Cellphone holsters and belt clips are now considered ancestors of the wearable technology movement. No longer a geek niche, the next generation of wearable tech is becoming seamlessly synthesized into the clothes we wear—fashion wearables—with less of an emphasis on practicality and more so on sleekness and style.
Two of this year’s hottest consumer-focused trends—gadgets and minimalism—clash head on. Will fashion-conscious women be willing to wear bulky, masculine devices strapped to their bodies? Probably not. For a startup to successfully produce and market a tech accessory in today’s market, the gadget’s esthetic quality can be equally as important as its functionality.
Presented in coordination with We Are Wearables and the Maker Festival Toronto launch party, Electric Runway will explore and consider the intersection of fashion and technology. The show will take place on Thursday, July 23, at 918 Bathurst Street. Doors will open at 6:30 p.m. and the show will start at 8:30 p.m. Tickets must be purchased in advance here.
I spoke with Amanda Cosco, curator of Electric Runway, to find out more about the event.
Six weeks ago, the folks who organize the Toronto Maker Festival asked me to curate a wearable technology runway show for their kickoff party on July 23. I pushed to make it a fashion tech runway show instead in order to broaden our horizons and loop in the fashion community. Electric Runway will celebrate its launch at the Maker Festival kickoff party and will help bring a showcase element to the night, exploring the ways that fashion and technology overlap and intersect.
I’ve sourced concepts and clothing from Toronto and beyond, with products and garments travelling all the way from Montreal, San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Ohio and Sydney, Australia, to be part of the show.
Some of the outfits are conceptual and experimental (such as Monarch from OCAD University’s Social Body Lab, or the S.A.R.A. dresses from Benitez Vogl), while others are viable consumer products that are available on the market today (such as Hexoskin’s body metric shirts and Threadsmiths’ non-staining shirts).
It depends on what you mean when you say “tech.” In terms of hardware, we have eSight, Muse and Nymi, but hardware doesn’t show well on the runway, so I’ve paired garment-focused designers with hardware companies to put together complete looks.
When I was in California covering Silicon Valley Fashion Week for the CBC, I was really taken aback by the extent to which biking and cycling culture inspires their wearable technology. I’m excited to introduce Toronto audiences to some of the connections I made with Los Angeles– and San Francisco–based companies that are dedicated to improving the visibility of cyclists at night.
In an interview I did recently for BetaKit, Robert Ott of Ryerson University’s School of Fashion said that the Apple Watch was a “watershed moment” for wearable technology. I’d have to agree with him. The Apple Watch was the first major consumer product that launched wearable technology into mainstream consciousness, followed by Fitbit’s initial public offering.
But beyond the Apple Watch and Fitbit—I call them “wristables”—I think people are interested in wearable tech not simply because it’s new and flashy, but also because [inlinetweet]wearables are a kind of metaphor for our increasingly digital lives[/inlinetweet]. We’re reaching a new level of intimacy with our technology and wearable tech demonstrates this. Technology is no longer something that just sits on our desk or in our purse pocket—it touches our skin.
As I see it, wearable technology is a component of fashion tech, but fashion tech is a much broader and more expansive term, incorporating elements beyond gadgetry, such as 3D printing and smart fabrics.
I think most of the early-stage wearable technology we’ve seen have been gadgets designed to perform, rather than to look esthetically pleasing on the body. More recently we’ve been hearing about wearables that are the result of collaborations between engineers and designers, or that take a fashion-first approach.
I think of the runway as a kind of theatre, a place where our hopes, anxieties and observations about the world around us come to life. It’s a place where relationships are negotiated, dramatized and reinstated.
Beyond the spectacle and drama, I think we’ve already seen cases for wearable tech that prove it isn’t simply performative.[/inlinetweet] Muse is a perfect example. Muse is a brain-sensing headband that interfaces with your phone to train your brain for mindfulness. It’s available at Indigo for a couple of hundred dollars.
In terms of fashion tech, we’re already seeing items make their way from the runway to the mainstream. ElektroCouture just announced last week that it will be available via ASOS, making it the first wearable technology company distributed by a major e-commerce platform. Best Buy Canada now carries Hexoskin! Fashion tech is already infiltrating the mainstream market.
We’re going to continue to see a lot more gadgets, but I think we’re also going to see them modularize so that people have more options.
Digital thinker Clay Shirky said that technology becomes most interesting when it disappears, and [inlinetweet]we’re already starting to see wearable tech companies moving the technology into the background[/inlinetweet], like Toronto-based Magniware, for example.
In terms of fashion tech, I think the next big things will be smart fabrics, e-textiles and connected clothing. We’re going to see a lot of clothing that not only lights up and helps us feel like technology, but that also helps connect our bodies to the world around us.