Interview with Amped Atelier

Amped Atelier has previously worked with MakeFashion, and was part of this year’s 2019  MakeFashion Line-up. Amped Atelier created an interactive performance piece Conductive Melody that works also as a wearable musical instrument. Interactions such as capacitive touch, proximity, and gesture allow the user to produce beautiful electronically produced melodies. We had the honor to interview Amped Atelier this year about their process while creating Conductive Melody and their thoughts on working with fashion and technology.

Photographed by Brandie Sunley (left) and Jeff Mcdonald (right)
Modeled by Sydney

Q: How did the concept of interactive music performance develop? 

We love fashion tech because of the possibilities for expanding the meaning of clothes beyond visual messages.  This project adds machine learning into the human experience of wearing clothes and artistic performance. Machine learning is a form of AI where a computer algorithm analyses and stores data over time and then uses this data to make decisions and predict future outcomes. The simple inputs from the garment are expanded into a full musical piece.


Q: What was the inspiration behind the garment? 

This piece was inspired by capacitive touch projects like the Makey Makey that uses everyday objects, like bananas, as a piano.  The conductive fabric and thread that are used in fashion tech make fantastic capacitive touch elements.


Q: What came first? Garment, music, gesture? 

This project began with experimenting with the machine learning program, Piano Genie.  Piano Genie maps 8 inputs to a full 88 key piano. We knew we wanted to use capacitive touch to control the inputs.  We designed the garment around that idea to give the wearer full control over the inputs. The sleeve shape is reminiscent of a harp and the conductive fabric that makes up the harp strings was designed to be functional and decorative.


Q: What was the process? What was the initial concept like and how did it develop? 

In developing this piece we experimented with several different ways to use conductive materials.  We tried using conductive thread with weaving and embroidery. Both were effective in small pieces but very time consuming to make on the scale we wanted for this project.  We combined new fabrication techniques with traditional fabric craft by using a CNC laser cutter to cut appliques out of conductive fabric to use as our 8 key inputs.<

Q: What challenges did you face, and how did you overcome it? 

Ensuring the sound quality was good was a challenge in creating this piece.  In order to get good sound we used a Raspberry Pi, which is a mini computer, instead of a simpler system, like a microcontroller that we use for most of our designs.  We needed to do a lot of research to find other projects using Raspberry Pi to make music and how those projects worked.


Q: What was the process in creating and selecting the sounds? 

Piano Genie produces synthesized sounds and uses machine learning to take the 8 piano “keys” on the sleeve and use that input to make music as if it were a full piano keyboard.  Simply running a hand across all of the conductive keys produces interesting music. With some practice a person could learn to “play” their clothes.


Q: What are some challenges the team faces while creating a wearable technology? 

Designing robust electronics that can stand up to normal wear and tear is a major challenge in creating wearable technology.  Since we started making fashion tech about 5 years ago we’ve seen major improvements in the size of wearable components and in the flexibility of materials.  But it is still difficult to design a complex piece that does not need constant repair and maintenance.


Q: What aspect of the process is your favorite? Least favorite? 

Brainstorming designs and creating project ideas are Sahrye’s favorite part of the process.  Her least favorite part is ironing. Hal’s favorite part is when it all comes together and seeing the design on the MakeFashion runway.


Q: What did you prioritize while creating the garment? 

It is important to us that the electronics are fully integrated into the look of the garment and that each piece looks good both with and without lights and electronic elements.  For Conductive Melody we wanted the capacitive touch interface to be beautiful and spent a lot of time designing the art nouveau inspired copper fabric keys.

Photographed by Eluvier Acosta (right)

Q: What was your intent in creating an interactive garment?What kind of experience did you want to produce between the audience or wearer and the garment? 

We always want the person wearing the garment, or the audience that is viewing it, to feel as if they have some part in controlling the experience.  For Conductive Melody, and our previous MakeFashion piece, Acceleration, the electronic elements are all controlled by the model wearing the piece. The electronic outputs in light and sound are all part of what the model wants to perform and what experience they want to share with the audience.  Our first two MakeFashion pieces, Reflections and Mimic, had elements that could be controlled by another person through bluetooth or an external color sensor. Those projects brought the audience into the piece by allowing them input into what they are seeing and experiencing.


Q: What are your thoughts on the future of interactive wear in the fashion industry? 

The allure of fashion tech is in personalization.  When people see our designs on the runway they want to have pieces that represent their vision and design.  A challenge for the industry is in making mass-produced designs that also have the capacity for personalization.


Q: How did come across the collaboration of LED tech and fashion? / What made you drawn into the fusion of tech and art? 

