Interview by Marija Butkovic @MarijaButkovic
Kristi Kuusk is a designer-researcher working on the direction of crafting sustainable smart textile services. She is looking for new ways for textiles and fashion to be more sustainable through the implementation of technology. In 2016 Kristi presented her Ph.D. project (part of CRISP Smart Textile Serviecs) on craft and sustainability qualities in smart textile services at the Eindhoven University of Technology in Designing Quality in Interaction research group. The related collaborative design work has been presented in various international exhibitions, shows, and conferences. Kristi works as an Associate Professor and researcher in the Textile Futures direction at the Estonian Academy of Arts. In 2017 Kristi’s project Magic Lining was selected by the jury of VERTIGO to collaborate with ICT R&D projects with the goal of producing original artworks featuring innovative use-cases of the developed technologies.
How did you get into smart textiles and wearable tech industry?
My combined background of study and work in both Information Technology and Fashion Design fields led me naturally to develop my MA thesis in wearable tech space. After the MA work I applied for a PhD position at the Eindhoven University of Technology. There, working as a member in the multidisciplinary CRISP Smart Textile Services project, I could develop projects integrating technology with soft materials in several layers. Digital Stories on Textile combines textile and bedtime stories with Augmented Reality (QR-coded Traditions, Textales Dream Bear edition, Textales Little Red Riding Hood edition). Body Sensing and Actuating Networks connects physical electronics with textile in its creation phase (Felt Ball, Tender, Vibe-ing). Thermocraft brings colour-changing functionality right into the yarn level (Chacune, YBML, Butterfly Lace). In 2016 I concluded the PhD thesis “Crafting sustainable Smart Textile Services.”
What does your current job role entail?
Currently I combine research with entrepreneurial activities. I am a researcher and an Associate Professor in Textile Futures at the Estonian Academy of Arts. Alongside I run my design practice, where I develop an experimental smart textile brand Spellbound and collaborate with researchers/technologists in developing new smart textile projects to extract new knowledge.
What projects are you working on at the moment?
VERTIGO Magic Lining is an artistic residency where I collaborate with neuroscience and human-computer interaction (HCI) colleagues. The project focuses on the possibilities for altering people’s self-perception through the garment’s inside.
Spellbound is a brand offering magical storytelling colour-changing clothing for children. It is my attempt to “hack” the fashion system with offering alternatives for sustainable clothing mixed with innovation. Garments made from left-over materials in Estonian factories turn into color-changing stories that allow children to embody the characters acting in the framework of holistic sustainability.
How has your career progressed since your degree? Has it been an easy industry to get into or have you had many challenges?
For me, smart textiles is a very explorative field with interesting ongoing discussions and developments. I am grateful that I have the opportunity to combine practice with research; this is what brings me further.
How long did it take you to be where you are now? What was the biggest obstacle?
It has taken me 34 years to get where I am now ☺ I cherish all the experiences: being born in the Soviet Union, growing up in the independent excelling Estonia, spending school summer holidays working in a sewing factory that my parents were building up, deciding to study Informatics, working as a system analyst at an IT company while pursuing a MA in Fashion, daring to apply for a PhD position in Eindhoven…. Small steps, every day.
What are your biggest achievements to date?
Fully funded PhD on Crafting sustainable smart textile services allowed me to work on many collaborative projects and brought so many amazing people into my life.
Textales gave me the chance of seeing my smart textile research project going commercial, and rewarded our team a patent in the field.
Being selected as an artist in residence for the VERTIGO grant with my Magic Lining project.
WORTH partnership grant for Spellbound for cross border collaboration.
What does the #WomenInTech movement mean to you? What are the challenges of being a woman in wearable tech and smart textiles?
I love the opportunities technology opens up for fashion/clothing and textiles, and cherish any initiative allowing these ideas to spread wider. The network of smart textile practitioners and researchers is very open and supportive.
In your opinion, what will be the key trends in the wearable tech and smart textiles industry in the next 5 years and where do you see it heading?
Sustainability, search for meaning and value, scaling up the production.
Who are your 3 inspirational women in wearable tech and smart textiles?
I had a chance of conducting part of my MA thesis at the University of Sao Paulo under the supervision of Suzana Avelar, who was a great inspiration for me to start exploring the possibilities technology opens up for fashion and textile. One of the wearable tech pioneers connecting smart textiles to the industry – Marina Toeters inspires me continuously with her never ending energy, advice, support and smiles! Mika and Hannah from Kobakant team, too!
Twitter: Kristi Kuusk
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This interview was conducted by Marija Butkovic, Digital Marketing and PR strategist, founder and CEO of Women of Wearables and co-founder of Kisha Smart Umbrella. She regularly writes and speaks on topics of wearable tech, fashion tech, IoT, entrepreneurship and diversity. Visit marijabutkovic.co.uk or follow Marija on Twitter @MarijaButkovic @Women_Wearables @GetKisha.