Can the quantified self ever be hip? Sabine Seymour seems to think so. One of the leading names in fashion tech, serving as director of the Fashionable Technology Lab at the Parsons School of Design and with 20 years of research, writing and consulting under her belt, Seymour is almost ready to unleash her new venture, Supa, on an unsuspecting wearable tech world.
"If you look at people in the subway in New York, who is really counting their steps? They're usually 'mature' women and then you have guys who are like 'Yeah, I pump this.' Millennials are not thinking 'Oh my god, I have to check my heart'," she tells us over the phone.
"We want to make sure that we get Gen Z to really use it. The app is here to make you move and make you aware of your body but in a really fun and cool way. We want to make a generation move that loves to move: dance, VR, BMX, snowboarding..."
You wanna have outfits
That mission starts with a Supa app that can be used with the Apple Watch, coming in June. Its main Daily Wear feature will be to clearly show you which heart rate zone you're training in, using the smartwatch's optical HR monitor. "It's for interval training, if you do Orangetheory fitness, if you're in the gym for an hour or two," says Seymour. "If you don't elevate yourself to zone 3 or 4, you've done shit."
Then in July we'll get the shipping of the startup's first connected garment, the $120 Supa Powered sports bra. This is made smart by a $60 heart rate monitoring Supa Reactor module that you can buy separately and connects to the companion app. It joins a lineup of 'dumb' clothing - neoprene surf sweaters, onesies and tote bags - on the online store, all with the same neon graphic prints. Plus there's iOS stickers too, obvs.
Seymour made two conscious decisions since she first formed the company, named Supaspot, two and half years ago - to make the smart clothing modular rather than experimental smart textiles and to sell both connected and non-connected threads.
"[With modular] you're talking about a few bucks. You make a bra as a manufacturer, license or buy the sensors for a few bucks - boom - that's it," she says. "I've always been very interested in scaling and not so interested in these one offs in fashion tech.
"And it's about creating a lifestyle. You wanna have outfits. You buy a sports bra, you buy a t-shirt, maybe it's a few dollars more. I'm basically looking at what I want. I want it to look awesome, work easy and be able to use it anywhere I want to use it."
It's worth noting that Supa sells itself as an AI platform, rather than a fashion company, that has built its algorithms in-house and aims to work with the "Supa Powers" of lots of open API devices, sensors, sports equipment and even smart home tech. Seymour says she will be growing the engineering team quickly during the next few months, under head of R&D Sean Montgomery, as they gather feedback from the initial app.
The Supa "package" includes work for Unicef's Wearables for Good challenge on a sensor kit to minimise maternal death in Ethiopia and giving portions of the surf sweater revenue to charity. Cynically this is another millennial-friendly dimension but Seymour says the responsibility to society was always part of the larger mission.
The researcher/consultant/designer/founder feels a strong affinity with millennials partly because, she confesses, she has "zero attention span whatsoever". And during our conversation she can't seem to contain her excitement around how all sorts of biometric and environmental sensors could fit into these sorts of lifestyles, no matter her customers' actual ages. Everyone is welcome to join the "Supa Squad".
It's hard to pin down exactly what will follow the heart rate tracking bra. Seymour tells us to expect "new sensors" designed for "activities that you can't use electronics with" in the next 6 - 12 months. "We'll launch the app then we'll launch with things like heart rate variability, using motion and temperature and external influences," she says, "because humidity in your house, pollution levels, pulse count, oxygen levels in your car everything is influencing your body."
Her whole perspective is a little contagious. It's refreshing to see a new brand that starts from a point of designing clothes and accessories with bags of personality, some of which are enhanced by sensors. Rather, of course, than trying to awkwardly retrofit wearable tech products or experiments onto an existing tech or fashion point of view.
What it all boils down to though is dancing: "We first want to make people super aware of all those things that can influence them but then also, honestly, I just wanna use it at my dance party. Imagine what you can do, you dance for two or three hours, with your movements and with your heart, it's pretty awesome."
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