We met Shannon Hoover and Maria Elena at the Bay Area Maker Faire.  We had already started adding LEDs and electroluminescent wire to clothes and costumes but had not made any truly interactive fashion pieces.  MakeFashion introduced us to a community of designers who were welcoming and innovative and that allowed us to develop new ideas in a supportive environment.


Q: What advice do you have for incoming designers? 

Spend a decent amount of time planning your designs and testing the various elements before beginning a new piece.  You don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Look for tutorials or other designs that use elements that you want in your fashion piece.  Our first piece, Reflections, has a bluetooth controlled matrix that scrolls custom text. We used an Adafruit tutorial for a hat to learn how to make a similar electronic project and then expanded it for use in our fashion piece.

2019 Wearable Tech and Maker Gift Guide

It’s the season of giving: which can also mean the season of stress over finding the perfect gift for everyone on your list. Our 2019 gift guide offers ideas for the tech-savvy makers and fashiontech fans on your wishlists. Wearable tech gifts for everyone! As a bonus, these gifts support independent creators within the MakeFashion community.

MakeFashion 2019 Wrap-Up

MakeFashion Edu

Written by Nick Shriner

May 27, Shenzhen, China, MakeFashion Edu, a creation founded between fashion tech nonprofit MakeFashion and maker education community center SteamHead, hosted its first tech fashion walk in Design Society’s Sea World Arts & Culture Center. 20 teams of young designers from local and international backgrounds made fashion tech pieces that were shown in the event.

Fashion tech is the combination of fashion and applicable technologies, ranging from adding LED lighting to innovative prosthetics.

Each piece was built from its own story; as MakeFashion founder Shannon Hoover explains, “fashion provides an opportunity for people to be seen as they want to be seen.”

SteamHead co-founder and MakeFashion Edu’s managing director Carrie Leung puts emphasis on the community building focus of the event, saying, “this [event] is a maturing step for the community on the whole; what truly has made this all special and worthwhile has been all that has happened in the buildup to it.” This ties in directly with her definition of what it means to be a maker – someone curious; a problem solver; willing to collaborate and not afraid to try.

In the buildup to the event, SteamHead offered and organized resources and people, collaborating with Shenzhen’s MG Space and passionate educators and industry leaders to run fashion tech workshops. These workshops were designed to provide access to tech and fashion knowledge, tools, and resources for all participating teams, as well as being open to any interested members of the community free of cost.

Shenzhen based designers from all ages and backgrounds made up the 20 different teams. Young designers included Bai Shuyu, 7, from team ElecFreaks; and Gracjana Siewert, 17, from Poland. Prior to MakeFashion Edu’s call for designers, very few of the participants had an opportunity to work with the tech that they would eventually incorporate into their final pieces. For this reason, “workshops were key”, says Leung.

Workshops were often targeted at mentors, who were able to trek the long distances to reach wherever that week’s workshop was to be hosted. Mentors would then pass on what they had learned about electrical circuits, programming, and fashion tech design techniques to their teams. Soldering stations, bundles of wires and LEDs, and microprocessors like the micro:bit and KittenBot were stowed by SteamHead’s workshop leads into backpacks with glue guns, scissors, and fabric to be taken by foot, by bike, and by bus from workshop to workshop. It was then up to the young designers to creatively apply what they learned.

For mentors and producers, the event represents potential. “It’s a spark,” says Leung.

With over seven years of experience working in fashion tech, Hoover has story after story of people who have changed their careers after seeing what is possible in the field. A constant example for him is the story of Dolphin, who found freedom of expression in fashion tech from the confines of her engineering job. His goal is to increase exposure and the inspiration that keeps him driving forward are the stories that are expressed through each piece, he said.

A broad range of inspirations drew designers to the event. Nicole Xu was looking for a new experience that might bring new perspective to her life when joining MG Space team, Silent Weaver. Silent Weaver teammate Tina Jiang finds real joy in designing and making, and hopes that an event like this might inspire other girls to design and make as well.

Mentor Barbara Grotowska of Shenwai Longgang International School, saw first-hand team Las Florecitas and Super Makers work through the often complex process of compiling their ideas together, sketching designs, then fulfilling certain roles to create their final pieces. Compelled by the designer-led aspect of the MakeFashion Edu event, she worked primarily to foster an environment where making mistakes was okay. In this way, Grotowska encouraged teams to draw upon their personal interest and pride to create something beautiful, rather than being compelled by a grade.

Aisling Yue, vice manager of MG Space, saw the event as a way to get more girls involved in making. Yue said that she often sees people coming to their maker space and vocalizing all the potential it had for their sons, overlooking their daughters that stood present. Here, Yue sees opportunities to practice core skills of self-expression and problem solving slipping by girls. She instantly saw this event as an excellent way for the world to see how and why girls can and should be participating with tech and the maker movement.

