It’s hard to escape the fact that Burning Man is happening right now. Thousands have geared up for nine days in the Nevada desert; In addition to packing survival essentials, attendees will pilgrimage with costumes they’ve sewed, soldered, and programmed all year. Most of the costumes will contain LEDs, el-wire, and fibre optics—all materials to illuminate their wearer, since being visible in the black of night is not only a matter of fashion but also function.
But beyond Burning Man and festival culture, is there place in the real world for wearable light garments?
One Berlin-based company is banking on it. ElektroCouture is a fashion technology house, and the world’s first agency to pioneer bespoke innovative electronic wearable technology for the fashion industry.
Earlier this summer, ElektroCouture announced that their wearable light garments will be available on ASOS, one of the world’s largest online fashion sites, with revenues surpassing $700M. The company also participated in Berlin Fashion Week alongside well-respected high fashion designers like Dorothee Schumacher and Brachmann. We spoke with founder and lead designer Lisa Lang to understand how ElektroCouture is moving beyond conceptual creations in the fashion tech space towards commercially viable products.
“This isn’t kindergarten, it’s business,” says Lang. “We’re taking fashion tech seriously, and so we need to deal with serious platforms.” Everything about Lang emanates colour—from her bright red hair to her multi-coloured fingernails. “I love fashion tech so much I want to make it a daily experience,” she tells me over Skype. “I want a little bit of Burning Man every day.”
Lang, who sold her early design collections on Etsy, says her collaboration with ASOS signals a budding maturity in the market, a maturity that’s moving wearables beyond gadgetry towards fashion-first garments. All of ElektroCouture’s designs incorporate some kind of light technology combined with fabrics like knit and neoprene. The Mia Jacket, for example, is a futuristic coat made of sumptuous black materials that connect with a zipper in the front. The coat is hemmed with electric blue el-wire to create an angular, glowing look.
“Light makes people happy,” says Lang. “There’s something in the human brain that really gets triggered by light in a very positive way. Light also takes away our fear of technology. If something is pretty, you’re more inclined to wear it versus if it looks robotic.”
Ready-to-wear is already one of the most difficult businesses to break into. ElektroCouture faces the added challenge of making garments that incorporate technology into their clothing in ways that are wearable.
“Across everything in fashion technology, there’s a lot of designers who have produced concepts with technology and light, but our mission at ElektroCouture is to make wearable light commercially available.” She explains how each garment must be bendable, washable, and rechargeable, a challenge that breeds innovation: “We’ve had to develop our own battery systems because the light technologies available on the marketplace today come with batteries that are heavy and cumbersome, like bricks.”
ElektroCouture is focusing on females to start with, a demographic underserved by the wearables market. “In an electronic consumer market, there’s a lot for men out there, and that’s because the boys who grew up watching Star Trek now have enough money to fund companies.”
Working at startups, Lang grew bored of the generic t-shirts she’d collect at technology conferences and hack-a-thons. She wanted to express herself as a tech enthusiast but couldn’t find anything to suit her style. “I’ve designed this collection for women in the tech business who are in senior leading positions who want to express their affection for tech without looking like a circus pony,” she says.
Lang points out that there’s a world of difference between wearable tech and fashion tech: “A lot of the wearable tech we’ve seen have been stuck in hardware because it’s an easy accessory—you don’t have to figure out how to wash a gadget. Wearable tech is an add-on to your outfit, but fashion tech is a far more interesting because it becomes a part of your outfit.”
ElektroCouture is the first wearable technology company to be carried by a major fashion company such as ASOS. To learn more about the company, visit their website here.