Despite progress, women are still underrepresented in the technology sector, but growing in the fashion technology space. 2017 was actually the first time in over a decade that the World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Report found that the gender gap had widened instead of getting smaller.
When we look at the work of women in tech, and in this particular case, technology and fashion, it’s clear that they are an integral part of moving us forward. We have rounded up a list of women who have made serious contributions to the world of smart textiles and the integration of textiles and technology; without the work of these women, the industry wouldn’t be where it is today.
We look forward to watching these women in the coming years, and all of the women who are inspired to follow in their footsteps.
For Joanna Berzowska, the future is wearable. Not only is she an Associate Professor of Design and Computation Arts at Concordia University, but she’s also the founder and research director of XS Labs, a design research studio with a focus on innovation in the fields of electronic textiles and reactive garments. “There’s a great potential to achieve deeper insights into our bodies. Using biometric garments will allow us to see more carefully when we are tired, when we are stressed, when we are excited and to reach new levels of self-awareness and understanding,” Berzowska told Quartier de l’Innovation. “Once the new interactive textiles that I’m developing become consumer products, I think there is going to be a real fashion revolution.”
A designer, engineer, and educator, Leah Buechley is perhaps best known to the textile world as the creator of the LilyPad Arduino, a construction kit for sew-able electronics. For inspiration, check out her TED talk on sketching with electronics. Armed with a PhD in computer science, her design firm Rural / Digital explores integrations of technology and design. Her work has been featured in publications including The New York Times, Boston Globe, Popular Science, and Wired.
Meg Grant specializes in the integration of electronics and textiles. “Smart textiles can be worn on and in the body but can also be used in architecture, furnishings, automobile and industrial applications, to name a few,” she told Women of Wearables in an interview. “That’s part of what I like about this field, there is a lot of opportunity for cross-pollination of ideas and materials.” Grant has worked on everything from solar fiber to lace sensor fabric, but can currently be found at Seismic, a start-up spin-out of SRI International. The technology she is working on there has its roots in a DARPA-funded project for a lightweight, compliant exo-suit that Seismic is using to develop a more body-conscious product.
Liza Stark is a designer, educator, and organizer whose work investigates the intersection of craft, play, and technology. She creates computationally-enhanced craft objects that explore the interplay of ritual and narrative, tools and learning, accessibility and gender. Her recent work includes feminist revisionist history zines, talking quilts, and organizing a residency program. She has designed games at the pioneering middle school Quest to Learn and created playful learning experiences around the country with the Institute of Play, littleBits, Girls Who Code, and others. She recently completed fellowships at the BF+DA on the TEK-TILES Project and the Journalism + Design program at Eugene Lang College. She graduated from the MFA Design and Technology program at Parsons The New School for Design where she has taught for seven years. Her work has been shown at the International Symposium on Wearable Computers, The Wassaic Project, NYCxDESIGN Week, Moulins Paillard, Maker Faire, Open Hardware Summit, CIANT, the Tangible, Embedded, and Embodied Interaction Conference, and more.
Lara Grant is a designer, prototyper, researcher and educator, her interests and work converge in wearable electronics, crafting techniques, process and how concepts of sustainability can apply to fashion, technology and the combination of the two. She has taken the experience of a career in costume and fashion design, patternmaking and sewing, and applied it to become a specialist in integrating new technology and materials with fashion and textiles. She has a BFA in Fashion Design and MPS from NYU in Interactive Telecommunications with a focus in Wearable Technology. In 2018, she collaborated on the eTextile Spring Break, aimed at nurturing a growing e-textiles community.
