Wearable Tech: FASHION

For our FASHION project, Nethra and I designed and prototyped a garment that returns the gazes of people around the wearer. We had several sources of inspiration, particularly the way that fashion is constructed partly by and for the gazes of others. I was also particularly inspired by the classical figure Fama (Greek Pheme, or Rumor, from the verb for speaking) of Greco-Roman mythology, who is said to be covered in eyes, ears, and mouths. While in the classical sense Rumor is described grotesquely, she also reminds me of something I heard at a talk by scholar and activist Sarah Deer: that the #meToo movement is in many ways the formalization of gossip. The idea of a garment that can be a modern day Fama, then, is perhaps a manifestation of accountability — asking people to be accountable for their gazes, as well as for their words and actions.

We designed the interaction around the idea of gaze tracking using machine vision on perhaps a head mounted camera; however, for the sake of our prototype, we focused on different possible methods to create eyes that appear and disappear on the garment.

Some initial sketches of motifs and patterns

We worked with thermochromic pigment to design and prototype patterns that can appear and disappear against the background of the fabric when heat is applied via current through a conductive thread. We tested mixing the thermochromic powder with Dynaflow and screenprinting ink. We found that the color and consistency worked best for our purposes with Dynaflow, which can be painted onto a fabric but behaves almost like a dye.

Applying thermochromic pigment for test swatches

For our full-scale working prototype, we painted several sections of a cotton t-shirt using our Dynaflow & thermochromic pigment mix. We then painted the rest of the shirt using non-thermochromic Dynaflow that we mixed specifically to color match with the thermochromic Dynaflow. After letting it dry, we stitched the eye motif onto the thermochromic sections using conductive thread. For the purpose of testing, we connected our thread to the power source using conductive fabric tape on the inside of the shirt. We found that we needed 9 volts for this particular thermochromic pigment to activate and reveal our pattern.

The inside of the garment during fabrication

Since we didn’t have any kind of gaze tracking implemented for this prototype, we made a small snap switch so that the user can manually turn different eyes on and off.

Completed prototype with one of the eyes activated