We are excited to launch our latest product - the Earth Dress, a high-tech ready-to-wear piece that can display images and animations based on the wearer's preferences.
This design underwent the longest development process and the most iterations among our products. The concept was first conceived in 2016 as a programmable color-changing dress. The print on the fabric was one of Designer KtY's astronomy-inspired paintings "the Chaotic Earth in a Peaceful Universe". To reflect the dynamic changes on the planet, a LED strip was embedded inside the dress, programmed and controlled through an Arduino UNO board.
To us, a piece of clothing is considered as a piece of hardware - it can upgrade. The 2.0 version reduced the form factor of the electronics by replacing Arduino UNO and LED strip with the small Microduino microcontrollers and solder-less individual LEDs. It provided more flexibility for prototyping.
To showcase it in San Francisco Fashion Week, we collaborated with BrainCo. We used their brain-signal-sensing headset, Focus 1, to control the colors and patterns. The headset has three external electrodes for brain-signal sensing and senses the intensity of thoughts, which was used to trigger the LEDs in the dress.
The LEDs were hand-sewn onto the dress one by one and connected to the headset through WIFI. They were programmed to map out a sequence of colors based on the wearer's concentration. Designer KtY demonstrated this 3.0 version at the fashion show and stated that "technology is the future of fashion".
Due to much interest in the press, we started exploring the possibility to scale the design into a product. That's also around the time when we discovered the problems and disconnects in the fashion and technology manufacturing processes and supply chains. (See our earlier blogs for more history.) On the fashion side, as the dress design itself is very unusual, it was not a trivial piece to make. Fashion manufacturing is dominated by mass production of standard clothing with ordinary pattern designs. This dress had a hard time finding the right manufacturer that could take on some unique challenges in the construction processes. From 2017 to 2020, we developed with three different manufacturers, making countless iterations, numbers of samples and shipping across several continents. Looking back, the space view of the Earth seems to be especially appropriate, reflecting such global effort.
In parallel, the development of the technology that goes into the dress was no small task either. Although the off-the-shelf open-source components were available, making prototyping of such elaborate design possible, there wasn't a suitable solution for making scalable products. To make programmable customized flexible PCB was still new. We first made a few custom LED flexible PCBs with Microduino for version 4.0. But there were still issues with durability. The solution wasn't quite repeatable. Meanwhile, the emerging industry of flexible electronics is still developing. There are now printable electronics and flexible LED panels but they still need much development before they can be used for wearable purposes. They also do not yet give the functionality we envisioned for the design. As such, we focused on our other ready-to-wear items while this design awaited to be lit up by a suitable technology.
Only recently, around the end of 2019, we discovered the programmable LED Matrix through our collaborating brand, Lumen Couture, which specializes in LED fashiontech wear. The LED panel is thin and durable, provides some flexibility and allows wearers to self-define effects on the display through a phone app. One can upload images, videos, and gifs to the dress for endless possibilities. The presets in the photos and video are hand-drawn astronomical animation by Designer KtY, uniquely designed for the garment. Now people can finally purchase this out-of-this-world Earth Dress 5.0. We have a limited quantity in stock to be shipped out in October. The pre-order sale is also on and ends on Oct 30, which will be shipped in December.
We are grateful for all our collaborators who supported us along the way, and for our friends and customers who have been sticking around for our continuous innovations.