Interview by Marija Butkovic @MarijaButkovic
Rebeccah Pailes-Friedman is an expert in designing wearable technology, functional apparel and soft goods with smart textiles. Her experience as an industrial and fashion designer, researcher and professor at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, NY led to the development of Interwoven Design Group, an interdisciplinary design practice. Rebeccah has over 20 years of experience designing wearable products and has held positions as Design Director for Nike, Champion and Fila. She is also founding director of the Intelligent Materials Applied Research and Innovation (IMARI) Lab at Pratt. Rebeccah has won grant funding from Intel, The NYC Media Lab COMBINE, Verizon Connected Futures and NASA. Her unique vision has been realized internationally and she speaks globally on wearables and her work.
Rebeccah, how did you get into fashion tech and smart textiles industry?
I have been designing innovative technical apparel and connected products for over 20 years. In my earlier career, I held positions as Director of Design for Fila, Champion and for Nike. My experience developing proprietary performance textiles all over the world sparked a love of functional textiles and eventually to exploring and designing with smart textiles. In 2017, I wrote Smart Textiles for Designers, Inventing the Future of Fashion, a book that introduces smart textiles to people looking to incorporate them into their work. It starts with answering the question “What are Smart Textiles?” Then, gives examples of inspirational smart textile projects and identifies five different approaches to working with smart textiles from a fine art to fashion to industrial design, architecture and engineering.
What is the idea behind your business and how did you come up with it? When did you start with that business, how did you start and do you have other members in your team?
Eight years ago, I founded Interwoven Design Group to address what I saw as an unmet need. When I was working in the apparel industry I saw that the development of wearable technology was going to demand a special skill set and a multi-disciplinary
team. It wouldn’t be something that would come easily to apparel companies with their existing internal architecture and supply chain. With Interwoven, the idea is to be a brand’s secret weapon. We can operate outside of a company's existing structure to deliver products that need more R&D to deliver function, style and innovation.
At Interwoven we also have the freedom to explore new ideas for wearables. As a researcher I am interested in the question “What ELSE can your clothing do for you?” We try to approach work with a curiosity and sense of joy.
The team at interwoven has Fashion Designers, Industrial Designers and Product Engineers. We also have a large team of subject matter experts that we rely on for engineering, software development and materials science. We all working together to develop apparel and wearable innovations that pushed the idea of what clothing can do.
Which has been your most challenging project and why? How about most rewarding and why?
Challenging - I’d have to say that working with technology is almost always a challenge. So many moving parts mean that there are numerous ways the product development process can get delayed. It is key to have the right team working together toward the same goals and it is critical that the communication channels stay open and that direction is clear. This is where my many years of experience developing products all over the world really pays off.
Rewarding - definitely seeing a complex project all come together. It is unbelievably satisfying to see all the moving parts from concept creation through physical design and digital interaction design meshing into a single product that meets a true need and brings joy to the user.
How do you keep learning about smart textiles because it is constantly changing with new technologies?
I love to read and keep up with numerous blogs, articles, videos and conferences. The industry is evolving so quickly that it is imperative that I stay on top of the most current news. Following blogs and being a member of WOW is really best way to keep your pulse not only on new innovations but also to get to the heart beat of what people are interested in and are excited about.
I also read a lot of academic research papers. One part of my practice involves my faculty position as a professor at Pratt Institute and doing research. Through this association, I am constantly exposed to the research of my colleagues and of other research institutes around the world. This is another great way to keep up with the tremendous amount of textile and technology innovations in development.
What do you think will be the key trends in the wearables tech and smart textiles in the next 5 years and where do you see it heading?
There is a lot of debate currently happening about the future of wearables. My vision is that wearables will evolve beyond the screen. I’d like to see “effortless” wearables that bring value to your life without adding more task to it - like managing and interacting with an app.
What is the most important piece of advice you can give to entrepreneurs in the wearable tech/smart textiles industry?
My personal experience is that you need 3 things to be successful in the wearable tech start-up world. First you need a good idea that lots of people like; you need an incredibly strong multidisciplinary team; and finally you need funding. If any one of these three components fail then you are not in business.
Who are your 3 inspirational businesses or individuals in wearable tech and smart textiles industries?
I have been developing a love for sustainable bio generated fibers. This area is very different than anything I have worked in so that probably peaks my curiosity. So for this I am inspired by AlgiKnit and Modern Meadow.
For innovation in e-textiles, I am inspired by the work of both Loomia and Wearable Media. Both companies are started by very talented young women and are doing things to push the envelope when it comes to sensing and embedding electrical components into textiles and apparel.
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.