Birgit Richard
The intelligence of the second skin: Electro Textiles and Cargo Fashion

Talk about the cultural implications of wear com and youth as symbolical avantgarde users of integrated technologies.
Different Forms of Integrating Wearable Computing into everyday life (Focus on how youth cultures deal with technologies, their low tech approach)

Smart fashion and intelligent textiles
Technology determines the space of human every-day life not only by its existence in public and private rooms, but is moving onto a settlement on the human body. Medial devices are developing to become smart clothing, they occupy holes and gaps in fashion.
There is to differentiate between "wearable computing or electronics (Philips/Levis)" and "smart textiles". The last-named intelligent or micro-tech textiles can again be subdivided into technical textiles (special material particularly coated, eg to resist fire) and electronic or reactive (chemical, photochemical, medical) textiles with a lot of new characteristics from being antibacterial or self-purifying up to energy-storing. The transparent photovoltaic and washable fibre developed at the University Stuttgart is a solar cell which is to wear like clothes
( It is made of plastic fibre, glass fibre and wire threefoldly coated in amorphous silicon and its purpose is to produce energy. Wearable computers/electronic devices are either attached applications or they use existing niches for the integration of technology, whereas electro-textiles do not influence the design of the clothes but as a fabric that may take every shape provides clothing with additional functions. Microtech-textiles mean a revolution to all clothing genres as they change the existing ones and at the same time create new ones.
The functions of the new clothing are (wellness/fitness, surveillance communication, locating, surveillance, admission control, warning and climatic conditioning of the body and Games and Fun, see Klaus Steilmann Institut at Avantex 2000).
Intelligent fibre technologies are already in use, since their appliance proved practicable in the fields of the special coating of workwear. Hardware for specimen "wearables" as produced in scientific labs of universities as MIT is far from being ready to go into mass production of computer clothing suitable for daily use. Therefore a closer look at other clothing sections ist more promising.
Modern clothes seemingly develop references and symbolic values: the integration of hightech materials and trends called cargo, utility and futuristic look. These kind of styles are all situated in the youth cultures. They offer a pragmatic view on future integration of technology.
The mobility of the objects begins with technical-medial extensions like a walkman, leading via communicating, transmitting and receiving devices like the pager or WAP mobile phoness, watches as Swatch the Beep and PDAs to online-clothing.
"Wearable computing" makes media becoming clothing and clothing becoming media. The body transforms into a data transmitting and receiving surface. Technical preconditions in terms of the acceptance and the mass production of wearable media pakets would be miniaturization, reduction in weight above all concerning the field of energy supply, and networking abilities on the basis of a common standard for data transfer.
The "hardwear design" of electric clothes is the only level to which fashionable variations can refer to. New materials transform the material sphere of objects into soft pads or soft screens (the firm ElekTex weaves wires into polymere fibres; the results are keyboards in jackets; besides there is an effort to develop foil screens capable of being integrated) and waters down the boundaries between hardware and software, haptically and optically.
As a prototypical example, the icd+ (Industrial Clothing Design Plus) collection - a coproduction of Levis ( and Philips ( - is the only complete product that has also been sold in a limited number. The two basic forms are the Agoon and the Courier jacket with a integrated MP3 player, a mobile phone and a headphone integrated in their hood as well as a remote control.
The original concept of "wearables" at MIT is defined due to its mere function and does not have any intended aesthetic implications. All that is "smart" (see Morse 1994, 161, for smart food), and has per se no aesthetic form. There is an approach, indeed, that utitizes the existing aesthetics of multifunctionality (from trekking) reintroducing loops for cable lead-ins. icd+ is linked to this multifunctional clothing. Conventional clothing elements like buttons will be developed to become input devices or microphones.
Even without the actual integration of high-tech elements, fashion styles in youth culture have visual expressions that imply smartness by materially including electronic "gadgets" similar to the way the mobile phone got established in all social classes. What the low-tech and high-tech variations of wearable/portable technologies have in common, is the possibility of wearing them as their basic principle.

The Cultural implications of the process of wearing and carrying, a glimpse on humans as carriers
It isn't far fetched to associate "wearables" - the portable computers and the less burdening wearing of clothes - with the matter of transportation. The shape of potential transport devices is closely linked to the different stages of human development: Baby and small child are being carried around themselves and don't even have any containers while moving around. The older the children get the more carrier bags enter into their lives. Today there are eg school bags made of synthetic material (Scout) and rucksacks (Eastpak, 4you), sport bags for transportation on shorter distances and the big rucksack for travelling. The next step is that the bags become a privat matter and the expression of independence. The bags are not controlled by the parents any longer but children pack their bags themselves.
