Spark the Conversation

Tech-Innovation in the Fashion Realm

March 28, 2016
Posted By: Kat Dornian, Fluor Champion of Engineering Communication at TELUS Spark
MakeFashion’s fourth annual fashion gala is about to hit the runway with innovative blends of fashion, art and technology.

Kathryn Blair is an artist who explores the physical computing aspects of MakeFashion. She also happens to be a public programmer working at TELUS Spark. Kathryn sees MakeFashion as, “an opportunity for artists, designers and engineers to collaborate and push the boundaries of what wearable technology could mean versus a show of ready to wear products.” For MakeFashion’s co-founder, Maria Elena Hoover, “It means a platform that we have been able to provide to explore beautiful design first when it comes to wearable technology.” 

The idea for MakeFashion happened after Maria and her husband, Shannon, attended the Bay Area Maker Faire in 2010 and decided that Calgary needed something similar. “We live in a city where engineering and art are bursting,” Maria proclaims. We have been able to provide a wonderful platform for artists, designers and engineers to come to collaborate, innovate and use the latest technology available.”

For Kathryn, tech fashion adds new dimension to her artistic practice and allows her to explore her curiosity around wearables. You can give someone an experience that makes them think about something in a really concrete, visceral or hands-on way,” she explains. “It adds this whole level of ability for the experience to be more thought provoking because the thing you’re looking at can react to you or it can react to other data of its own accord.

positive feedback

Kathryn's last design entitled Positive Feedback, created in collaboration with Ryan Blair

Once the designers come up with an idea, it can be a challenging journey to make it happen. For this year’s MakeFashion piece, Kathryn is collaborating with Sacramento-based neo-couture artist Scatha G. Allison (Miss Velvet Cream) to explore how new technologies influence how we communicate with each other.

The first challenges Kathryn confronted were reading data from the Muse EEG headset, which reads brainwaves; using the headset with the SeeedStudio RePhone, which processes the data and controls elements of the garments. Because some of the technologies are so new, no one has written code to make the different pieces of hardware communicate effectively, Kathryn explains that she’s “very slowly going through each bite of data and figuring out what it means.” Along the way, she’s had to develop her own algorithms and learn new things, like how to do “bit-math” (math operations with ones and zeros). 

This isn’t the first time she’s had to courageously confront new technologies and challenges, “I solve the problems from the approach of someone who isn’t trained as a computer scientist so if I want to do this thing, I will slowly break it down into the component problems and tackle the first one that I know I can tackle and then tackle the next one and then tackle the next one.”

In the weeks leading up to the gala, she figured out how to make the data work. The piece, which is called To:gether, compares the data coming from two headsets while motors and lights control the look of the two garments. Kathryn describes that, “the shapes of the garments will become more similar as the headset data is more similar. So, if the models wearing the two dresses and headsets are thinking similarly, their clothes will look similar.”

Twelve other pieces will be featured, showing off the groundbreaking ideas of wearable technology. “Many of the garments guests will see on the runway are prototypes, an inspiration of what is to come in the next 5 to 10 years,” says Maria. 3D-printing, fiber-optics, projections, choreography, enhancements of human expression and so much more will be on display in the truly inspirational night. Maria promises that the MakeFashion Gala will be, “a bigger and better show this year, featuring senior and new designers, a variety of costumes, high fashion and performance on the runway.”

Be sure to check out the MakeFashion Wearable Tech Gala & Runway Show on April 2, 2016 at TELUS Spark. Tickets are available via Eventbrite* here.


Photo credits:

Positive Feedback for MakeFashion by Kathryn Blair and Ryan Blair
Photographed by Zev Vitaly Abosh
Makeup: Rini Vosa Asani
Stylist: Dona Sela
Model: Danuta Darling

All images courtesy MakeFashion with permission to share