Click Your Heels To Start The Dishwasher – Smart Trainers vs Traditional Cordwainers

Surrounded by students crafting leather on lasts using traditional methods, Adriana Goldenberg stands alone as the only student on the BA (Hons) Cordwainers Footwear: Design and Product Innovation course grappling with textiles and tech to create smart trainers for her final year footwear collection.   “Why only one?” I wonder, in a world where knitted trainers (see ubiquitous examples below) are grabbing footwear market share as new textile technologies applied to footwear design are revolutionising the texture, fit and speed to market of this entire product category.  Isn’t textile-led trainer design the most exciting area in footwear design at the moment?  Adriana seems to think so.

Top to bottom: Nike Flyknit Air Force One, YEEZY BOOST 350, Adidas Ultra Boost, Adidas Stan Smith

Starting her concept not from a designer standpoint, but from a question about whether there might be a consumer appetite for a hybrid textile apparel/shoe product, she placed a paid Facebook Ad (for £38.61, to be exact) aimed at her demographic (25-37 year old females in the UK and the US), reaching over 400,000 people, from which she had 55 surveys completed.  Her survey was to determine her target market’s attitude towards leggings joined to trainers – a kind of unification of a two products in the hugely successful athleisure movement (sportswear as all day wear – think Lululemon and Nike Lab outside of the yoga studio and gym).  The results, despite being a small sample, pointed to a potential demand for the hybrid product.   

Adriana began exploring leggings with components attached to trainers via zips or laces, allowing them to be mixed and matched – adding customisation and personalisation to the mix.  Taking her concept one step further, she sought to offer product differentiation by making her trainers smart – adding value via programmed switches containing safety and lifestyle features.  Juggling a full time job at SAM Labs and full time study has paid off in a creative and cross-disciplinary sense, inspiring her to utilise SAM Lab switches (’50 pence size’ programmable blocks aimed at getting kids into coding) and rapid prototyping equipment at their co-working space – the Machines Room in East London, resulting in her shoe collection by SAM Labs. 

Images: SAM Labs

Focusing on combining the programmable SAM Labs blocks with her shoe designs, it’s interesting to discover that the tech drove the design process in this instance.  The first prototypes had the blocks sewn on to the textile upper, creating practical issues and a lack of design integration.  In contrast to pursuing this visible ‘stuck on’ fashion tech option, Adriana designed the prototype shoes around the tech, housing the blocks within the sole and using 3D printing in order to create cavities for them to slot into. 

Portfolio images: Adriana Goldenberg –  Bottom image: Techstyler

The SAM switches, or ‘blocks’, connect to a smart phone via Bluetooth and are easily programmable via drag and drop icons on the SAM mobile app, which essentially contain packages of java script pre-coded, so that you just drop the icons containing the code in a sequence to get the block to do what you want.  One of the coolest icons is IFTTT (which stands for “if this, then that”), which contains code that allows you to set your block up to do all sorts of things, like send you a notification when there is breaking news at NASA or get a daily meditation alert acting as both a reminder and light dimmer.  The SAM block can also be connected to the accelerometer and GPS functions in your phone to amp up the functionality.  Want to know more about setting up the SAM Lab blocks?  Here’s an overview of how Adriana did it:

Adriana has used the GPS connectivity in combination with safety information relating to geographic locations in London to programme the block to buzz and send vibrations through the sole of the trainer when the wearer is in a high crime area.  She has also programmed one of the blocks to dial emergency services when the block button is pressed.  The blocks can also be connected to other device software (a smart dishwasher) for example.  By smart I mean connected to the internet, which is increasingly common with smart homes and the growing Internet of Things network.  One of the more fun features is starting the dishwasher when the heels are clicked together three times, utilising the tilt sensor in the block.

Lookbook images:  Adriana Goldenberg

Wrapping up our chat, Adriana admits to feeling a little overwhelmed by the attention a small amount of promotion on her Instagram and Facebook page have generated.  She has had fifteen requests for her smart trainers already and has yet to complete her final major project – part of which is these Sam Labs shoe prototypes, due to be submitted next week to complete her BA degree requirements.  She is looking forward to taking stock and weighing up future opportunities.  Perhaps surprisingly, she isn't fixed on a future in footwear design due to the complexity of the design, development and manufacturing processes, however with textile techniques making this process far cleaner, quicker and more iteration friendly compared to leather techniques, the shoe game appears to be changing.  She is, however, fixed on a future working with fashion and technology and feels there are opportunities to blend fashion and tech in more meaningful ways, with a simple and seamless consumer focus rather than an all singing, all dancing tech 'geek-out' focus.  She mentions invisible tech in seamless smart materials where the tech does cool stuff to enhance the wearer's experience, without making them feel like they're wearing a gadget.  Adriana's smart trainers sure feel like a step in that direction.

