Interview by Marija Butkovic @MarijaButkovic
Sahrye Cohen is the co-author of the new book, Make It, Wear It: Wearable Electronics for Makers, Crafters and Cosplayers. Level up your cosplay and costuming by combining electronics, micro controllers, laser cutting and 3D printing. Sahrye teaches workshops in cosplay and electronics at DragonCon, Maker Media, Maker Faires, Costume College, and at many other conventions and makerspaces. She is the lead designer of the San Francisco Bay Area tech couture design group, Amped Atelier. Her work has been seen on the runways of NYC, San Francisco, LA, Calgary, Shenzhen and Hong Kong.
What is the idea behind Amped Atelier and how did you come up with it?
Amped Atelier is a design studio that makes useful, functional, and beautiful garments that become an interface to connecting people to other people as well as promoting meaningful interactions between individuals and the whole of the world around them. To build community, we teach workshops for people of all ages in how to use modern fabrication technology and electronics to make personalized clothing and accessories that bring the imaginings of a science fiction future to today.
When did all start and do you have other members in your team?
Our first runway piece was completed for the 2015 MakeFashion Gala. We met two of the MakeFashion founders at the 2014 Bay Area Maker Faire and applied to be in the next year’s fashion show in Calgary. Before meeting MakeFashion I’d been using electroluminescent wire and LEDs in costumes but had not used an Arduino or done any programming for fashion design.
I’ve had a lifelong interest in costuming and have formal schooling in fashion design through the Apparel Construction certificate at City College of San Francisco. I’ve also always been good at detailed, fine-motor skills tasks so soldering and electronics construction is something I am adept at and enjoy. Hal Rodriguez is the other member of the Amped Atelier team and is responsible for much of the software programming.
How long did it take you to be where you are now?
We’ve worked steadily at developing both our Tech Couture pieces and electronics workshops for the last 6 years with increasing time and attention. At first I taught one or two classes a year to costumers about how to sew a circuit and focused on making costumes for myself using simple electronics. In the past four years we’ve produced at least one major Tech Couture piece a year, have been panelists and lecturers at Maker Faires and Conventions, and developed several workshops ranging from paper circuits to programmable sewn wearables. The majority of our weekends are spent teaching electronics and promoting our fashion tech work.
What was the biggest obstacle?
Balancing the creative desire with the necessary care and feeding needed to build and grow a business is one of my biggest challenges. Like a lot of artists and other fashion tech designers I started making wearable electronics because I’m interested in new technologies, like designing fashion, and enjoy making fantastic electronics pieces. Finding time to actually make new projects, which feels restorative, has become one of the biggest obstacles to maintaining forward momentum.
What are your biggest achievements to date?
We wrote a DIY electronics book and it was published in September 2018! Make it, Wear it: Wearable Electronics for Makers, Crafter, and Cosplayers has projects that give step-by-step instructions for using modern fabrication equipment, like 3D printers, and hobbyist electronics to create fabulous fashion tech garments and accessories. Many of the projects use techniques, like 3D printing on fabric, and LED materials, that we refined in our runway pieces. Developing the projects, writing each chapter, photographing each step, and going through the editing and layout processes, felt like running a marathon with all out sustained effort at every stage. Seeing the final published book is amazing and we hope inspiring to others.
What are the challenges of being an entrepreneur in the niche you are in? How about being a female founder / entrepreneur?
I’ve found marketing to be one of the biggest challenges in developing a business in fashion tech. The field is so multidisciplinary that it is difficult to categorize and determine who the audience is. At the moment we are focusing both on tech couture with Amped Atelier, and on education and community-building with Make It, Wear It.
Women’s work in the fashion field is devalued and using fashion as an entry point for female interest in technology is absolutely cliché. These factors impacts how fashion tech is viewed and discounted in comparison to other technology fields. Proportionally, there are a lot of women in fashion tech, which helps to normalize and promote women as founders and entrepreneurs. We should continue to challenge negative stereotypes of fashion as a lesser field and strengthen the fashion tech network by being welcoming of new women into the community.
What are your projects you are currently working on?
In addition to my fashion tech work I am a professional marine biologist specializing in wetlands and environmental regulation. I am currently working on fashion tech projects inspired by science and environmental issues like sea level rise and climate change. I am also interested in developing practical wearable electronics for personal air quality protection and networked air quality monitoring.
Is #WomenInTech movement important to you and if yes, why?
The percentages of girls and women starting and remaining in computer programming and related tech fields is decreasing. Gate-keeping, lack of engaging education, and isolation are resulting in a dismal future of female engagement in developing economies and technology. Some of the ways to strengthen female engagement in technology and science is to champion more role models and to strengthen networking and mentoring activities. The #WomeninTech movement helps to remedy some of these issues by increasing visibility of women working and succeeding in tech and developing networks.
What is the most important piece of advice you can give to all female founders and female entrepreneurs out there?
Give yourself permission to be an expert of your work. This doesn’t mean that you should not seek out other analysis and knowledge. It means that you have created, completed, or developed something and you know what that is and how it works. Have the confidence in yourself to present your work without apology or qualifiers.
What will be the key trends in the wearable tech industry in the next 5 years and where do you see it heading?
Personalization will also be a key trend in wearable tech. Both in manufacturing of on-demand fashion that is personally tailored to the individual and in devices that monitor an individual. We’ve already seen a lot of wearable tech that is geared towards fitness and health. I think we will continue to see that as a major application of these technologies and greater expansion into medical devices and monitoring.
We will likely also see a refining of what people want as interfaces for their wearable electronics, both in terms of what they want the interfaces to look and feel like, and also what they want those interfaces to do. There has not yet been a very successful textile based wearable tech interface and the potential applications of textile properties for wearable tech and interesting and something I’d like to see developed.
Who are your 3 inspirational women in wearable tech?
Iris van Herpen’s continual use of new fabrication techniques and innovation in haute couture is an aspiration.
Syuzi Pakhchyan’s Fashioning Technology book is the first that introduced me to bringing technology and crafts together.
Angela Dale, Erina Kashihara, Phi Illuminated Designs (including Sophie Amin, and Kenzie Housego) are all designers that have been part of MakeFashion and produces some amazing and innovative designs. Angela’s 2014 Medusa Fabulosa, Phi Design’s 2016 Gamer Girls and 2017 True North, and Erina’s 2017 Double Vision are all fantastic pieces of tech couture.
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We are giving away one copy of Sahrye’s DIY electronics book ‘Make it, Wear it: Wearable Electronics for Makers, Crafter, and Cosplayers’ that gives step-by-step instructions for using modern fabrication equipment, like 3D printers, and hobbyist electronics to create fabulous fashion tech garments and accessories.
To take part in this giveaway, all you have to do is tell us via any of our social media channels or email firstname.lastname@example.org how would you use the book and what would you design using its step-by-step guide! Deadline for this giveaway is 30 April!
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.