DIY Fashion Tech: Our Class With Birce Ozkan Will Get You Started!

Did you ever think "Wouldn't it be cool if my clothing did XY and Z?" Where "XY and Z" was some kind of technology - like a hood that plays music when you pull it up for example. If so, you're not alone. According to designer Birce Ozkan who creates clothing that responds to the environment the first reaction people have is "Wow, that's amazing!" But it's quickly followed by "How difficult is it? Is it something I can do?" Her answer is that it's alot easier to get started than most people realize!

Originally from Istanbul, Birce moved to New York to attend Parsons in their MFA program in Design and Technology which allowed her to combine her interest in technology, fashion, science and art. She recently won the best fashion technology design award at ISWC/Ubicomp Osaka Design Exhibition and has also showcased her projects at Interlaced London Fashion Tech Runway Show, Make: Wearables on the Runway at Javits Center and SXSW Austin TX 2015.

We’re super excited that she’ll be teaching Fashion Tech: Create Your Own Interactive Garment at Manufacture New York. In this 3 part class students will have the opportunity to create their own interactive pieces. It starts January 23rd and you can register for it here. And read more about Birce and the class below.

Hi Birce. So how did you get interested in interactive garments?

Well I’ve always loved fashion but my inspiration for all my projects first comes from nature. So much interactivity feels artificial or separate from nature. And as I researched and observed the natural world I started wondering What if garments had the ability to sense the environment just like living organisms?

And it was from this that you developed The Fall Dress? 

Yes. You know that when there is less light and it's getting colder trees start to lose their leaves, and I thought, Why don't our garments respond to those conditions as well? Why aren't they responsive in a similar way? So I created this dress and when there is less light and it's cooler the dress senses it and it loses it's leaves. It’s a more poetic use of wearable technologies than a watch that monitors your health and functions as a sort of art piece. But I think technology can be a starting point where we can integrate movements into our clothes and they can be responsive as well to the environment like trees are. Because we're always wearing them so why aren't they as smart as nature?

I think that’s a really intriguing notion and what I also like about your work is that aesthetically it’s also really beautiful. You’re not sacrificing the aesthetic for technology. You’ve also collaborated with another designer, Ezgi Ucar, on the “SelfHood”. Talk to me a little bit about that because it sounds great.  

We were inspired by New York where everyone is so stressed out. It’s a kind of a meditation garment that you can create your own "safe space" in the form of a hood that you can put up and that will play your music and allow you to feel relaxed - and it’s activated by simply pulling (the hood) up. The use of daily gestures to activate things was an important part of the process – we want the activation of technology to feel natural and using everyday gestures as the functionality helps with this.

Talk to me about your class you’ll be teaching at Manufacture New York. First what inspired you to teach this?

Well this spring I’ll be teaching a class at Parsons on interactive garments that will show students how to integrate tech into garments but I don’t think this should be limited to design students – there are a lot of people interested in learning about this technology! And Manufacture New York is the perfect place for this class because it attracts talented young designers so they can learn to integrate technology into their garments.

How is it structured?

It’s divided into three parts over three Saturdays. We'll start with the basics about what fashion technology is and what people are doing in this field because it's a quickly evolving and very in-demand area. So we’ll look at some really famous fashion-tech works and go over how they were actually created. What are the sensors? How were they embedded? Because often it’s not that complicated and I want to take the mystery out of the process.

We'll then move on to basic electronics - how a circuit works and also how to solder because that's an important part of making it - the craft - and there will be two different sensors:  one sound sensor and one light sensor along with LEDs that will react to the output of the sensors. So it will be a fun and simple project. The last part will be about actually making something. Participants will solder their custom circuits and construct their interactive wearable piece. 

Is there a specific end project? 
No it can be whatever you want! I don't want everyone to make the same thing. I want them to come up with designs and concepts and then I’ll help them integrate their designs into the actual electronic

I want to give them the message "you don't have to be an engineer to do fashion and tech." It's like a taste - and if you like it you can go learn more - you'll have the enthusiasm "Oh I can do that as well!"  

Class runs three consecutive Saturdays: January 23, 30 and February 6 from 2 - 5 pm each session. Register for it here.