fashion technology


If you have been following what I’ve been doing, you must have noticed that I’ve been designing fashionable computing projects, integrating circuit boards into fabrics, light emitting parts, sewing clothings and etc. I’ve been also teaching Interaction Design Studio which is a 4 hour studio class that is made of mainly a short lecture, discussion & workshop or presentation. Although this class isn’t about wearable computing, I guess my background does influence some students’ works. There have been so far two wearable computing projects in my class last year.

One was final project in Spring semester – first semester I taught there.

The first one is titled, “Mask of Emotion” by Chisong Ryu, Changhee Kim and Jiyoun Kim. it’s an Emoticon Mask basically – it’s documented well at http://blog.naver.com/inter_mask. (sorry it’s in Korean)

I think this project really reflects today’s culture of emotional communication. It was a 5, 6 week assignment during first semester, 2007.

The second project I want to introduce is a more technically elaborated project called, “HearT-shirt” by Hyunsoo Hong & Jinyoung Lee- created during the fall semester in 2007. Here is also a nice documentation (sorry it’s in Korean again)

They integrated tiny surface mounting LEDs into plastic pearl buttons to attach on the T-shirts, which made me speechless as I could imagine all the work that went to solder hair thin legs. Hyunsoo later made DMDuino (Arduino clone for DMD students – limited edition) with Jinhwan Kim. (Those were hand soldered.)

Anyway, here is the photo. It uses Xbee Wireless communication to detect if they are located within 50 meter range . When they do, their shirts light up in a heart shape! The couple can find each other surprisingly when they are near with each other if they went to public places without planning to meet. It’s a fun concept. This was a 9 weeks assignment.

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I got this image from Jonah today. This image is from http://www.lucydunne.com/ireland/wearables-pyramid.gif

We sadly agreed that this applies well to the most of wearable computing projects… but, looking forward to challenging to design more wearable computing project that isn’t only about LEDs on dress.

(Too tired to write tonight so, more later….)

It started with my brother sending me this link

I laughed looking at the photo of a wearable design of pants that had keyboard attached into one’s lap. I’m a geek and I design wearable technology art projects but, it was just a way too geeky for me even. However, I thought it was an interesting concept so I’ve forwarded it to a friend who was in search for a good wireless keyboard that can be sit on his lap comfortably. Of course, I haven’t had a time to read the text. The next thing I found out was this line that was pointed out by someone, “.. and for you gamers, there is a joystick controller located just behind the front zipper. ” I was like, “ewww…. then, oh my god…!”

This was just beginning.

If you look at this blog link, “20-pickup-lines-for-people-wearing-keyboard-pants/” you will know what I mean. These geeks with dirty minds — dirty pickup lines, i would say… but some of them are somewhat clever – funny in a geeky way. Some of the pickup lines in comments made me giggle. My favorite one was, “I’d like to be a douche bag and point out that “U” and “I” are already next to each other on a QUERTY keyboard.” At least, there is a less chance of being slapped on his face.

It was certainly entertaining to read but, there was a mental note for any wearable computing designers. Do not place buttons or keys to press near where they shouldn’t be. This is why studying social behavior and usability is essential, I suppose.

Stir It On! – Interactive Fashion Technology Art

Stir It On! is a story about my experience of swimming at the bioluminescent bay at night. Imagine waves of dark ocean water under starry sky and millions of tiny organisms illuminate when they are stirred up. This is also my comments on social experience in Seoul public space. (ah, that’s another blog entry there.)

more about the project here >>

SIO(Stir It On!) prototype version 1.0 (inactive, back)Stir It On! active

My first prototype version 1.0 of Stir It On! had its debuit on the runaway at Social Fabrics, Dallas, TX. Am I happy about the result? I feel neutral about it. I’m glad that I had this exhibition so that I could force myself to really complete first prototype and at the same time, I’ve encountered many more problems with my design of this prototype which I haven’t thought out during sketching interaction design process.  Immediately my mind was already so full of different ideas of how to tackle these newly found challenges…also different ideas of design and surface treatment of the skirt… and more.  I’m ready to go back to my sketch pad again to fix the prototype 1.0 and make it into 1.1. It never ends, huh?  Actually, this thing has just begun.

