BF+DA’s TEK-TILES Project Focuses on Adaptive Clothing for Year Two

Breakout groups at the design jam

On Saturday, June 2nd, the Brooklyn Fashion + Design Accelerator’s TEK-TILES 2018 project hosted a “Design Jam” event on adaptive clothing to kick off year two of the program which runs for 10 weeks this summer. This year the program focuses on how apparel might integrate technology to support health, safety and comfort as well as the BF+DA’s long-time focus on sustainability and ethics.

The event included over 30 participants ages 9 to 78 from diverse backgrounds including actors, educators, environmentalists, retirees and retailers. The broad range of participants allowed this year’s mastermind team to better understand the issues from the perspectives of youth, aging and gender identity. According to Deb Johnson, Executive Director of the BF+DA, the goal of the TEK-TILES project is to “solve meaningful human challenges by innovating smart garments and functional fabrics.”


Design Jam participant, actor, Gideon Lazarus

The second year of the project builds on the creation of 12 smart TEK-TILES swatches that were created in Summer 2017, which were showcased in three public exhibitions and are soon to be included in the Material Connexion Innovation library. These swatches serve as building blocks that will be integrated into smart garments.

As the TEK-TILES team begins their work on adaptive clothing this summer, the swatches are prominently displayed in the BF+DA’s studio space, foreshadowing the many ways in which textiles might be transformed in the future.

According to Oxford English Dictionaries, in biology, adaptation is “The process of change by which an organism or species becomes better suited to its environment.” How might smart textiles adapt to us? And, how might we adapt to them? These are some of the questions that are central to the work of this year’s mastermind team, which includes expertise in many different areas including fashion design, textile engineering, industrial design, interaction design, and programmers. This diversity will enable the group to create cross-functional teams, which are necessary for the creation of smart textiles. In
fact, the more complex the field of design gets, the more difficult it is for any one designer to have all of the knowledge necessary to design.

Saturday’s Design Jam began with breakout groups organized around the following themes: adaptation, environment, identity, habits and women’s health and safety.

Bodystorming sessions at the design jam

Participants were encouraged to share their thoughts on the definitions of these themes as well as stories from their own lives about the kinds of challenges that they face in order to gain a better understanding of the context.

In the adaptation group, several women in their 70s shared the ways in which they feel left out of the apparel sector, unable to find clothing that fits their body, style and identity. These are women that cannot find clothes in traditional shopping malls and are more “comfort-conscious” rather than fashion-conscious. Instead, they find that clothes for their age group are typically conservative and dark in color. Cost and quality also emerged as key issues since older populations often have lower incomes but still want high quality materials and natural fibers, which are more expensive.

“While our bodies evolve as we age, clothing is not keeping up,” one participant observed. Participants mentioned a range of life experiences that have shaped their bodies such as childbirth, breast cancer, arthritis and limited mobility.

Tactile sensitivities such as getting bothered by tags and feeling constricted in clothing were also discussed based on personal experiences with and knowledge of attention deficit disorder (ADD), attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and Tourette Syndrome. As a participant-observer in the adaptation group and as a person with a disability, I shared my own experiences getting dressed with the need to accommodate and easily access an insulin pump and continuous glucose monitor that I use to manage Type 1 diabetes.


Design Jam participant, IoClothes Managing Director Ben Cooper

The breakout groups and share-outs were followed by a presentation by Lucy Jones, a fashion designer with a specific focus on “designing with” not for people with disability, referring to a recent article in The New York Times by Liz Jackson. Jones, a graduate of Parsons that worked with EILEEN FISHER, introduced her careful study of fashion design for “the seated body,” which requires new ways of measuring the body for garments based on understanding the lives of people that are sitting for prolonged hours in a day. The project, which is based on her collaboration with a woman who has multiple sclerosis, has been featured in the Museum of Art and Design (MAD).

“Can we design a world that is for everyone and what does it look like?” said Jones.

Designer Lucy Jones gives a presentation on solution-based design

In the afternoon session, the focus turned to developing and prototyping possible designs that addressed the concerns raised in the morning. In the adaptation group, the discussion about the lived experiences and challenges faced by participants led to a discussion about the possibility of thinking about “multiplicity” as a design principle in order to design garments that incorporate thoughtful approaches to a wide range of needs such as ease of use, style, and comfort.

Furthermore, “visibility” and “invisibility” were identified as additional design principles to guide the kinds of features that might allow clothing to adapt to different life stages, experiences and contexts: If the feature adds to the style of the garment, it should be visible, agreed the group.

Finally, the teams performed their concepts using bodystorming, a technique for physically performing design concepts. The identity group imagined color-changing fabrics for an “Identi-T” shirt. The environment group sought to alert people to pollutants in the air through sensors embedded in curtains. The adaptation group envisioned clothing that could more easily evolve through life changes and contexts with subtle modifications.

In considering the many possible futures of smart textiles and reflecting on my experience of the design jam, we might be reminded of the words of the Zapatistas in Mexico as quoted by Arturo Escobar in his new book Designs for the Pluriverse, we must continually strive to design “a world where many worlds fit.”

Laura Forlano is a writer, social scientist and design researcher. She is an Associate Professor of Design at the Institute of Design at Illinois Institute of Technology where she is Director of the Critical Futures Lab.

All images and audio from TEK-TILES team member Chloe Falkenheim