Dec 172013

Completing the CircuitIf you have been around children for any length of time, then you know that the journey towards learning which shoe goes on which foot can be quite a grueling one. For some reason, it seems that some kids insist on ignoring your directions and patient explanations in order to put their shoes on their way (most often the wrong way). This is a problem that I have seen time and time again, which is why I created the Right Light shoes. This handy pair of kicks is designed specifically for those children who struggle in the area of putting on their shoes correctly. The concept is that the child will put on the shoes and, if they put them on the right feet, they can touch their toes together and watch a bright display of LEDs blink on their shoe. If, however, the shoes go on the wrong feet, no amount of toe-touching will make those LEDs light up.

The way that these shoes work is fairly simple. I used the Adafruit Gemma as my motherboard and connected a simple watch battery to it to power it. The negative ends of the multicolored LEDs are connected via conductive thread in the usual manner (all negative ends connected to “ground” on the Gemma), however the positive ends are connected in a slightly different way. Instead of connecting the positive ends directly to the positive petal on the Gemma, I connected them to one half of the heart shape on the left shoe. The other half of the heart is connected directly to the positive petal on the Gemma, which was programmed with the “blink” code. The other shoe has a whole heart shape, also made with conductive fabric, so that that, when pushed against the two heart-halves, it allows the connection to be made between the two halves, thus allowing the positive ends of the LEDs to be indirectly connected to the positive petal on the Gemma. While this may sound rather complicated, the it is primarily a matter of disrupting and then completing a simple circuit.


When making these shoes work properly, I did run into a few problems. The main problem was the fact that making my LEDs have proper connection to the conductive thread was exceedingly difficult. It was almost impossible to get my hand inside the shoe enough to be able to make tight stitches when sewing the LEDs into the shoes. Once I made a few adjustments with the shoes (undoing, and later redoing, some seams on the shoes) I was able to continue with much more ease and accuracy. Another problem was that the conductive fabric is highly sensitive and so, once I turned the shoes on, I had to be extremely meticulous about snipping off any loose threads so they would not make an accidental connection. The coding itself was not very difficult because I only really needed to program one pedal on the Gemma and, once I got my computer compatible with the Adafruit system, that came very easily. Using the “blink” code on the Arduino program was the most obvious choice and, aside from compatibility issues with the Adafruit system, all I really had to do was write in the one pedal and choose how rapidly I wanted my lights to blink.

My main mission with these shoes has been to make learning a fun and colorful experience for children. It seems that education is becoming more and more dry and “black and white” when it should be bright, fun, and above all INTERACTIVE! These shoes are a way of teaching the child a relatively valuable concept in a way that they can actually grasp and understand. This little bit of education, I believe, has become a bit mundane for most parents and, therefore, children often do not understand how to correctly put on their shoes until they are much older than is necessary. With a technology like these shoes available, it will open up the opportunity for this lesson to be taught successfully and in a way that will make the child excited to do the task correctly the first time.

Throughout our Fashioning Circuits class, we have gone over a lot of writings that reflect the idea of technology and fashion coming together to make life more entertaining and convenient for people. There is also quite a bit of emphasis on creating wearable tech that is both functional and pleasing to the eye. In the article by Lauren Silvermen entitled, “Where High-Tech Meets High-Fashion“, she quotes designer Jennifer Darmour when she says, ““if we are going to be making these wearable devices and gadgets and we’re asking people to wear them, they need to look good.” This is an issue that I attempted to address with the Right Lights when considering their general design. I purposefully put the Gemma, battery, and LEDs underneath the fabric so that the outside looks far less like a pair of walking robot shoes and more like a pair of everyday children’s slip-ons. This information regarding wearable tech needing to be visually appealing, combined with a large amount of information regarding how to code, and also how circuits function, from the book, Open Software, enabled me to have the tools necessary to create these shoes. They are intended to simply create a fun, interactive, and colorful shoe-wearing experience for children, no matter what their age.


Dec 152011

Technology and fashion are evoloving and intersecting in multiple fascinating and unexpected ways. From clothing that moves to garments that offer healing properties for the skin, techno fashion applications are literally turning the contemporary fashion aesthetic on it’s well dressed head.  Below I have compiled a few examples of recent developments in the techno fashion space. From the exceedingly cool to the just plain weird, the innovations detailed below explore designers and developements on the very cutting edge of the genre.

For every online shopper, a clothing size profile via webcam

As anyone who has ever been caught in phone menu purgatory, attempting to return wrongly sized or ill-fitting online purchases will tell you, the value of this technological innovation is significant indeed.

