Guest Post by Stylus Fashion

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Could fashion brands learn from the Makers movement and its open-source approach to design? Becky Stern, directory of NYC-based wearable electronics firm Adafruit, thinks so. “Makers share their experiments, their methods of building and their successes and failures,” says Stern of this brand of DIY crafters who incorporate tech into objects in unexpected ways and reveal the results online and at Maker Faires around the globe.

By pooling information, fashion companies “could start making their own tech in-house instead of partnering with a big firm or established brand,” Stern adds, retaining control and cutting R&D costs.

As the director of wearable electronics at Adafruit, a New York-based hardware manufacturer and online learning hub, she has been combining textiles with electronics for the past decade. But though Stern is a designer, her passion lies in education, with her online guides, YouTube talk show and weekly projects aiming to teach all, regardless of age or technical ability, how to create their own wearable technologies.

Microcontrollers, Arduino boards and conductive threads are her tools of choice. A footstep is enough to trigger a rainbow of colours along the edges of the Firewalker LED sneakers, the effect created by weight on the pressure-sensitive Velostat sensors in each shoe’s heel. In the same spirit the VU Meter Baseball Cap features a NeoPixel strip of LEDs that flash according to sound volume. Whilst, a mike fixed to the side of the hat registers the noise levels, communicating them to a FLORA microcontroller that adjusts the light’s speed.

Both projects require the ability to solder metal parts and write code. However, with the rise of washable connectors and longer-lasting batteries, Stern anticipates a day soon when tech will be routinely incorporated into everyday wear. “I think we’ll see modules that snap in and out of garments to control embedded LEDs and fabric sensors,” she says. “For example, take a look at CuteCircuit‘s Twirkle Shirt,” a motion-activated T-shirt. “It features a ‘brain’ that can be removed prior to washing and then replaced afterwards.” Further developments in harvesting power from body movements, a still-emerging science, could also boost the use of electronics in clothing.

Aside from demystifying technology, these experiments demonstrate numerous opportunities for womenswear brands. On a simple level they offer new visual embellishments that could easily be added to clothing and footwear. On a larger scale, though, these projects hint at new levels of clothing customisation and interactivity. Most of Stern’s – and other Makers’ – projects run off Arduino, an open-source hardware platform that supports various types of sensors, including those for sound, pressure, light and temperature. Include them in a garment or accessory, and it could change colour from day to night, when music is played, or when the temperature soars or plunges.

The possibilities of wearables and interactive fashion are great, and brands thinking of designing their own hardware should not go it alone- the key to success is collaboration.

Reported by Julie Taraska, Senior Editor of Wearables & Interactive at Stylus Fashion