Billie Whitehouse, Co-Founder of Wearable Experiments, discusses how to tastefully integrate tech into what people wear.
Unlike some of the naysayers, Billie Whitehouse believes in the future of wearable technology. Through her company Wearable Experiments (We:eX), she seeks to switch the hype about wearable tech into something invisible by making it an intuitive part of clothing.
Seamlessly integrating tech into her designs requires her to pivot between functionality and fashion at a blink of an eye. By blending her creativity and tech savvy skills, she designs smart garments and accessory, where the technology is revealed only when it’s needed.
In any given working day, Whitehouse is constantly switching between considering elements of fashion and technological to understand how they work together, and what they can achieve for her future customer.
“Technology has the ability to heighten the senses and this comes down to reaching people on an emotional level,” said Whitehouse.
Whitehouse began her work as a fashion illustrator and designer before entering the world of wearable tech. Her background in fashion led her to design the tech-infused undergarments, Fundawear.
With Alert Shirt, she created an athletic jersey that mimics the adrenaline of players’ on a rugby field through data analytics and electronic pulses, making the wearer feel the physical sensations and impulses that a player feels while out on the field. The technology seamlessly transforms the athletic jersey from a piece of fan attire worn to watch the game into a personal haptic experience that connects fans to players.
Her latest work at Wearable Experiment is the Navigate jacket. It allows people to navigate the streets while using a smartphone map app, yet without glancing at their screen.
Using haptic feedback from technology hidden inside the jacket, Whitehouse creates a piece of clothing that goes beyond its remit of providing warmth to give its wearer. It connects to a smartphone app, which uses GPS data and haptic cues to activate LED lights built into the sleeves, telling its wearer how far it is until the next turn and which direct to take.
Whitehouse must consider the wide variety of movement and things people need to do – like look down at our phone to find our way – with things we want to do, like wander the streets eyes up, taking in our surroundings – and providing solutions that streamline our everyday needs.
The notion of versatile, seamless multi-functionality is central to what Whitehouse does as she designs garments that bridge both style and technology. For her, the gadgetry must make life easier rather than adding more complication.
“We always consider how we can allow technology to be more convenient rather than another distraction,” she says. “We value simplicity and convenience, so we put these two at the core of the problems we are trying to solve.”
“When designing a piece of technology it has to come down to understanding the customer. Who are they? How do they spend their day?” she explains.
When creating garments that are embedded with sensors and are “smart,” Whitehouse remains sensitive to fashion considerations such as shape, lines, proportions and feel, as well as essential aspects of electronics.
“How much voltage is required to emotionally connect with another human?” she asks.
Her job is about making technology personal and seamless. Her work is her play, and the technologies that she uses – from smartphone and laptop to a soldering iron and magnifying glass to a needle and thread – combine to facilitate both, allowing her to research and experiment with new creations.
She spends a lot of time engaging with emerging technologies, watching how they might unfold and experimenting with ways they can be integrated seamlessly in garments. For her, quality work tools are those that “cut through the noise.”
Her unlined journal is always by her side to draw an idea or write down a process.
“As soon as I write it down, it is five times more likely to stick in my mind and actually eventuate,” she said.
For her, it is about having a streamlined method of working – whether it be picking up the phone, rather than going back and forth over email, or scribbling in her journal, Whitehouse strives for a simplified approach to work.
“Decluttering” allows creativity to flow, and being able to switch between a creative idea and a business proposal is crucial.
“There is so much noise out there,” she says. “I believe doing things the simplest way is the best way.”
Whitehouse and Wearable Experiment are not creating wearable tech for wearable tech’s sake, but are searching for solutions to daily problems that people may not even have realized needed to be solved.
She wants her work to evolve into what she calls “conscious tech.”
“I look forward to working on wearable technology devices that know when you have been engaged with technology too long and encourage the user to take a break,” she said.