By Michelle Hua @MadeWithGlove
Trained in Fashion Design and working as a Creative Technologist, Meg specializes in the integration of electronics and textiles. She taught Smart Textiles and Fashion Technology at Willem de Kooning Academy in the Netherlands and is part of the e-textiles open source community. Since moving to the San Francisco Bay Area in 2013 she has worked with engineers at TE Connectivity on Google's Project Jacquard and is currently Principal Creative Technologist at Superflex, a recent spin-out of SRI International's robotics program developing powered clothing.
Completing a degree in fashion design in 1995, how did you end up working in the smart textiles industry?
I took the long road, but I'm not sure I would have arrived at the same point otherwise. After working for a few years in the fashion industry and traveling, I decided to join the digital revolution and become a coder. Working as an interface developer, I became frustrated at the lack of tangibility in screen interaction and started looking for ways to combine fashion and textile with the digital experience, which of course led me to smart textiles.
You’ve worked on a lot of projects over your career as noted on your website, which has been your most challenging and why?
Much of my earlier work was quite experimental and more research focused. The more recent commercial projects I've worked on (Google's Project Jacquard, Superflex Powered Clothing) have really interesting challenges around durability and manufacturing. When you're designing something that will be mass-produced and thrown in the washing machine, the stakes are much higher.
And most rewarding and why?
The same challenges of durability and manufacturing are quite often also the most rewarding! Getting to collaborate with engineers and designers who are experts in their fields is also extremely gratifying, especially when we get a good problem to chew on together.
Having worked all over Europe and now based in San Francisco is there a difference in working in these 2 continents?
For me, the difference has been my involvement in art and design led research in Europe, where the focus was much more academic and experimental and the more product-focused commercial projects I've worked on in California. But I would hesitate to categorize the two regions like that, as there is a lot of cool work going on in both places, both commercial and academic.
How are smart textiles related to wearable technology? Is there a difference?
Smart textiles and wearable tech are overlapping fields. Smart textiles can be worn on and in the body but can also be used in architecture, furnishings, automobile and industrial applications, to name a few. That's part of what I like about this field, there is a lot of opportunity for cross-pollination of ideas and materials.
How do you keep learning about smart textiles because it is constantly changing with new technologies?
Through my network, reading textile and technology-focused publications and joining e-textile work groups. I've also created a media bubble for myself that would make you think that smart textiles and wearable tech is the worlds #1 industry.
Are there any interesting projects that you are working on?
I'm currently working full-time at Superflex, which is a powered clothing company that spun out of SRI International's Robotics Department. The technology was developed for the US military as a sort of textile-based soft exoskeleton to help mitigate fatigue. Superflex is developing the technology further for the commercial market. Our apparel is aimed at people who need a little help for mobility, kind of like an electric bike helps you ride up the hill. We are pretty excited about it!
What do you think will be the key trends in the wearable tech and smart textiles in the next 5 years and where do you see it heading?
I don't like making predictions, but I can share a few of my hopes for the field. Now that the hype around wearable tech has died down a bit, I'm hoping to see some applications that are not just for the sake of technology but solving real problems. I hope to see engineering culture and the textile/apparel industry collaborate even more closely. And I hope to see breakthroughs in battery technology that will enable some truly great products.
Is the #WomenInTech initiative important to you and if yes, why?
Yes, #WomenInTech is an important initiative, but it's a piece of a larger puzzle. If technology, idealistically speaking, is humanity's way of improving and extending ourselves, everyone has to be invited.
Have you experienced challenges in the industry and if so, how did you overcome those challenges?
From my early days of coding, to my current work in technology, I feel that the opportunities I've been offered far out-weigh the challenges. I know this won't be true for everyone, so I do feel very fortunate.
What is the most important piece of advice you can give to women in the wearable tech/smart textiles industry
Be curious, ask as many questions as you can.
Who are your 3 inspirational women in wearable tech and smart textiles?
You left the most difficult question for last, there are so many inspiring women in wearable tech! The three who have inspired me the most directly are:
Syuzi Pakhchyan for her tireless championing of the field. Syuzi's Fashioning Tech blog was one of the earliest places online to stay up-to-date with wearable tech and Syuzi has a staggering wealth of knowledge of the field.
Hannah Perner-Wilson and Mika Satomi for their generosity and enthusiasm empowering open-source, DIY, democratic craft and design with their online catalog of materials and techniques.