This wearable tech puts self-expression first

The fashion studio Wearable Media is creating clothing that approaches wearable tech in a new way. They argue that wearable technology will never be widely adopted until it expresses something about the wearer.
Audrey is a top created by Wearable Media that used augmented reality to display a "digital aura" of the wearer. (Wearable Media)
Listen8:04

A lot of the wearable technology available to the average consumer— things like FitBit, or Apple Watch—are things they allow the user to track themselves in some way or another. They're the tools that fuel the quantified self movement.

But these wearables only represent a tiny piece of the potential of wearable technology. Other examples, like Google Glass, haven't been able to succeed in the market. Wearable Media, a fashion studio in New York, thinks that part of that is because they fail to consider how the user wants to express themselves.

Hellyn Teng is the creative director of Wearable Media. (Wearable Media)

"There are a lot of companies out there right now that are doing biometrics and fitness tracking very well, but for us, we actually come from a design and fashion background," said Hellyn Teng, the Creative Director of Wearable Media. "And so we're more interested in exploring how garments can tell a story more than how it can track."

Wearable Media has created several example garments to showcase that idea. One, a jumpsuit called Ceres, uses a tiny computer embedded in the piece to to collect data about the positions and speeds of asteroids near Earth. It then conveys that data through LEDs on the legs of the jumpsuit, and small motors that vibrate around the wearer's shoulders.

"You almost feel like there's a small object traveling around your shoulder," said Yuchen Zhang, CEO of Wearable Media, "because we're having the motor vibrating one after another one…

"So you get this spatial atmosphere. And it's kind of interesting thinking about it, even though it's just vibration...you all of a sudden have this realization of reminding yourself there's something really much bigger out there than ourselves. It's kind of a fascinating experience."

Yuchen Zhang is the CEO of Wearable Media. (Wearable Media)

Another piece, a cropped black neoprene top called "Audrey," uses white shapes and symbols all over the top to convey information to an augmented reality app. The app them pulls data from the wearer's Instagram profile and uses colours from the photos they post to create what Wearable Media calls a "digital aura."

"We're thinking about what is the closest to our self identity right now online. And Instagram was one of the first things that we thought about," said Zhang.

She said that when you meet someone, "one of the first things we check out is their Instagram, and see what they post and they kind of become a huge part of our digital identity online. We want to use and connect to our physical body by creating a medium of clothing to connect to."

Wearable technology has become fairly common in industrial and medical fields, but in those cases the technology is fairly utilitarian. Though similar tech is available for the average person, so far it hasn't crossed over into everyday fashion. But that might be changing.

Last year, Levi's partnered with Google to make a jacket for cycling. The jacket has conductive thread that lets you control your phone by touching your sleeve. Wearable Media's position is that that trend is only going to continue.

"Wearable technology, even though it is more accessible right now...People almost think it is negative to wear," Zhang said. "They associate it with like negative feelings towards certain wearable tech products because it puts them in a box right away when people see them wearing it."

"Wearable technology, even though it is more accessible right now...people almost think it is negative to wear," Zhang said.

"They associate it with negative feelings towards certain wearable tech products because it puts them in a box right away when people see them wearing it."

But Zhang believes that if people are able to express themselves through wearable technology, like they do everyday through their clothing, that negative perception will end.

"I think garments are kind of incredible," Zhang said. "When you wear something you're really proud of, or you really feel like yourself, it really alters and changes how you interact with the world and how you see yourself as well.

"And I think with the help of technology, garments could do a lot more than what they're doing right now...and this kind of formed into this unique category of clothing we're creating."

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