Silicon Alley is colliding with the Garment District, according to the 130-page Computational Fashion book, which hit the market a few weeks ago. Present tense: it’s happening now. And Munich’s Wearable Technologies Conference, held in early February, only reinforced this notion.
The new resource guide for all things wearable comes from Eyebeam, which has been playing host to a series of “Computational Fashion” panels for two years now. Designer, entrepreneur, and researcher Sabine Seymour is at the helm (Seymour was responsible for many of the tech fashion pieces at the last NYFW). As co-chair of the new program, and the CEO of Moonlab—a startup that launched at SXSW—she explains, “This research initiative is merging creative thought with tangible technology expertise, and layering on top of that how to commercialize it in a viable manner.”
“For me, sharing the project is so amazing. The most thrilling part is the cross-discipline collaboration… connecting designers and technologists and companies and artists. It also makes people aware of what is important in the space, from nanotech to legal regulation.”
Of all the issues Computational Fashion touches upon—aesthetics, ergonomics, intellectual property, etc.—three major themes surface:
3D printing has its advantages, but to date, malleability has not been one of them. That said, there are piles of ductile man-made materials and tools, many of which are already widespread—just consider Lycra and the jacquard punch-card loom. So we need to start again and make the right materials for a new market. Sports and fitness apparel made an early entrance with high-performance gear in the early 2000s. “The paradigm shifts already taking place today, in which designers and coders are co-opting software tools and hacking fabrication methods to produce results that could have never been predicted from the manufacturing side,” says Seymour.
Architect and designer Bradley Rothenberg is at the forefront of these new techniques. He prints on nylon, polymers, and is even experimenting with metals. On polymers such as PPU he uses interlocking springs to make the naturally stiff material more like a textile. How? He used to code in Python for Rhino, but now it’s all C++, and far as printers go, industrial stereolithography equipment options allow him more freedom and the ability to create advanced support structures. This suits the ways in which Rothenberg leverages platonic solid geometry to form his pieces. By increasing and decreasing his code, he constructs the small parts and big parts in his patterns, small triangles printed inside of big triangles, for example. “What we learned through 3D printing different samples is that we can control the material properties by varying the geometric properties,” he explains.
Whether it’s function-focused work or sportswear, or emotion-focused apparel, fashion technologies need to work day in and day out. Eyebeam’s Project Director Paul Amitai explains in the book, “If you think it’s a drag to have to constantly plug in your smartphone, imagine if it was your shirt.” That’s why people like Princeton University assistant professor Dan Steingart are exploring energy options like body heat, wind-up, solar, and a prototype for bendable batteries.
It all comes down to producing at scale. Right now, the minimum 3D printing resolution is .5-.7mm, which is around 500 microns (one-millionths of a meter). Ideally, the output would be 40-100 microns, according to Rothenberg. So, because the resolution isn’t there yet, the investments aren't being made. That’s why he predicts industries that need less resolution—like aerospace and automotive—will also debut computational materials based on their needs.
“Computational Fashion is shedding light on these emerging patterns while functioning as a conduit for cross-boundary crossing creative research,” says Seymour. That’s why her new venture has fashion/science/tech in its DNA—not as an afterthought, either. “Integrating technology more deeply and artfully into fashion will provide new ways to be expressive and social.”
To share this vision with the global economy, the team will build on its momentum by hosting the Computational Fashion Conference in Fall 2015 in NYC. For more information, stay tuned to Eyebeam in the coming months.