel reasonably comfortable that the manufacture of these components is done under fair and humane conditions. I suppose this post could be written off as naysayer, doom and gloom, but it strikes me that it is important that those who would converge fashion and technology be mindful of the already abundant ethical pitfalls in each industry. The convergence of the two poses considerable risk of compounding poor conditions for workers. We are at a crossroads where we must consider whether affordable has other costs.

Photo Credits:

Mashup of and Both images used in accordance with their Creative Commons licenses. The resulting collage is also licensed under CC-BY-NC-SA.

Mar 192013

It’s interesting to see the full video of Hussein Chalayan in contrast to the animated GIFs that first hit my radar by way of Errolson Hugh’s Twitter and then later by an io9 post. Both broadcasts were distillations of the video down to those few key moments in which models tug at their dress only to have them transform into something entirely different while they walk. The idea is compelling, and the GIFs are absolutely hypnotic, but there’s a few things I find interesting here:

Continue reading »