New School News

The New School + #SXSW: Parsons Presents Wearable Tech for Social Good at TheCurrent Mansion

Yuchen Zhang, MFA Design and Technology ’16, is using fashion to raise awareness on a possible threat to human existence: asteroids. 

Her garment, Ceres, is connected to NASA’s Asteroid Neo-Ws RESTful API, which collects and catalogs real-time data sets of near-Earth asteroids surrounding Earth’s orbit. When Ceres senses an asteroid, it vibrates and lights up — a means of identifying the frequency and distance of the celestial boulders.

“The data says there’s been a dramatic increase in asteroids over the last few decades,” Zhang said. “This will tell you in real-time how fast asteroids are moving. I want to get people to think about the information that smart garments can bring to the body.”

Zhang’s garment was on display as part of Design + Function, an exhibition of wearable tech projects by students, alumni, and faculty members at The New School’s Parsons School of Design that raise awareness on social and political issues and address human health needs. It was on view at TheCurrent Mansion — an activation celebrating the intersection of design and technology — at #SXSW.

“When you think about it, the body is a canvas; you’re constantly interacting with others through your body,” Zhang said of using fashion design for social good. “Besides making you look good, we can use fashion to improve awareness on important issues.”

Zhang also featured Project Reefstone, a garment that visualizes the dramatic change of global temperature in the last 40 years.

While many of the student designers use fashion to illuminate social and environmental issues, Grace Jun, MFA Design and Technology ’16, uses it to address human needs. Her piece, Access and Closure, aids women who are recovering from breast cancer surgery by using sensors to collect data on the wearer’s range of motion — information physical therapists need to provide effective treatment. Her other piece, Moontail, is a blazer-style jacket embedded with LED lights for female bike riders “who want style and safety,” Jun said.

Other projects featured in Design + Function were Imbrace, a garment designed by Priyal Parikhto, MFA Design and Technology ’17, that helps female millennials suffering from lower back pain; KG Projects, a series of pieces by Kailu Guan, BFA Fashion Design ’15, that utilize augmented reality to create an immersive and interactive storytelling experience; and Exsolution by Nicola Romagnoli, BFA Fashion Design ’16, an organic, biodegradable 3D-printed “second skin” that can be customized to fit the needs of the wearer.

Design + Function also featured pieces from Parsons’ recent partnership with Intel. Cuttlefish, a garment designed by a cross-disciplinary team of students, transforms to allow busy young professionals to transition from casual- to formal-wear and from daytime to nighttime. Te Ipsum uses a system of data “fitting” and garment personalization via a web-based personality test, matching users to one of four jackets – The Intellectual, The Protector, The Creator, and The Visionary – based on their responses.

Jun, who is also a part-time faculty member at Parsons and director of Open Style Labs at Parsons, says that new technologies and processes are “opening up so many new opportunities” for the creation of wearables that enhance peoples’ lives.

Said Jun, “In utilizing fashion and technology for social good, the possibilities are endless.”

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