Inside the freshly painted walls of Ryerson’s new student centre, tables are littered with empty coffee cups. Parts of mannequins are scattered about, along with yards of fabric and spools of filament. Everywhere you look, there are circuits, wire cutters, 3D printers, and laptops. It’s the third day of a wearable tech hackathon, and for the more than 50 participants, things are getting down to the wire.
Hack ‘N’ Talk, now in its second year, is a weekend-long hackathon put on by Ryerson’s Fashion Zone. The mission of the event is to empower the future of wearable technology and fashion innovation by providing students, entrepreneurs, and anyone else interested in making wearable tech the resources to create and connect.
For three nights and two days, eighty participants, volunteers, mentors, and advisors mixed, mingled, and created together. “We invited people from very different industries and perspectives,” said Olga Okhrimenko, Managing Director of the Fashion Zone.
“The Fashion Zone emerged out of the idea that there’s a need for people to go outside of their industries to collaborate, so this weekend we’ve seen people with not only a fashion design background, but also engineering experience, as well as business and industrial design expertise,” Okhrimenko told me.
Zone learning, part of Ryerson’s educational mandate, is a way of enriching student experience beyond the classroom and promoting cross-pollination throughout the university. “Some people are skilled technically but need a team to execute,” explained Okhrimenko. “Others have a vision but need help from programmers and engineers, and the Fashion Zone provides a space for connection and collaboration.”
This year’s hackathon focused on developing wearables for well-being, a theme that came out of a need for innovation in wearables beyond gadgetry. “Up until this point, we’ve seen a lot of flash when it comes to wearable technology,” said Robert Ott, Chair of the School of Fashion at Ryerson. “We haven’t seen many garments people would actually wear in everyday life.”
Ott points to the Apple Watch as the acid test for the next wave of wearable computing. “The Apple Watch was a watershed event, and should change how makers, marketers, and consumers think about wearable technology beyond gadgets. Apple understands that tech should be beautiful and that people should want to wear it.”
Throughout the weekend, Hack ‘N’ Talk featured a series of talks from multidisciplinary industry experts as well as a panel discussion on the importance of fashion in wearable technology design. Speakers included Renn Scott (Chief Designer of Daily Goods Fashion Tech), Arving Karir (Founder of MacXmum Inc), Adriana Leraci (Founder of Get your Bot on!), and industrial designer and media expert Llyod Gray.
The Hack ‘N’ Tak cumulated in a pitching and demo session on Sunday afternoon, where participants showcased what they’d been working on all weekend. Inventions included a bow-tie that doubles as a camera, an add-on for watches or wristbands that uses near-field communicators (NFCs) to unlock doors or swap contact information, and a wearable clip that helps women track their menstrual cycles (aptly named “Flo Know”).
A number of inventions reimagined the urban experience, such as a bike helmet that lights up, signalling movement based on gesture, a pendant that relies on haptic technology to help wearers navigate cities, and a dress that illuminates based on open source data from the city of Toronto.
“I hope participants walk away with new knowledge of what it means to have a fashion-first approach to designing wearable tech,” said Ayyyna Budaeva, Marketing Manager at the Fashion Zone. Budaeva ran the event last year and now plays an advisory role.
“This year I’m looking forward to the seamless integration of fashion and technology,” said Budaeva. “The adoption period for gadgets is about six months—meaning people wear gadgets for just six months and then get bored of them. Our goal this weekend is to develop products with an aesthetic appeal as well as a long-term functionality and use value.”
To learn more about the Ryerson Fashion Zone Hack ‘N’ Talk, follow the link.
Photos courtesy Amanda Rebecca Cosco.