Kate Hartman wears many hats: artist, technologist, educator – but now matter what she’s doing, she’s interested in people, and how we relate to each other and the world around us. That interest has led her to do everything from co-creating Botanicalls, a system that lets thirsty plants place phone calls to get human help, to the Lilypad XBee, a sewable radio transceiver that lets clothing communicate with its wearer. “I think what’s really important is thinking about how we can simultaneously maintain a sense of wonder and a sense of criticality about the tools that we use and the ways in which we relate to the world,” Hartman said in her 2011 TED Talk. Her work has been exhibited internationally, and it’s even in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
Steeped in the world of tech and education, Yasmin Kafai’s work is focused on the next generation, with a goal to empower students to use computer programming to design games, sew electronic textiles, grow applications in biology, and more. She is the chair of the Teaching, Learning, and Leadership Division at the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education. Kafai is currently developing a high school curriculum with electronic textiles that introduces students to computer science, and contributed to the book Textile Messages: Dispatches From the World of e-Textiles and Education.
Creative technologist and CEO of Shimmy Technologies, as well as a former BF+DA Venture Fellow,Sarah Krasley is working to harness technology in a way that improves apparel workflows and empowers women in the process. The result is a video game built to train female garment workers in basic digital skills so that they can move into jobs that are less vulnerable to automation.
Ebru Kurbak is an artist and designer who is driven by her interest in the hidden political nature of everyday spaces, technologies, and routines, and how the design of the ordinary is involved in shaping values, practices, and ideologies. Most recently, she worked at the University of Applied Arts in Vienna as Project Leader (PI) of the arts-based research project Stitching Worlds. The four-year collaborative research project ended ion 2018 and resulted in the book Stitching Worlds: Exploring Textiles and Electronics. Works from the project were showcased at the recent Istanbul Design Biennial.
Designer-researcher Kristi Kuusk works in the smart textiles space, focusing on looking for new ways for textiles and fashion to be more sustainable through the implementation of technology. She holds a PhD. from Eindhoven University of Technology. Kuusk now works as an Associate Professor and researcher in the Textile Futures direction at the Estonian Academy of Arts. Her most recent project Magic Lining investigated how the inside of a garment might be able to change the wearer’s self-perception.
Artist and designer Valerie Lamontagne can be currently found as professor of the Fashion Research and Technology research group at the Amsterdam Fashion Institute (AMFI). She holds a PhD in ‘Performative Wearables: Bodies, Fashion and Technology’ from Concordia University in Montreal, and along with Alexander Reeder she launched synapseWear, a wearable device and fashion collection with sensors to record your motion and environmental data.
Forging materials and creative technology through soft, flexible e-textiles and computational design, Madison Maxey is Founder and Technical Lead at LOOMIA. Throughout the course of her work at LOOMIA, she has developed e-textiles prototypes and workshops for companies like The North Face, Google, PVH, Flextronics, Adidas and Corning. Her work has built the foundation for several pending patents and has also won the BF+DA Technology Innovation Award.
Artist, writer, and technologist Maggie Orth is a creator of electronic textiles and interactive art. Her work includes textiles that change-color under computer control, interactive textile sensors and light artworks, as well as robotic public art. She is the founder of International Fashion Machines, Inc. and was named a 2007 USA Target Fellow in recognition of her artistic work, and holds a PhD in Media Arts and Sciences from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Orth writes, “Twenty years ago, when I began working creatively with technology, it was not without critical content. In fact, my decision to transform technology through textiles, and textiles through technology, was itself symbolic. The tech world then and now is male dominated. By using textiles, traditionally labeled female, I was able to gain authority and freedom to operate within that male technology space.”
Designer, strategist and educator Despina Papadopoulos is the founder of Principled Design, a New York-based systems design and strategy studio specializing in wearable technologies and e-textile solutions. Papadopoulos has been experimenting with wearable technologies for over two decades, her work taking her everywhere from Ghana to Afghanistan. She has lectured internationally on the relationship between design, technology and ethics, including at TEDx, Tate Modern, and Smart Fabrics and her work has been featured in publications around the world and exhibited in major museum shows, including the V&A in London, the Holon Design Museum in Holon, Israel, the Walker Art Center in Minnesota.