Managing director Carrie Leung said that community has been the core idea driving her efforts. Not only through the process of organizing the event; reaching out to many different schools and organizations for participation; and, funding and leading workshops through her community platform at SteamHead; but, she also stresses the importance of self-expression.

“That’s because community starts at valuing people first”, Leung said. To that end, she’s worked to make MakeFashion Edu a platform for these stories to be seen and heard.

During the first workshop held for the event over three months ago, Leung emphasized self expression. “[During] that first workshop, many people weren’t entirely certain about their projects and their ideas and what they were coming up with, and so were asking if this way okay, or if that was okay; that’s when Shannon would stop and say: ‘it’s your story; it’s about you.’”

As weeks then months progressed, designers went from tinkering to drafting; to sewing, soldering, and programing; then, to final touches and final repairs as each of their pieces made their way to the Design Society building in Sea World, Shekou.

Over three days, models went through two rehearsals, a professional photo shoot, and the agonizing stress of worrying about tripping on the runway.

Then, the sun began to set, the lights were dimmed, the venue was overflowing to the second floor balcony, and the video introducing the first piece was playing on the projector screen hanging at the start of the runway.

While the audience watched the story of the first piece’s conception and construction unfold on the projector, Shannon Hoover stood watching it only waiting for it to break to logo, when his hand would then go from the model’s shoulder to pushing them toward the runway, forward. And there, three months of hard work and dreams would be realized. Magic bled into the moment.

Walking slowly, hand in hand, designers Athena Hu and Molly Li of team Moralture, moved in steady harmony down the runway, stopping to wave and bow slightly before turning and moving on in unison. They were all at once two princesses, taking a stroll on a cool, moonlit evening. Audience members melted, stealing pictures, and broke into applause, not once, but three times as the pair of friends shared their story of the friendship that holds them together.

Cloak drawn across his face, superhero Black Wolf, worn by Ben Huang from SLIS, stepped to the start of the runway, revealing his glowing armor and silver clows with a toss of his cape. The audience erupted into applause. It was the burliest security guard, afterwards, that looked nine years old, smiling with enthusiasm next to Black Wolf as Huang’s parents helped them snap a picture.

Slow and deliberate, greeting the surrounding audience left then right like a magician, Liang Jingyuan of Yucai #4, drew us into his sphere. With a whoosh of his cloak, his magician’s ball was revealed and held to the sky. Eyes followed it back down as his hands began to motion across the surface, drawing the light out from within. As his expression became more focused and clear, the more people watching suddenly believed that here was a wizard.

Concluding the show was Gracjana Siewert, 17, who worked independently to design her piece, Carousel. As Melanie Martinez’s Carousel played, Siewert moved slowly across the runway, pulled by a gentle rotation, swaying from her unicorn mount with a drag of fingers through the air. Slowing down the incandescent moment and drawing on all of the elegance of old-time carnivals, the audience was drawn into a beautiful, tragic, nostalgic moment Siewert had composed.



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Original text by Nick Shriner

Photos from MakeFashion Edu

MakeFashion 2018: Beakerhead

MakeFashion at Seattle Mini MakerFaire

MakeFashion recently had the pleasure of showcasing at Seattle’s Mini Maker Faire on September 16th. The FashionTech show, organized by Sophy Wong and Chelsea Klukas, showcased 3 MakeFashion garments alongside local wearables from Seattle designers including Amber Lundy and Jennifer Biladau.

Zyris Software understands what fashion tech is about

Calgary is maybe not known so much for Technology or Fashion, but in spite of that MakeFashion has become a world leader in Fashion Technology, because in the end it’s the people that make the difference. Zyris first came to our show it was obvious that they immediately understood MakeFashion – and immediately had ideas for how to make a difference. It is this kind of passion and collaboration that makes magic happen.

But the part that really showed that they understood MakeFashion was the collaboration between Zyris and local designer Stephanie Krause, when they came to the show sporting a brand new fashion tech garment that they made together. In the weeks preceding the show they demonstrated creativity, collaboration and innovation. The documented the process here – watch the video (it’s pretty long) but it is the best example I can think of to demonstrate how the Zyris team goes above and beyond.

When you’re trying to change the world, it’s important that you have partners that are aligned with your vision, Zyris has been one of those for us.

Thank you.

MakeFashion 5.0 Best Dressed

MakeFashion 5.0 was an unbelievable night of community, love, and wearable tech. The dedication our teams put into creating some truly stunning pieces was inspiring. Attending the gala really reinforced that MakeFashion is a community of creatives – be it fashion, tech, make-up, or hair- who support one another. Not only do we as a team support one another, but we also get tremendous support of Calgarians who prioritizes events like ours. It was wild to think that after 8+ months worth of work the night just flew by.

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