So you thought wearable technology would be some sort of uncomfortable hardware attached to your face and shoulders. You thought fashion was fashion and technology was technology. You also thought that your car’s lock and home security were the only things you could control with your iPhone. Please allow us to blow your mind right here.
Let’s talk about this niche design firm that designed the FUNDAWEAR – an underwear that can be controlled with a mobile app. Designed as a viral marketing campaign for Durex, it allows “personal touch to be transferred from a smartphone to a partner” anywhere in the world. They went on to create ALERT SHIRT, a shirt that senses the collective feelings of an entire football team through the shirt, allowing fans to feel what their players are feeling during a match and NAVIGATE shirt that taps on your shoulders to give you directions – so you don’t have to keep looking at the map. Wearable Experiments, a niche wearable tech company is bringing together fashion and tech in a very unique way – by making technology in wearable technology invisible – essentially leaving you with comfortable clothing that has technology infused in it.
Today on OK, Intrnt we speak to Billie Whitehouse, co-founder of Wearable Experiments. Billie was brought up in the design industry, working from the early age of 16 at Australia’s leading tertiary design school, Whitehouse Institute of Design, Australia. Billie has been recognised for her work on FUNDAWEAR, with the campaign receiving a Silver Lion at Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity.
Speaking of wearable technology – we’ve only heard of the Google Glass and smart watches. Nobody seemed to be thinking outside of the two. In a way you really disrupted the thought process. What is Wearable Experiments?
First of all, I hate the world Wearable Technology – I think it’s a terrible word. I think it should just be “ready to wear”. And in fact, where we’re headed, it’s all about making it invisible. It’s essentially about enchanting the clothes that you put on your back day-to-day. I really believe in a more Harry Potter like future than a world with ‘cyborg’ and ‘tech taking over the world’. It’s more about wonderful objects having magic than anything else.
Could you tell us about the Durex campaign and how it all got together?
We worked with an advertising agency ourselves – myself and my cofounder. We just said if the phrase is “transferring touch over the internet” then we have to combine lots of forces including design, hardware and software. We spent many nights into the wee hours of the morning playing with different types of connectivity and looking at different solutions. Then it was about making it as comfortable, unobtrusive and wearable as possible. We didn’t want it to look or feel like a piece of technology – it had to look and feel exactly like normal underpants.
Can you tell us a little bit about who you are? What made you the design geek that you are?
My background is design education. My mother started a design school 28 years ago and I was brought up inside the business. I really learned about fashion from the inside out. Firstly building catwalks, the music for catwalks, being in catwalks – then making the clothes. Initially I did my masters specializing in knitwear – which is amazing technology.
Following that, I came back to Whitehouse, running a lot of software, researched for them, looking at what software solutions were great for designers and it was really early on into the 3D printing space. Following that, I really was piecing together a lot of different languages that I had learned. Talking to my cofounder Ben about what was actually possible, what battery power was needed, how do we make use of this bluetooth module? Those were the real life problems that we faced everyday.
There’s been the Alert Shirt and New York Navigate that you went on to develop. What do you think the uses of these would and could be.
Alert Shirt to me is about empathy. Essentially building empathy between player and fan. Something that isn’t just about the athlete anymore but about how it makes the fan feel.
Navigate was built as a trial to see how one could navigate through a city without a map. Later on it became really useful on a bicycle. It’s wonderful to have that very intuitive display information on your body.
At the core of these products, what’s the philosophy behind “wearable technology” if we’re allowed to use the word.
Simply that it’s just ready to wear and everything that will own will have technology in it. It already does – but it will be simpler. It would be buttons, zippers, sunglasses, caps. The truth is it is already being developed. You’re seeing it and I’m seeing it.
For the moment you’re only into lifestyle products. Do you see yourself entering the utility or personal healthcare space? These could be very interesting for people with disabilities for instance.
We’re not going to rush to have anything FDA approved. Unless a bigger brand comes and helps us do that, our main focus is going to be – how do we make these soft, durable, elegant and stylish.
What have been the challenges so far and what do you see ahead?
Battery life has always been a challenge but we’re solving this challenge over time. The full integration – fiber integration – is what everyone is looking at now. Some people are doing really well. It’s going to get to a point where it just becomes the standard. At the moment the material for those products is quite expensive but it’s getting cheaper and smaller every three months.
At what stage are your right now – with Wearable Experiments and what’s ahead?
Everything that we’ve done so far has either been a promotional campaign or an experiment. The next stuff for us is directly going to consumer. We’ve done our B2B side of this business and now we’re going to build a product that’s directly for the consumers by Wearable Experiments.
Could you tell us something interesting about the industry that people do not know.
This is from an optimistic point of view – but people don’t know that it’s actually the most wonderful industry to be part of. Everyone’s so nice! Everyone wants to help each other and want to be able to build everyone up and give you more information. It’s really nurturing and that makes it a wonderful place to be.
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