A jacket wired with sensors that can massage the wearer’s shoulders on a busy day. A contraption to be worn during a handshake that would forge a more meaningful connection. Dresses made with sweat-proof, waterproof, stain resistant fabric.
The stuff of science fiction fashion is on display at the 2016 Parsons Festival in New York this month at an installation called “Impact.” The New School’s Parsons School of Design is teaching the up-and-coming class of fashion designers to think tech-first, and companies like Intel and MasterCard are paying attention.
The display in Manhattan’s South Seaport showcases the work of Parsons students from four departments (Fashion Design, Data Visualization, Industrial Design and Design and Technology), all demonstrating how fashion and technology can work together to push both industries forward.
“Technology has always been part of fashion’s DNA,” said Parsons Dean of Fashion Burak Cakmak. “The questions we want to answer are: ‘How do we redefine that partnership going forward, and what types of technology can we use, when it touches everything from production, to logistics, to marketing and communication?’”
By thinking about fashion from a tech standpoint, Parsons’ group of young designers are a valuable set for companies looking for ways to push the envelope on what the industry can do, similar to the way that big retailers look to startups to help roll out new products.
Intel sponsored a Fashion and Technology class at Parsons this past semester to work with students to design garments powered by the company’s inch-long wearable module, called Curie. Intel debuted the chip in 2015, and the same year it made appearances within items shown in designer Chromat’s New York Fashion Week shows. At Parsons, Intel challenged students to use Curie to change the form of clothing, or provide a new functionality.
“We want to inspire the next generation of designers, so we go to universities like Parsons,” said Sandra Lopez, Intel’s vp of the Intel’s new devices unit. “We brought our engineers and expertise to The New School to highlight our technology and what’s possible.”
As such, Intel is working with designers both new (Parsons students) and established (Chromat and luxury wholesale retailer Opening Ceremony) to get footing in the fashion industry. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it’s the millennial designers who most readily accept new ideas and technologies.
“These designers aren’t afraid of technology,” said Lopez. “There are some fashion brands out there that [took a while to realize] that in order to be relevant, you have to embrace things like social media. All designers should embrace technology. I hate the word disrupt, but it can really grow your business.”
The designers working with Intel’s Curie chip came up with different use cases for the wearable tech. One group outfitted a garment with sensors that learn and adapt to the user’s psychological and behavioral patterns; when the wearer is feeling stressed, the fabrics in the clothing bring soothing vibrations to key pressure points. Another created clothing that could change shape depending on the time of day, making it possible to go from day to night without switching outfits. The last group embedded bomber jackets with tiny square data screens. A personality test determined the type of data the screen would show: the practical person, for instance, would get weather updates.
“These students are free thinkers. They’ve adopted technology in a way that comes with the territory of their generation,” said Randy Rubin, CEO of Nanotex, a company that makes moisture-resistant and temperature-controlled fabrics. “We work with schools because that’s where the next designers are, and older companies don’t catch on as easily. These are the people who are going to change design and the future of technology.”
Also on display during the Parsons Festival, which runs through June 10, is a joint project with MasterCard. A group of students came up with a way to embed MasterCard readers into the bottom of shoes as a wearable payment system. When the user goes to checkout, they step on a sensor at the foot of the cash register, and their payment is processed.
“We look at technology as it impacts society,” said Cakmak. “Then, we consider how to define and grow the future of fashion with that technology. It’s the tools of the future.”