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.

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Kniterate Brings Industrial Digital Knitting To A Desktop Near You

Over the past year I have been keeping up to date with the progress of East London based start-up Kniterate, led by the trio of Gerard Rubio, Triambak Saxena and Tom Catling, aiming to revolutionise knitting for garment makers in the same way that desktop 3D printing has for rapid prototyping.  I’m pleased to say their first machine is launching via a Kickstarter campaign and event at the Machine Rooms today, having come a long way since their HAX prototype at the Maker Faire Bay Area in 2016.

The Kniterate team have developed a desktop digital knitting machine in partnership with an industrial knitting machine manufacturer in China that bridges domestic knitting with industrial knitting, shrinking mainframe tech into an affordable machine for making one-off designs and for materials research, development and swatching.

Kniterate’s machine launches via a Kickstarter campaign at 4pm today and has a number of pre-launch fans spanning Maker Space owners, engineering, design and architecture schools and small scale knitted scarf and glove manufacturers.  The machines purchased during the Kickstarter campaign, if successful, will be delivered a year from now and will be supported with a simple software package allowing users to upload and refine their designs before knitting them fully shaped and ready to link together (in the case of a jumper) or ready to wear for simpler items like scarves and beanies.  The software is being developed along the lines of Photoshop and Illustrator with easy tools for designing and shaping garments.

For fellow knitters, this seven gauge machine can cope with a vast array of tuck and transfer stitch arrangements and has six feeders, allowing for multi-colour jacquard designs.  At at around $4500 it is at least five times cheaper than industrial alternatives and doesn’t require specialist technical knowledge to operate.  Kniterate will be providing servicing for their machines, though, and will be training an international team of technicians over the coming twelve months, pre-shipping of machines.

The most exciting aspect of this new product is its potential to bring industrial technology into the workshop, studios and potentially homes of designers, makers and engineers and allow new ways of experimenting with the type of machine once reserved for a the industry-connected few.  I could go on, but these pictures of shoe designer Dr. Matthew Head‘s take on the now ubiquitous (thanks to Nike Flyknit) high-tech, super slick knitted trainer made on the Kniterate machine show how access to this tech breaks down design and manufacturing barriers and allows local manufacturing in a creative and more responsible and sustainable manner.

The Kniterate team aim to create a catalogue of yarns with the best knitting parameters for these, along with a yarn sales platform akin to the Amazon marketplace.  With surplus seasonal yarn stocks an untapped potential resource there may also be an opportunity to partner with large international suppliers to inject luxurious and high tech fashion industry yarns into this maker-led movement, providing the opportunity to create products that truly rival those available in the luxury sector of the fashion industry.

Keep an eye on the blog for future experiments between BR Innovation Agency and Kniterate, but in the meantime, head over to their Kickstarter campaign and pledge to be part of the movement.

Also part of the Kniterate team are LCF Knitwear graduate Yi Ling, LCF knitwear student Jinhee Park and creator of the interactive display, Laurence Symonds.

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