I have met some interesting groups from different part of the world who showcased their wearable projects. It’s always interesting to watch how other artists approach wearable projects. (That is another blog entry again… I suppose. I’ve been slacking in my blogs…I know!)

I had this idea since my short trip to Viequez Island, Puerto Rico in Oct 2006. I’ve been sketching my Stir It On! skirt ideas for almost over a year. I started to play with arduino board and touch sensors during summer of 2007 and I got into the production stage at the beginning of Nov 2007. I started to collect different materials that I could possibly use in creating this piece. I planned to work on it extensively but, it wasn’t going to happen after my accident and I couldn’t get hold of my sewing machine until few days before my departure. I have done some LEDs & beeds stitching on the 2nd layer of surface on the textile pattern I cut for the skirt by the time I arrived to LA.

It was quite a challenge to finish a wearable project at a temporary location (kitchen at my brother’s apt in Hermosa Beach, CA) not to mention that I was doing it all by myself. I have no collaborator this time around. Making a skirt itself is a tedious procedure, especially Stir-It-On! which requires many different layers of fabric and hand sewing beeds & 65 LEDs with conductive treads and fabric. On top of that, working with the circuit board, wiring, soldering, programming and testing where I kept finding missing electronic parts. By the time, my skirt was shaping, I knew where 5 different RadioShack are located near Hermosa Beach and a very good you-name-it-you-find-it electronic shop, thanks to Tom’s friend, Casey’s reference.

When I arrived in CA 2 weeks before the show, I knew I had to discipline myself to focus on this project. Believe or not, I haven’t even walked at the beach for 2 weeks of my stay at Hermosa Beach. I looked at it from a block away as I get my daily cappuccino & bagel… I woke up at 8:30 am everyday to start a day and worked until 1, 2, or 3 am if that was necessary. I didn’t drink more than a glass of wine if I went out & I limited my social activities, which is hard for me as you would know if you knew me… 3 days before the deadline, I had to look for a 10 MHz crystal and one day before, the only needle in my sewing machine broke in half – which never happened before. I had to get a taxi and get needles from the sewing machine store since I didn’t have a car during day. I felt like I was having an obstacle after an obstacle constantly after my accident of getting second degree burns on my legs.  Therefore, I started to worry tremendously every little things for close future & I felt like nothing would go right. Then some point, I’ve realized that I’ve got to stop worrying about things that hasn’t happened or out of my control. That’s when I made a peace with myself.  I was slowly finding back my usual optimism.

The night before the show in Dallas, the frame of my only pair of eye glasses broke…(I’m wearing them at the very moment which is taped for time being.) Also, 6V batter DC power was acting somewhat inconsistently compared to USB power source. However, I didn’t panic or got stressed. I was rather calm. I just did as much as possible. Tested a bit & soldered a wire that was broken at the backstage. The prototype version 1.0 was partially working and that is better than not working. That is a start for me. I have a lot of work to do to get this piece to be where it supposed to be. I’m excited again.

I was detinitely tired and stressed but, I was glad that I’ve made it. On the returning flight to LA, I was watching light blue shades of soft clouds and light streams of traffics on the road that looked like blood streams in microscope… I felt excited to feel the beauty of nature right next to the man made structures. I was content again. For me, creating fashion technology art is about the process, not necessarily about the final product. I find it important how I experience in creating it as much as how the wearer experiences by wearing it.  It’s all about process and I should enjoy the experience fullest whether it’s hard work or play.

Yeah, time really flies here…. Some more updates on my recent days.

There are growing amount of work and responsibities for me but, I guess I finally got used to it since I’m getting less frustrated and got my normal optimism back. My students are great and I look forward to seeing their future work.

