After Intel's dalliance with the maker community fizzled out in 2017, you'd be forgiven for thinking that the fate of the DIY tech scene was sealed. In fact, the movement is actually gaining momentum, empowering more and more amateur innovators of all ages. One of the leaders of the pack in DIY tech kits is StitchKit, an ecosystem that is designed to make it easy for anyone to get into and explore wearables and fashion tech.
Inspired by designers and engineers, StitchKit was the joint idea of Maria Elena Hoover, Shannon Hoover and Chelsea Klukas, the founders of MakeFashion, which launched in June 2012. Exploring the potential of merging fashion with cutting-edge electronics, StitchKit, intended for wearables and garments, is a nice progression into fashion tech for both novice or expert designers, students and artists. It's available to pre-order now on Indiegogo from $40 for the Starter Kit, with a $110 Level Up kit and $160 Creator option.
"Ultimately we aim to lower the barriers of entry into wearables and fashion tech, and we've done that in different stages, from no programming required, to simplified programming, all the way up to the crazy sensors and whatever you can imagine after that," explained Maria who now serves as chief production officer at MakeFashion.
Lowering fashion tech's barriers of entry
The StitchKit consists of a specially designed Arduino board built for fashion tech and wearables, a simplified USB controller with pre-programmed light patterns and different types of sensors (e.g. sound, movement) built upon the Grove Sensor system from SeeedStudios.
"We've created the world's first sewable LED strip called LitStitch to go along with StitchKit, in addition to supporting all types of LED strips," said Maria. "We've also created a number of open source designs for diffusers, which we use to sew onto LEDs, diffuse lights, and attach fibre optics onto LEDs, among other things!"
Besides StitchKit, MakeFashion has also created StitchKit Junior which requires absolutely no programming whatsoever. Explicitly designed for rapid prototyping and the creation of wearables and fashion tech pieces, StitchKit Junior is as simple as plugging in your LED strip to a simplified USB controller, and that into a USB power bank.
Although the fashion tech startup, located in Calgary, Canada, has been making a significant impact on the merger of fashion with technology, they have faced some challenges. "Building StitchKit wasn't an easy task. It is our first real attempt at manufacturing a product overseas, and that itself came with a lot of risk and challenges," said Maria.
"It has required over a year of research to make sure the StitchKit board itself worked just right," she continued, "and that involved everything from the power requirements, figuring out just how many LEDs it could power, to how well the components held when it was put onto clothing. We also work with a very diverse and international community of designers, engineers and everyone else in between, and building out a product that worked not just for ourselves, but everyone else was challenging".
The maker movement
From collaboration to experimentation and diversity by inclusion, MakeFashion's StitchKit is definitely a strong contender in the world of DIY tech. They have so far managed to capture the essence of the maker community and culture not only in Calgary, but also in New York, Rome, and Shenzhen.
(L-R: Affinity by White Wolf Creations; MakeFashion show; Vintage Volume by Electric Vibe. Main image: Angel Aubichon for MakeFashion show)
"To us, the maker movement means we can be diverse, we can innovate and not just build wearables, but build tools that allow for others to express creativity in ways we can't imagine," she said. "The known unknowns are a wonderful thing in the maker movement, and we want to push that forward!" She also revealed that they are currently building upon the open source community and using Arduino as the programming platform.
Kits like this can offer invaluable and transformative ways to engage in STEM/STEAM learning: "In every single StitchKit workshop we have done to date, we can effectively say we have changed lives for the better. We want to continue to develop tools and continue bringing innovation into an area that we firmly believe could use it ‚Äď fashion."
So if you are looking to unlock your creativity and understand the exciting world of wearables, then StitchKit's hands-on approach to technology could be right up your street.