Transformational Garments

The 21st of October 2010, the E-Textile group chose 'transformational garments' as starting point for discussion. Where the topic can be interpreted very literally, in the sense of transforming the shape of a wearable piece, the discussion evolved swiftly towards the question how transformation affects our body and mind.

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To get the literal definition of transformation (Dictionary: a thorough or dramatic change in form or appearance) out of the way, the evening started with showing examples of transforming clothes.

By reconfiguring the pattern (totally different appearance)

By applying force (subtle changes)

  • shape memory alloy (Mariëlle Leenders)
  • motors (Hussein Chalayan, workshop Melissa Coleman)

By changing color, physical state

Another angle that we took is the thought that the process of making is transformation in itself. For example, cutting a pattern out of a flat piece of textile, then sewing the pieces together creates a 3D shape. Or programmed code to create a 3D model is used to establish a physical reproduction of an object.

Melissa points out that transformation is also about telling a story. Dress differently and be treated differently (transformation & culture). Clothing has a deeper layer, giving a signal: the mini-skirt was popular in times when the anti conception pill was invented.

Clothing and the Brain

Maybe the most interesting thought of the evening is the notion that not only the clothing itself can transform, but the clothing can also transform it's wearer. More specifically, certain things you can wear will actually change your brain.

Danielle gives the example of the human compass, or feelSpace project. This compass helps you navigate even blindfolded with help from haptic feedback. The body gets accustomed to it within a few days, and when you take it off you experience a temporary loss in sense of direction. Another example is the TomTom: you get accustomed to- and become dependent on the device quite easily. If you drive with help of a navigation system instead of training your sense of direction, it will take twice the time to get to know a new city. The good thing is that we have a choice when to use it, when to rely on it.

Nicholas Carr nicely describes this process of sacrificing human capabilities in his book "What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains". Due to use of the Internet your attention span changes, you are more easily distracted. Reading a difficult book gets more difficult, since we loose the ability to focus. In other words, the speed with which we process information has changed. In a way we become dumber as human beings, replacing bodily senses and memory skills with technology inferior to our own sensory system. But it is not merely a bad thing: we just learn different things; suitable to the times we live in. Socrates expressed the same doubts about books in his time… so this shift has taken place during all our history: talk-listen (memory storage) evolved into write-read (physical storage) evolved into digital storage where everything is 'out there' on the internet, ready to be searched. Instead of learning things by heart, we now learn how to find information.

Technology is mostly presented as enhancement, as an addition to our capabilities, where as it may be thought of as re-routing our capabilities: you win some, you loose some. Wearable technology relates to this topic if you see 'wearables' as enhancements of the human body (the cyborg thematics)... Given the previous examples, clothing is not only close to our body; it is also close to our brains. This is something to be aware of, not scared.


A trend we see in wearable technology is the design of clothing that creates new awareness, bringing back the senses to re-establish physical relationships in answer to the virtual life. Wearables allow you to play with the borders: where ends 'yourself' and where starts the 'outside (virtual) world'.

Anja Hertenberger and Danielle Roberts explain E-pressed: a wearable piece that senses and visualizes inner states creating awareness in the wearer and in others.

Meg imagines what will happen if we are all wearing the T-shirt: we will start ignoring the signals, or get even more distressed. Awkward situations are not about the shirt, but about the people. You need to define the social context to make it work. This is true for many wearable technology designs.

Lara and Secil demonstrated their first prototypes of jewelry and accessories that are visualizing stress. Magnetic points on a servomotor will make an attached piece of jewelry twist your shirt, literally visualizing the tension in your muscles. A nice detail is that they use the Gestalt Theory for the expression of the accessories. The designs combine old knowledge with new sensor technology.



  • Melissa Coleman
  • Piem Wirtz
  • Anja Hertenberger
  • Meg Grant
  • Nicky Assman
  • Danielle Roberts
  • Michou Stek
  • Laura Duncker
  • Secil Ugur


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