May 15th is “Teacher’s Day” in Korea. You can tell what day that is literally. I was surprised to find out that some of my students really look upon me and felt some responsiblity to be a good role model for them. Beside my somewhat mature thoughts, I got some cool gifts from students. There is one bottle of French brandy which I’m not sure what to do with yet but, I sure can drink a bottle of wine Junior year students got me as a gift. One thing I felt a bit awkward was when my senior students sang “Teacher’s day song” to me during my class… you know, I didn’t know where to look while they sang at me so I pretend to open the box of chocolates they got me. I shared chocolates with them afterward. The photo above is a flower bouquet they put on my chest for the teacher’s day ceremony. It’s usually made of Carnation… same kind of bouquet they used for Parents’ Day since they consider teachers are like parents here. The modern life changed teacher’s role a lot here but, I could tell there are huge respects still left toward teachers in this culture yet.

Last two weekends, I was traveling a lot to attend two different design conferences held in Korea. The most recent one, “Design Conference” by Korean Society of Design was held at Seoul University of Technology. I have met few old ITP friends and met new engineer/professors who experiment with wearables today. The highlight was the Jewlery Fashion Show they presented at the farewell party. The problem was that it didn’t get dark early enough since it’s going into summer… so we had to wait few more hours to see this finale show. The Jewlery Show was composed with ornament + fashion projects by senior students in Metal Arts Department at the hosting university. Their theme were world…different countries. I’ve noticed that they repeatedly used LEDs, El-wires for their jewlery arts but there are few I thought they really worked as enhancement to their metal artwork. Working with lighting materials tastefully is never easy.

Below photos are from the runaway, left; Vietnam theme & right; Korea theme. I thought it’s interesting that the student picked the traditional Shaman’s outfit to work with among all.

Last weekend, I took KTX(fast train) down to Busan to attend my first academical conference in Korea. Busan is the second largest city in Korea and it’s a huge port. Very often spelled as Pusan, don’t ask me which one is correct, I’m as confused as you are… It’s by Korean Society of Emotional Science. Their title alone was enough to evoke my curiosity and this year’s conference theme were more with “Emotional Design.” Since I’m making my students reading “Emotional Design” by E. Norman for their Interaction Design projects so I found it even more interesting. There were some interesting paper presentation and I have met one of main authors who you find when you study Emotional Design these days, who is P. Jordan. He had a talk about Pleasurability along with the content of his book. I haven’t read his book yet so, it was interesting enough. Later on when we had beer after conference, we had good talk and I have met again some more new people I share some interest with.


I really liked Busan. The smell of ocean is everywhere… surrounded with many layers of mountains, harsh southern dialect. Whenever I visit Busan, something deep inside me gets evoked. I stayed at Haundae (famous beach area.) Crossing over a high bridge and looking down the beach was great. However, I had a duty call from my school so I had to wake up at 5 am to take KTX again back to Daejun and so on. I’ve come to realize that last time I visited Busan was 10 years ago. I will visit Haundae again when I find one peaceful weekend in near future.

The Vein Viewer, Close Up

Left: The Vein Viewer, Right: Hug Shirts by Cute Circuit

Originally uploaded by youngster.

Last weekend, I finally made to Wired NextFest at Javitz Center with my brother who is visiting me from LA and his buddy, Tony. I was planning to go visit on Friday but, I had two proposals to work on. Due to my recent trend of infinite social events, we couldn’t get up early enough on Saturday so, we casually met up with Tony, had brunch at Pink Pony on Ludlow street in LES then we hopped in a cab.

Thank god, we already had bought tickets, there was a long layered lines toward few ticket booths there. ‘Hmmm… aren’t they supposed to use some technology like ticket vending machines at technology exhibition…?‘ I’m sure I’m not the only one who thought of this after looking at the horrandous lines of people waiting to buy tickets.