Take accurate individual measurements via webcam

UpCload, a company based in Berlin, has developed technology to enable online shoppers to accurately take their own body measurements for proper sizing assessments when shopping for clothes online. The only equipment required by the shopper are a webcam and a compact disk for calibration. The tool measures such characteristics and chest circumference and arm length and then adapts those measurements to correspond with online retailers clothing sizes. Even better, shoppers can create a profile to store their measurements and use them to shop at any participating online retailer “to ensure a consistent and reliable fit.” The service is currently in beta but has plans to roll out to stores worldwide and institute social networking capabilities whereby shoppers can compare purchases among their friends. Though there may be some hidden privacy concerns here, I believe this is an excellent marriage of fashion and technology with positive implications for the digital sartorial landscape. Also, no more phone menu purgatory!

Eco-friendly knitwear contains skin-healing properties

Skin healing knitwear from Twosquaremeter

Another German company doing exciting things in the techno fashion space is Innovation and Clothing Factory.  The company recently launched Twosquaremeter, an eco-chic line of knitwear featuring garments constructed from “specially developed biological yarns.” As first reported on “The yarns contain either seaweed fibers or milk protein fibers, both of which are thought to contain healing and nourishing properties for the skin. To produce the milk-based knitwear, natural milk is skimmed and drained before the extracted proteins are processed into fibers. Twosquaremeter claim that these fibers bind sweat and neutralize the smell, while also regulating body temperature.” Other healthful benefits of the line’s garments include clothing constructed from cotton seaweed that is purported to have skin-rejuvinating abilities. Here’s a short video showcasing the brand’s entire line.


Garments that have the ability to literally heal the wearer really represent the truly limitless potential of the techno fashion genre. Manifestations of the cyborg, whereby clothing augments human capability, have often been met with consumer circumspection. I feel this brand does much to lead the conversation in a more positive direction. Especially, considering that in addition to the healing properties of the brand’s clothing, the label has also made a commitment to ethical business practices including sustainable and environmentally sound garment production. This is surely a label for other brands to watch…and emulate.

Ink-redible Dress Made Out of Vibrating Pen Nibs


Nussey and Tai's Pen Nib Dress

In an irreverent take on the concept communicative fashion designer John Nussey and design student Steven Tai have developed a dress constructed from vibrating pen nibs. Literally marrying analog and digital communcations technology, the dress is constructed of 42 rows of vibrating pen nibs with each row wired with a vibrating cell phone motor. Here’s a short video of the garment in action:


The vibrating rows of nibs can be controlled, including being powered on and off, with an arduino. Hence the virating pen nib dress also possesses programming and sequencing capabilities. Of course the dress, like any good garment, is also mobile. Per Nussey in an interview for Wired UK: “The whole lot is powered by a rechargeable lithium battery, so it doesn’t have to be plugged in.” With wired vibrating nibs that remarkably resemble sequins Nussey and Tai have literally expanded on the communicative capabilities of fashion in a particularly unique and creative way. Perhaps the Pen Nib dress heralds the beginning of a techno sartorial communications revolution.


 Technology Inspired Fashion

The following dress turns Manovich’s media theory of transcoding on it’s head.  If trasncoding is the transformation of media into compter data, what do we call it when computer data is transformed into analog media? Behold the Angry Birds Dress.

Angry Birds Dress

Spotted on an attendee of a gala at the Finnish Presidential Palace, the Angry Birds Dress is media in its truest sense. Indeed it communicates something about the wearer (particularly that she has an offbeat sense of humor) and our contemporary media landscape. Allow me to channel Marshall McLuhan for a moment. I believe we are witnessng here  no less than an extension of man, or woman as it were, as the Angry Birds dress is an apt illustration of the extension of the digital into the realm of the physical. Hence contemporary fashionistas are in the midst of a redefining of the self  – a redefining that must make room for the digital.

These are but a few of the latest developments in the genre of techno fashion. As illustrated here the field is as broad as it is wide, and the implications for these innovations are significant indeed.  As fashion and technology evolve and intersect it will be interesting to witness what innovations will come next.


Oct 282011

Image courtesy of iStockphoto, webphotographeer

The following article details the recent and remarkable rise in the status of fashion bloggers from dismissed outsiders, to contemporary arbiters of style.  Author   explores the current fashion media landscape and examines how fashion bloggers have upset the traditional fashion media paradigm.

Fashion Blogging Grows Up: Why Advertisers Want a Piece of the Action

Personality Rules: The larger Than Life the Better

As the article alludes, and it certainly seems to be the case, a major selling point of the contemporary blogger is the blogger’s unique personality.  I don’t know that I would characterize this as a sharp deviation from business as usual per se (Ever heard of Anna Wintour? How about Nina Garcia?), but it does mark a significant point of departure from traditional journalism.  Indeed one of key pieces of advice I always give my blogging students is to develop their own unique voice. That is because as a blogger, it’s their lifeblood. Bloggers literally live and die (Ok maybe not “literally” but you get my meaning!) by their voice, and moreover their unique personal sartorial aesthetic.  That is, after all, the key reason why we read and follow fashion blogs, for the distinctive voice, personality and taste  of the blogger. As readers we seek out bloggers whose aesthetic sensibility matches, or maybe inspires, our own aesthetic sensibility. We seek out their unique tips, and style guides and the like, as no one but they can present them. But does that mean that objective factual reporting is an antiquated construct? Hmmm…I’ll circle back to that one shortly.

