My team and I use electronics in fashion where it makes sense. A major theme in our design has been astronomy-inspired clothing. For our Starry Night series, we sought out appropriate LED components to light up the constellations. Our earlier, and popular, Starry Night dress is an example of using fairy light strings to decorate the hem of the skirt. However, the decoration is only on the hem, as the LED configuration is linear. In order to create something sophisticated, like constellations in the newly released Starry Night shirt and matching mask, we needed flexible circuits, both in terms of customizable components and material texture.
The prototyping stage is manual, and for quite some time, we explored e-textile scalable and repeatable solutions. With the development and release of our Starry Night shirt and matching face mask, I’m excited to share with you details on our collaboration with NovaCentrix, in bringing printed electronics to fashion ready-to-wear.
NovaCentrix's solution for printed fabric electronics was exactly what we were looking for. I met NovaCentrix in the IDTechEx Show in Santa Clara in both 2018 and 2019, where I exhibited my designs and gave a talk on the opportunities and challenges in the tech-fashion and wearables industry. NovaCentrix had a large exhibit where they demoed many application areas of printed electronics. The CEO, Charles Munson, showed me their flexible circuits printed on fabrics with LEDs and other components custom-placed on the circuits. This could address some of the challenges I presented – that the industry lacked solutions and support for making creative designs that are also comfortable to wear.
We agreed that there is a potential to embed the latest technologies into fashion. The solution can really light up what I had in mind for the Starry Night collection, in which a flexible printed LED circuit can form any custom-designed constellation. By bringing what the industry is capable of doing for wearables directly in front of consumers, we bridge the gap between technology and fashion and demonstrate the possibilities of more creative applications of technologies. Art by Physicist and NovaCentrix set forth with the collaboration.
To start with, we designed a circuit trace based on locations of stars of constellation Virgo. NovaCentrix used their conductive ink and printed the circuit onto cotton to connect the LEDs and battery placed and glued on the circuit. The first version worked well but it was completely customized for the one constellation. We started to think how we can expand to other designs. We could have designed 12 different circuit traces for the 12 constellations. However, there is a more efficient way – creating a rectangular printed conductive grid. The LEDs and the grid are very fine, with only 4 mm pitch between each LED, so we can basically place the LEDs anywhere within the grid in the reserved spots for them to form any constellation. We went through several iterations to test the durability of the circuit, selecting the most suitable LEDs and battery holders, determining the processes, and validating substrate materials. After about a year’s rapid exchange, we arrived at today’s scalable product solution.
The circuit is directly printed on fabrics and gently integrates with the clothing. The process is repeatable and scalable, and we can now place LEDs in two dimensions to create customized constellations for our designs – to the delight of our customers.