Follow Techstyler on Twitter and Instagram

Our Tech Future According to Wired 2016

Continuing on from my previous article, a major theme of WIRED 2016 was humanitarianism and the refugee crisis.

Roya Mahboob is an Afghani tech entrepreneur who had her eyes opened on a trip to an internet cafe in Herat.  She talked passionately about how the internet offered her a life outside of domesticity via a tech career.  She became the first tech CEO in Afghanistan, hiring female employees (many of whom worked from home) and spoke of the challenges in firstly obtaining clients (due to a lack of confidence in the abilities of women in her country, who are largely deemed fit only for domestic life), and once she did obtain clients, a battle to be paid because her work was not valued as she is a woman.  Tension arose and she and her family received death threats from the Taliban due to her breakout career and creation of local centres to teach girls computing.  She was then forced to leave Kabul, where she had moved to from Herat.  She found an Italian/American investor (via LinkedIn) and is now based in the US and declares herself a “global digital citizen”, sharing a door to the world to women and girls in Afghanistan.  For more information about Roya’s work follow her on Twitter and see the Digital Citizen Fund.

dsc03409dsc03404Roya Mahboob

Regina Catrambone, along with her family, founded the first search and rescue boat for those fleeing danger and persecution to make the journey to southern Italy from neighbouring countries.  So devastated was she that hundreds of children and adults were being left to die on this treacherous passage that she co-founded MOAS – Migrant Offshore Aid Station.   Since 2014 MOAS has saved more than 30,000 people, the youngest being four days old.  Regina says “you cannot stop the might and the will of those looking for a chance to live.  It is impossible.  You can’t stop them.  You have to help them”.  Her speech was incredibly moving and showed how harnessing compassion and empathy can create powerful solutions and implore governments and other agencies to help solve the refugee crisis.

dsc03393Regina Catrambone

Brooklyn-based Jessica O. Matthews presented an ingenious creation – a football that stores energy from kinetic movement which then provides electricity for devices and appliances.  A game changing (I couldn’t help the pun) and simple piece of technology, it allows kids in off-grid areas to kick around a football during the day and then read books at night, continuing their studies and affording them a better chance in life.  Jessica is extending her invention to other objects such as suitcases with wheels, into which you can plug your mobile phone to charge whilst on the go.  See Uncharted Play for more information.

dsc03522Jessica O. Matthews

Psychiatrist and Aviator, Bertrand Piccard, piloted the Solar Impulse aircraft and declared that the “old world and new world are a state of mind”.  Elaborating on this, he gave a thought provoking talk that explained how a boat building company, Alinghi, created an aircraft and how the coming together of teams from diverse disciplines allowed them solve problems never before tackled.  “If you want to innovate you have to get out of the system.  What you know is a handicap”, says Bertrand.  He and his team completed an around the world journey, travelling 40,000 km without fuel, proving that the capabilities of solar power are beyond our current usage.  He provided inspiration, and a challenge, to those dismissing renewable energies and highlighted the current work of Elon Musk in bringing solar power into the transportation industry on a commercial level.

dsc03458Bertrand Piccard

Wired has come to a close, leaving an echo that says I can’t keep doing things the same way.  Knowing what I now know, and looking at how I have done things in the past, it’s time to adjust and apply new ways of thinking and creating.  The talks catalyse new trains of thought and ignite the will to try new technologies, or apply existing ones in new ways.  

Wired joins some of the biggest global moving dots with speakers from all over the world giving us a picture of where we are right now in terms of advancing new medical technologies, solving environmental issues, achieving universally acceptable levels of education, battling the refugee crisis, reaching space commercially, using AI to diagnose diseases, fighting hate, racial discrimination and sexism, and connecting people using VR to solve social issues – and it provides the inspiration to contribute to solving these problems.

I’m going to stop talking and start doing.  The effects of the above paragraph will be revealed over the coming weeks and months on these pages, my Huffington Post blog and in a soon to be launched new venture.

What will you do today?

Watch snippets and read summaries of all the speakers at Wired here

Headline image:  COLLAPSE PROJECT  Photo: Techstyler

Follow Techstyler on Twitter and Instagram