Advertorial vs. Editorial

A particular source of handwringing amongst traditional fashion publishers seems to lie in the tendency of contemporary bloggers to blur the line between endorsement and editorial.  While this is an important distinction, I’m not sure that I agree that it was bloggers who eradicated the sacrosanct separation of the two.  Now don’t get me wrong. There is indeed something to be said about bloggers who fail to disclose that the editorial that they are producing has been commissioned by a particular brand. That is highly unethical and I believe just plain wrong. For reasons why, please see the preceding paragraph. The first “advertorial” that I ever saw, however, was years ago in a traditional print publication – way before fashion bloggers upset the proverbial applecart. Of course the piece was labeled as such, and I had no idea what the heck an advertorial even was, nevertheless fashion bloggers didn’t invent the practice that has traditional publications so peeved. Traditional publications did. In fact, isn’t the ubiquitous infomercial nothing more than a televised advertorial? Dutifully disclosed so as to maintain the established trust with a bloggers readership, established bloggers who accept paid commissions to blog on behalf of brands are doing no more than traditional print publications have been doing all along. There is no inherent conflict here.

Also, what of publications whose editorial is clearly influenced, if indirectly, by the interests of the advertisers they hope to retain or attract? I believe this is a more serious breach of the reader’s trust as the reader is mislead to believe that the writer’s (editor’s, etc.) ideas, information opinions or advice are purely their own and completely uninfluenced. For instance how likely is it that reporter (or an editor, even)  for a fashion magazine will truly take a major designer to task in the pages of the magazine if that designer is also a significant or sought after advertiser in that magazine? Not likely. Well, not if they hope to maintain their status as employed, anyway. So their opinions, at the very least have been…nudged. Of course I’m not advocating that reporters start trashing designers publicly. I only aim to point out the illusion of purely unbiased, uninfluenced reporting. I told you I’d circle back.

Stiletto warfare: Traditional vs. New Media

I, for one, am excited to see bloggers stepping up and taking their place among the heretofore closed ranks of traditional fashion media. Though there has been a shift in the media paradigm I believe that shift is much more subtle than most traditional media would have us believe. There is nothing inherently disingenuous about bloggers being compensated for their unique sets of skills and abilities. Traditional and print personalities have always been compensated for theirs.  Now, as pointed out in this article that I found recently, there is a distinct need for a standard code of etiquette which may (or may not) include the training of independent bloggers on the myriad ins and outs of professional fashion reporting. That is of course if fashion bloggers aspire to be considered journalists. This disconnect, I believe, is the root source of much of the friction that exists between traditional and online fashion media. Of course I say this as a bona fide media outsider. But what if, as the Mashable article indirectly alludes, fashion bloggers are more interested in becoming media personalities, commodities or walking brands even, than reporters? In that case, might not a different set of ethical rules apply? Whatever the case there is certainly room in the contemporary media landscape for more than one type of fashion media…and it’s about time.


Sep 202011

Arnold, Rebecca. Fashion: A Very Short Introduction. Cambridge: Oxford UP, 2009.

The title of this book is in no way misleading. It is, in fact, a very short introduction to the history of fashion. Arnold takes the reader on a helicopter ride through fashion’s past, present, and future, hovering far above specific instances to locate very broad patterns. Some of these include the rise of the designer, the intersections between art and fashion, the development of the fashion industry, the impact of globalization, etc.

For the most part, this book did exactly what it was designed to do. It painted the history of fashion in very broad strokes so that we were able to identify areas in which we would like to dig deeper. For each chapter, Arnold lists possible sources for further reading. Some that seem particularly interesting to our project are:

  • The journal Fashion Theory: The Journal of Dress, Body, and Culture.
  • Paul Jobling, Fashion Spreads: Word and Image in Fashion Photography since 1980
  • Annie Phizacklea, Unpacking the Fashion Industry: Gender, Racism, and Class in Production.
  • Rebecca Arnold, Fashion, Desire, and Anxiety: Image and Morality in the Twentieth Century.
  • Hazel Clark and Eugenia Paulicelli, eds. The Fabric of Cultures: Fashion, Identity, and Globalization.

Though the book could only ever deal with any issue on a superficial level, I was able to tease out a few items of interest to the intersection of fashion and emerging media. Continue reading »