There are different possibilities of carrying things and get the burden balanced in small portions all over the body. The bag is regarded to belong to the accessories. Originally the implications derive from the necessity of having collecting and transport containers with you while you are hunting and gathering food (Loschek 1993, 6) and from the traditional use by women who were carrying the burdens in earlier times.
As there is no culture without some sort of container, the bag attached to a garment or draped round the body is supposed to be the oldest of accessories (Loschek 1993, 254). Shepherds and hunters use the pera (greek; Hippopera is a saddlebag), a bag made from leather and that is put round one's shoulder.
Today the forms of containers for transport purposes are subtly differenciated due to the respective function. Roughly there is to distinguish between the fields of work, travelling, sport, leasure and shopping in the city. There are the so called dandy bags, the hip bags (80er) or the small rucksack (daypack), the body bags to be tied crosswise and DJ bags (the DJ's bag for the recordings), messenger, paperboy and Courier bags. Typically, the up-to-date bag formes for teenagers are put round one's shoulder and crosswise over the body. To carry the bag crosswise promises secure hold eg for the couriers by bike (supported by additional hip belts eg with Freitag bags) on one hand. On the other hand, diagonal binding hints to military conventions. Cartridge belts are tied up around the hips in a slanted position crossing each other. The diagonal arrangement that is part of the military concept allows to optimise the access to weapons and ammunition. Young people prefer wearing things diagonally not by the reason of the security of good hold but it opens up a new stilistic niche, which is to redevide the body in a new fashion. In addition, slinging things crosswise round the body includes connotations implying something infantile: a kindergarten bag is draped diagonally around the body, so that the child cannot lose it. Crosswise slinging is much more rare in the grown-up stage; here, the more vertical way of carrying things is prefered. Diagonal straps cut up a usually horizontally and vertically arranged clothing ensembles.
An important implication completing the wearing is the 'attitude' of the young people, the way of binding, the position of the bag in relation to the body and the moment of opening and closing it. Very often there is a redefinition of objects. A redefinition of other formes of carrying and transport becomes evident in the adaption of courier bags. Solid high-tech materials and signs of use give the pretence of already fulfilled functioning. In addition, messenger and DJ bags by Freitag, Ortlieb or Airbag have functionally motivated, often patented details eg adjustable clipclasps, Velcro fastener that guarantee a quick opening and security for the carried recordings, carrier pakets or the luggage. Those fastener get considerable importance as clothing elements and imply the adaption to the function as a transport container or storage space. The clothes are equiped with Velcro fasteners, hooks, drawstring waist, zips, clipclasps and karabiners to hitch up objects to it.
Youth scenes use and make up new transport containers for their activities and locomotion. Because they very seldom occupy a place permanently, the "streetcorner societies" consider the bag as an expression of mobility and flexibility due to which you can have everthing important with with your self and close to the body.

Electrified Cargo Cult
The individual elements of every-day fashion give evidence of social changes of transportation of personal objects. Originally, elements like shoulder bags and money belts especially imply mobility and - above all - safety while travelling. First clothing gets an not closer defined storage space. The so called Cargo fashion reutilizes the former decorative bags, though at inflationary use they become an ornament again.
Cargo means transport and implies safe carriage as well as easy access to movable goods. In this connection you can speak of a futuristic cargo set of wardrobe that prepares men for wearing technology. At every sort of clothing - shirts, trousers, skirts, shoes and boots - there are bags attached to in order to take up potential electronic devices. To do this, things have to shrink in size to be able to get attached to the body. An example is the development of designs for telephones, whose miniatur version moved beyond the normal standards of human scale entering into the world of nanosized quality.
It is not the miniature computer that is responsible for the integration of technology into clothing accordingly to the concept of "wearables" but the sharing out of function to a number of smaller devices. Also Levis and Philips apply this procedure on the icd+ jacket distilling the most important partial functions for mobile every-day applications like playing music and phoning, though without having defined the market destinctively: The flexecutives of new markets don't necessarily hear music and for young people the high-tech jacket is too expensive.
Non-electrified fashion calls their possibilities of technological upgrade with functional utility and futuristic wear. These terms come from the haute couture or pret a porter and are considerably inspired by the futuristic line of Prada. Here, waterproved hard-wearing high-tech materials and functional details come into function. The term "utility" implies changeability of closing eg the possibility to shorten long trousers by zips and change them into shorts. The specific usefulness of certain fastener mechanisms or materials, which eg guarantee watertightness in extreme situations become the aesthetic-formal expression of clothing. Outside the field of trekking, which many elements derive from, bags, zips, drawstring waist and Velcro become a high-tech ornament. Above all ornaments have opening and closing function. Those formal procedures become a artistic fastening practice that is connected to new sounds like the opening of a Velcro.