It was very dark and it was very crowded but, that wasn’t going to stop us (tech geeks) from getting excited watching space suits, all kinds of robots and games…etc. Many projects at Future Design exhibition as well as other section were overlapped with Siggraph 2006, Emerging Technologies exhibition so, they were already pretty familiar to me… not to mention many number of colleagues and alums from ITP, NYU were presenting there so, it was an easy catching up event. Oh, I also did bumped into my friends… who are in the same industries. My friend, Eunhee whose dream was to travel to space finally got her photo in a space suit…! (it was composite, heh heh) But, Virgin Galactica was enough to get her and myself excited! Bless X-project, bless Paul Allen. Without them, we civilians would be very very far from even dreaming of traveling to space. Now, all I need is good health and 5 million dallars… -_-

Beside my daydreaming, they had some interesting aspect of show about energy and enviromental themes as well as many robots and games. The rabbit theater with hundreds of Atari rabbits with their ears moving in 360 degree were a bit too abstract for me. (huh?) My favorite product at the show was “The Vein Viewer” by a new biotech firm by Phillips, Luminetx…! Wait a minute, is this Phillips, too? Are they taking over the world of biotech(Luminetx) and textiles(Lumalive)? Anyway, it’s awesome to watch your blood streams through your vein. (see photo above, my brother, Jay’s hand) That got me excited since Lumalive… Thank you Phillips for your inspiration.

It was a delight surprise to find Francesca and Ryan’s CuteCircuit project, “Hug Shirts” there. (see above photo, right) They are new improved and design and engineering shirts for both men and women. They got rid of all the wires. Yeah, that’s what I would love to accomplish with my HearWear project as well. I met them in Pisa, Italy to participate CuteCircuit FutureFashion Show last May. This duo pulled a fashion show that showcased Fashion Technologies from world successfully and I have a great respect for that. Not to mention their on going fashion projects which I really favor since they do care about Fashion style, design and its function, and duablity which very often missed out by programmers / engineers alone.

Anyway, attending these kind of events make me itchy to work on next projects although I see piles of papers on my desk to write proposals. sigh~ yeah, business then design & technology.

On jackets containing the Philips Lumalive fabrics dynamic advertisements, graphics and constantly changing color surfaces can be displayed. (Photo: Philips)

Recently, I read an article, “Philips Research Shows Off Technology That Displays Electronic Images On Clothes which is about this new technology, “Lumalive fabrics.”

The description of Lumalive fabrics from the article are like below.
“Lumalive fabrics feature flexible arrays of colored light-emitting diodes (LEDs) fully integrated into the fabric – without compromising the softness or flexibility of the cloth. These light emitting textiles make it possible to create materials that can carry dynamic messages, graphics or multicolored surfaces.”

I’m very curious how it actually works. In 2003, I have designed a future technology jacket with James Tu, which was a costume for a performance titled, “AfroFuturistic” at Kitchen, NYC. We wanted to convey that in future, people will wear clothings such as a jacket that will display ad graphics or data information. The jacket was designed with multiple LEDs and Electro-iluminating panels that are cut into shaps of a monitor and sewed and soldered in the back of the jacket.

That project became an introduction to wearable fashion technology, from then, I’ve been busy designing & developing wearable technology, “HearWear: The Fashion of Environmental Noise Display” with Milena Berry. In 2004, for the siggraph exhibition, we have visited Zuzka in NYC who is a US distributor for Luminex. This revolutionary textile was using a fabric that is woven with fine fiber optics that can emit lights from LEDs embeded inside. Milena and I began to play with Luminex textile and designed two working prototypes of HearWear skirt using Luminex.(photo below)

I actually loved the subtlety of Luminex lights which only shows in darkness – since very often when you design a garment with lights, it could be very tacky looking. I wanted to design an everyday wearable that you and I would easily pickup and wear. Anyway, I’m continuing this attempt on different new designs with different technologies now.
HearWear skirt with Luminex textile (photo: youngster)