Fashion has changed a lot in the past years. But what are the next quantum leaps in textile design? In the future, our clothes will be able to change their colour and their shape in response to movement. Let’s meet with Joanna Berzowska and learn about how smart our clothes will be.
Joanna Berzowska is 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 that can enable computationally-mediated interactions with the environment and the individual. She lectures internationally about the field of electronic textiles and related social, cultural, aesthetic, and political issues. She is the Head of electronic textiles at OMsignal, a Montreal startup developing a line of bio-sensing clothes, which connect seamlessly to iPhones and offer a variety of engaging biofeedback to help improve personal wellbeing. She is Associate Professor of Design and Computation Arts at Concordia University.
Could you tell us a bit about your background and how you started developing an interest in “smart fabrics”?
I started working in the area of tangible media (or physical interaction) 20 years ago, when I was a graduate student at the MIT Media Lab. Tangible media was the field where we looked at physical devices other than the mouse and the keyboard to develop new physical interfaces to digital information. Basically, we were putting sensors in various physical objects like tables, chairs, coffee cups etc... At the same time, there was a group of students at the MIT Media Lab who called themselves the “Cyborgs”. They were working on wearable computing. Many of them are now working on projects such as Google Glass and other cutting edge wearables. But I was questioning why does wearable computing have to be like a cyborg? What can’t we have wearable computing that’s invisible and that goes directly into the things we already wear: our clothes? Because of this, I became fascinated with electronic textiles and ways to put sensors and other electronics directly into textiles and directly into our garments.
Could you tell us what are exactly “smart fabrics”? And a bit more about all their benefits?
There are many different kinds of smarts clothes. The ones that are most common on the market right now are the biometric shirts and bras that help you monitor your heart signal, your breathing, and other biometrics. Usually these products are geared towards the fitness or the wellness market. They measure your physical performance and you can track your results on a mobile app or on a website to help you improve aspects of your athletic performance, your wellbeing, or even your schedule. What I am really excited by our all of the new textiles that I have been developing: textiles that can change color, that can change shape, that can create new forms of fashion.
Why do you think “smart fabrics” are relevant for both consumers and the industry?
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, one we are excited and to reach new levels of self-awareness and understanding. Once the new interactive textiles that I’m developing become consumer products, I think there is going to be a real fashion revolution. We will move beyond the gadgets that we see today to have beautiful clothes that allow us to understand ourselves better, but that can also have subtle and poetic changes in their appearance.
What role does Montreal play in the advancement of this research?
Montreal is a perfect place to develop the next generation of fashion. We have fantastic designers, we have really great research in wearables and interactive art, but the most important we have is a tradition of performance (“le spectacle”) which allows us to create really innovative interaction design.
Tell us about your recent discoveries and your OMsignal company?
In my research lab at the University, I develop the future of fibers that can replace traditional electronic components of the past. At the same time I work with students to teach them how to design with interactive textiles. At the same time, I am the Head of Electronic Textiles at OMsignal. We have developed revolutionary biometric garments such as the Ralph Lauren Polo Tech smart shirt and the OMbra. Our focus was to create a beautiful sports bra to enhance a woman’s body, respond to the unique strains of running, and accurately detect the body’s core signals. We have developed our own specially engineered fabrics and advanced sensory technology.
What advances would you like to further tomorrow?
I would love to see a future world where people have less stress and less anxiety. I want my children to have more fun with exercise, to feel more comfortable with their bodies, to be less scared and less angry, and lead a generally healthier and more beautiful life. By integrating biosensors in our clothes, we can reconnect with our body and improve our overall well-being.