Futuristic and cargo look reflect the changings in the picture of the flexible human being. He is changing from the hunter and collector to become a postmodern nomade, a commuter and shopper, who is enforcing the development of universal transport containers and at the same time a differenciation of bags for every situation. An important characteristic for the changing of use of bags is the enforced mobility. Cycle couriers need bags that necessarily have to join with the body because of the particular transport conditions.
The human appears as a homeless load bearer. Loads from saddlebags of horse and bicycle are loaded onto the accelerated niche-man: The human in general and with him the man in particular turns into the selfserving pack mule again. Strictly taken, it was the woman who was the first pack mule, in early civilisations she gave men the opportunity to hunt while she was carrying the loads (for the connection of carrying and locomotion see Virilio 1978, 76ff).
Today, the human being flexible and communicating overtakes maschine supported locomotion being in a state of a raging standstill (Virilio). He only can transport modest burdens but is faster; cycle couriers eg have mobile communication devices, which use the niches of automobile traffic. The cycle courier is the archetype of the techo-nomade who moves simultanously in virtual and material places that cross each other. To be more precisely: He is switching from the electronical to the urban sphere and travelling through the necessary data streams with his body. Also the youth culture takes over the picture of a flexibly communicating urban nomade who is characterized by the lack of determined fixation to a certain space. For those nomades, messenger and DJ bags represent a restless unbroken movement within the metropoles.
It is evident that it is not the direct electrification of the body through which "wearable computing" will have an influence on every-day life, but the symbolical references within up-to-date cargo fashion, that give the possibility of future integration of electronical information and communication devices into the clothing. Even absolute low-tech phenomena can be symbolical signs: The retro-punk nomade wears his communicative messages in a quite lowcomplex way in the form of buttons attached to different pieces of clothes.
In the center of the cargo cult is the mobile phone. It is fashionably capable to be integrated, changeable but at the same time focussing on particular functions. The portable communication device worn close to the body is first of all hang to the belt as pure attachment and therefore not integrated into the clothes. The mobile phone gives the direction that "wearable computing" has to take in order to have mass effect.
The "wearables" are meant to improve man by permanent net integration and tend a new image of manhood which brings it more into line of cyborg and robotics. Many of the projected fields of application eg the surveillance function let emerge the vision of a nomad that is to use flexibly but permanently controlled and located. That is how the nomadic is loosing its wandering and unforeseen character of movement. The danger of a PAN (Personal Area Network) integrated in bigger closed fixed net unities, that keep things under control eg at work. "Wearable computing" does not only sound like a heavy additional load, it even empedes everyday life because the hardware has to be carried with you (see Steve Mann
However, the fashionable phenomenon described includes possibilities of supplementing the clothes that only demands punctual integration. Wearing technology integrated into fashionable clothing is less associated with direct physical burdening and weight.
The evaluation of technology and the boundary to fashion is abolished at that very moment when technology is not determinating the design and deforming the body but mere material to cut to seize and a malleable fabric.
This way of distribution makes intelligent textiles like healing and communicating T-shirts made of solar fabric almost imperceptibly infiltring our daily lives (like breathable fabrics, Goretex) as this is already the case with healthy ingredients of "intelligent" food (eg joghurt).
Young fashion developed images for the mobile human techo-nomade, who learns technologies playfully without overevaluating them. Here, there is an unwritten law handling mobile communication technologies, that allows them as far as appropriate for the human body and under the circumstance that they develop the visual power of signs, which serves the expression of style. For the aesthetics of style, elements have to be visible. In opposition to this, the developers of Philips and Levis declared the computer as an invisibly processing piece of clothing as the aim of their efforts and they want to integrate the computer in every-day life so that it vanishes. It is interesting that both companies speak of computers but include mobile phone and MP3 player into the clothing.
Electrified fashion, whatever it might look like, is only to be accepted if it meets the needs of particular techno-nomades. As it is overtaxing for people to handle a phone and a car at the same time, intelligent clothing has to take regard to human measures and establish a balance between subjective and objective elements.
With the lowcomplex cargo fashion the human moves away from being a "metabolic transport" (Virilio) to a data load mule that is attaching a handy like attachments to his email. Here, the human is not outsmarted (see Ross' definition of smart, 1995) by the intelligent world of objects; with his integration of electronic communication devices into fashion he is showing a superior position because with such augmentation within the boundaries of human reality he is able to cope with the problems of mobile every-day life as a personalized and portable computer system is. With this, an e-subculture has nemly emerged and has found its own ways to create the imagery electrifications of clothing within the boundaries of a human smartness.