Adafruit’s Becky Stern on Wearable Tech, Teenagers & Making Electronics Natural

Get to know Becky Stern of Adafruit Industries.

becky-stern-2

Becky Stern is the Director of Wearable Electronics at Adafruit. Each week she publishes a new do-it-yourself craft+tech project tutorial and video and also hosts the YouTube Live show “Wearable Electronics with Becky Stern.” She’s been combining textiles with electronics since 2005, and helps develop the Adafruit FLORA wearable Arduino-compatible product line. She’s been shooting video since age five, and sewing since age eight. Becky studied at Parsons The New School for Design and Arizona State University and teaches at School of Visual Arts’ Products of Design grad program. She is a member of the Brooklyn art combine Madagascar Institute and the internet-based group Free Art & Technology (FAT).

We caught up with her to talk fashion and tech and how the future of electronics and fashion will become virtually seamless.

How can we get teens/girls to consider fashion differently? I remember you mentioning an illuminated prom dress story…

It’s important to impress upon girls that fashion is about personal expression, not fitting in, and that means you decide what’s cool, and you can make it yourself. I like to inspire girls to create their own fashion using lights and sensors, like in our LED Sparkle Skirt or NeoPixel Tiara projects that anyone can make at home.

Fashion is exploration in defining who we are so how is technology defining who we are?

Lots of tech these days tells us what to do– our phones are full of reminders, and new wearables tell us how to exercise and how to feel about our data. We need to have more agency and control over this storm of information and decide for ourselves what’s important about that information.

flora_neopixel-bangle-bracelet

What are some cool textiles incorporating innovative technologies in either how they are made or how they are used?

Of the innovative tech textiles out there, I really only work closely with conductive threads and fabrics, which I use to stitch circuits and make fabric touch sensors. Researchers at Cornell, however, are making fibers that change color, resist bacteria, and act as electronic components (transistors specifically).

Natalia Allen is using circular knitting robots to make knitwear.

Do you see (wearable) fashion and tech working together in the future to actually provide a need or service for us?

I see fashion companies becoming tech companies, and wearable tech becoming less visible and more fashionable (like smart contact lenses and designer google glass). There are many sensor+bluetooth devices coming out lately, so we’ll see which ones are deemed actually useful by the market. I think it’s important for fashion designers to play with tech to form new aesthetics and open wearables up to new audiences who don’t just want a gadget, but rather see the technology as a means to express their beliefs and interact meaningfully with their environments.

gemma_Pixel_Tiara

Top sci-fi movie with fashion and wearable technologies you could see happening (or is happening!)?

How about a book? In Neal Stephenson’s Diamond Age, some guy’s nervous system implants get hacked so he sees spam advertisements in his peripheral vision constantly. This could happen to smart glasses and heads up displays, once there are enough people wearing them to warrant spammers’ attention!

Check out this video with Becky on how to create sunscreen reminder hat: