Technology in fashion at Maker Faire Ottawa

The term “wearable technology” usually conjures up images of devices such as the Fitbit or Apple Watch, but organizers of this weekend’s Maker Faire Ottawa say the concept is about to go to a whole new level.

The seventh edition of the annual event devoted to the burgeoning do-it-yourself maker movement will still have a heavy focus on traditional elements of makerspaces such as 3D printers and robotics.

But this year’s gathering at the Aberdeen Pavilion will have a bit of an unusual theme: Fashion.

“Increasingly, fashion designers have been looking into the tools and technologies associated with the maker movement to see how their designs could take a different turn,” says Remco Volmer, one of the event’s chief organizers. 

“There’s definitely a trend right now to look at the integration of electronics and digital (technology) into fashion. This goes beyond, let’s say, wearables as we talk about them currently, like a wristband or a necklace. This is circuitry integrated into fabrics or new materials that would pick up on biometrics.”

Scientists, fashion designers and psychologists are now teaming up to create “emotionally intelligent” clothing, he says – for example, shirts that change colours depending on a person’s mood. Clothing could soon become “a second layer of communication,” Mr. Volmer predicts.

One of Maker Faire’s special guests is Amsterdam-based Anouk Wipprecht, a “high-tech fashion designer and innovator” who has worked in conjunction with companies such as Google and Microsoft.

Her outfits often incorporate body sensors that monitor metrics such as heart rate to keep tabs on a wearer’s stress levels. Some of Ms. Wipprecht’s past creations include a dress that became more transparent as the model’s heart rate increased.

The Maker Faire commissioned Ms. Wipprecht to design a “DrinkBotDress” – a cocktail dress that literally serves cocktails on mechanical platforms. The cutting-edge clothing will make its debut at the inaugural Mayor’s Gala for the Arts on Saturday night at the Horticulture Building next door to the Aberdeen Pavilion. 

Organizers also partnered with the U.S. Embassy to bring in 10 emerging American artists who specialize in creating works from 3D printers. Other exhibitors will include RobotGrrl, a Canadian inventor whose projects include a 3D-printed robot that collects garbage at beaches and parks.

Mr. Volmer says he expects about 110 exhibitors at this year’s event, about half of them new participants. About 10,000 people attended last year’s Maker Faire, and he is hoping for a similar turnout this time around.

“It looks like the maker community in Ottawa is going strong,” he says.

He is also hoping the movement gets a boost from the new Innovation Centre at Bayview Yards, which is slated to open in late November and is expected to include a significant amount of makerspace.

Mr. Volmer, the managing director of Artengine, a non-profit facility dedicated to fostering the connection between art and technology, says the more access individuals and small groups have to technology such as 3D printers, the better it will be for everyone.

“If those links to the community can be made, that is a very exciting opportunity,” he says.

Maker Faire runs Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tickets are available online and at the door at a cost of $10 for adults and $5 for students, seniors and youths aged 13-19. Children 12 and under get in free. For more information, go to makerfaireottawa.com.