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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Originally posted on Techstyler.Fashion