Despina was also a member of the 2017 BF+DA TEK-TILES program
How do we use technology to empower tomorrow’s maker culture? As the Director of the Creativity Labs at Indiana University, Kylie Peppler is certainly one to ask. An artist by training, Dr. Peppler is an Associate Professor of Learning Sciences and engages in research that focuses on the intersection of arts, computational technologies and interest-driven learning. She was on the original NSF-sponsored Scratch team during the initial design and early study of the Scratch platform. Since this time, she has specialized in studying e-textile design with the LilyPad Arduino and is also the author of many books, including Soft Circuits: Crafting e-Fashion with DIY Electronics (The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Series on Digital Media and Learning) and Makeology: Makerspaces as Learning Environments.
Hannah Perner-Wilson and Mika Satomi
Perner-Wilson and Mika Satomi have been collaborating for over a decade, and together run the artist collective Kobakant, exploring the use of textile crafts and electronics as a medium for commenting on technological aspects of today’s high-tech society. For the last year, Kobakant has run a tailor shop for electronic textiles and wearable technology in Berlin (you can see some beautiful photos of it here). While the shop is closing at the end of January 2019, we can’t wait to see what these women will be up to next.
With a background in media and computer science, researcher and artist Irene Posch’s work explores the integration of technological development into the fields of art and craft, and its social, cultural, technical and aesthetic implications. Along with Kurbak, Posch was the key researcher of the artistic research project Stitching Worlds at the University of Applied Arts Vienna, Institute for Industrial Design II headed by Fiona Raby, leading to the creation of, among other things, her embroidered computer. She is a Professor of Design & Technology/Textiles at the Institute for Art and Education at the University of Art and Industrial Design Linz.
Based in Milan, Zoe Romano is deeply steeped in the world of tech and innovation. Her work has included a stint at Arduino and speaking about wearable technology at places like MakerFaire Barcelona and Wearable Futures, and in 2014 she co-founded WeMake Makerspace and Fablab, which offers all kinds of opportunities from crafting with robots to digital fabrication.
The co-founder of CuteCircuit, Francesca Rosella has helped to lead a business that’s a pioneer in the field of fashion wearable technology, behind such designs as Katy Perry’s LED dress donned for the Met Costume Gala in 2010. More recently, the fashion brand has partnered with Chanel and earned accolades from Fast Company’s Innovation by Design Awards. “We often think of technology as something that separates people, but our garments bring people together. Technology should be more personal, about human communication,” Rosella said in an interview.
If you want a DIY project that involves technology, you want to give Becky Stern a call. Compubody sock anyone? Stern is currently a product manager at Instructables(Autodesk). Before joining Instructables, Becky worked as a senior video producer for MAKE Magazine and as director of wearable electronics at Adafruit.
A Lecturer at the School of Electronic Engineering and Computer Science at Queen Mary University of London, Becky Stewart works with e-textiles and signal processing to build interactive, body-centric wearable computing systems. She is also the co-founder of co-founder of Codasign, a creative technology education company that ran workshops teaching kids and adults how to use technology to develop creative projects, and the author of Adventures in Arduino, a book targeted for ages 11-15 teaching programming and electronics with the Arduino platform.
Former design researcher Linda Worbin is well known for her work with smart textiles, and in 2016 was appointed Professor in Textile Design at The Swedish School of Textiles, University of Borås. Her work has focused on dynamic textile expressions, suggesting new design methods to take us beyond static designs. Her work has brought her to the New Business and Innovation department at IKEA, where she is the Material and Innovation Developer.
Yuchen Zhang is a creative technologist who works at the intersection of fashion, design, and technology. After working professionally for several leading branding firms in New York, she left to earn her masters in Design & Technology at the Parsons School of Design. Since graduating in 2014 she has shown her technologically-enhanced fashion pieces at events around the world. She was formerly a Technology Fellow at the BF+DA exploring interaction design and fabrication in interactive textiles where she created Project Reefstone, a data-generative garment that visualizes the dramatic change of global temperature in the last 40 years.
Are you thinking about how to incorporate sustainability and technology into your designs? We work with designers to provide them with a general overview of sustainable manufacturing principles— with particular expertise in apparel. Based on your needs, we can advise on both specific sourcing requirements or basic understanding of production for soft or hard goods. Book a consult with us to learn more.