Key Takeaways from ReFream’s Webinar ‘Electronic Textiles & Fashion’

Ricardo O' Nascimento who is part of the steering board of the ELIIT program shares his observations from the webinar organized by ReFream and Wear it Berlin around the topic "Electronic Textiles & Fashion."

According to the organizers, the event aimed to promote the discussion about soft electronics, textile sensor technology, co-creation processes, Femtech, empowerment, sex tech, and rehabilitation. They indeed provided an exciting line up with a Keynote from Christian Dils, followed by a discussion among the creators selected for the ReFream project. Univ.Prof.Dr. Christiane Luible-Bär, co-head of the department Fashion & Technology in Linz, moderated the discussion.

Christian introduced some of the innovations developed at Texlab inside the Fraunhofer Institute for Reliability and Mcicrointegration in Berlin, Germany. They develop conformable electronics through a stretchable circuit Board Technology (SCB) used as flexible sensors and connections for various applications in health care and fashion. Another product is the Textile circuit Board (TexPCB) made of metalized polymers fabric. Before you wonder, I must say that it is washable.

Maybe the most exciting technology that Christian presented was the Textile suitable Interconnection Technology or Adhesive Bonding. The technology provides mechanical and electrical interconnection of electronics modules into textiles circuits using low temperatures. Diels observed that the health care area is the one that is using these innovations the most.

Coincidence or not, all three awarded projects are about Health Care. ‘Constructing Connectivity’ is a person-centred stroke rehabilitation method. Created by Jessica Smarsch, it aims, according to her, to disrupt the standards of healthcare with design sensitivity. It proposes the use of garments equipped with sensing and actuation technology to promote an alternative for rehabilitation.

‘Alma,’ from Giulia Tomasello, is a non-invasive wearable biosensor for the detection of vaginal infections. The technical approach does not eclipse the importance of the social and cultural discussion that this project brings while dealing, through an inclusive process, with topics that are considered taboo like female care. ‘LOVEWEAR’ by Witsense is smart underwear that helps people of all abilities to self-explore and enhances their intimacy and sexuality. They explain that ” LOVEWEAR wants to empower the wearer through a tactile experience achieved by inflatable inserts, activated within the underwear linen, through the interaction with a connected pillow.”

During the discussion, the moderator brought questions about the collaboration and how different experts came together to work on a particular issue. Ivan Parati, from Witsense, pointed out the lack of a common language between the designers and engineers. The deficiency in shared vocabulary is indeed a recurrent theme in fields that need to accommodate different disciplines. Coming from a wearable tech background, I hear this point quite often during meetings and conferences. There is a need for a taxonomy that clarifies terms and categories of the field. Ivan, however, feels that this practical problem can be overcome if one focuses on the goal, which should be the same for everyone involved in the project.

The creative process was also a topic of discussion. The actual social restrictions had an impact on the projects. With the limited access to laboratories, the project LOVEWEARE is making use of digital technology to simulate the material behaviour of one of their interfaces and continue their exploration. Tomasello proposed a participative approach that guarantees a voice for the user through processes of co-creation like workshops and online surveys.

Another point that is worth mentioning is that all the projects did receive another grant or award before ReFream. It shows the importance of public funding in innovation and presents this approach as an alternative for Venture funding.

There is a preoccupation with the emotional and psychological implications that could arise with the use of the tools. The innovations solve a practical problem and have the potential to impact culture and society and various aspects. Health Care has a definite impact on people’s lives, not only on the life of the patient but the lives of everyone that is around this person.

I look forward to finding out how those strategies and approaches will translate into services and products.

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Ricardo O'Nascimento

Ricardo O'Nascimento is the founder of POPKALAB - a design/research studio focused on innovation in the field of wearable technology. He is an artist and researcher in the field of new media and interactive art. He investigates body-environment relations focused on interface development for worn devices, interactive installations, and hybrid environments.