“Your Clothes Are Dumb”: On Wearable Tech and Endless Curiosity

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Your clothes are dumb. They probably don’t look dumb. But they are, you know, not smart. Like, they are literally brainless. Yeah, we know: Clothing is inanimate, so of course it’s not intelligent. But being an inanimate object doesn’t stop your smart phone from being, well, smart. So why not clothes? Don’t worry: Madison Maxey is working on it.

Maxey is the endlessly curious, 22-year-old co-founder of The Crated, a Brooklyn-based, second-generation wearable technology company, that’s set to revolutionize the world of “smart” clothes. Maxey’s career path has been a mix of traditional (she attended Parsons’ School of Fashion with a Teen Vogue and CFDA scholarship and completed a handful of internships) and non (she left before getting her degree because she had already taught herself about everything from materials and pattern making to designing and constructing clothes).

And befitting her status as someone who came of age with full Internet access, Maxey’s first foray into entrepreneurship—a blazer company—was crowdfunded into existence. But because she found herself getting impatient with how long it was taking a contractor to make changes to her fledgling company’s website, Maxey decided to take some programming classes at General Assembly, which took her down a whole new path.

“I really fell in love with the conversations that are being had in technology, and the craft and creativity of building something in the digital world using code,” says Maxey. “It’s really beautiful.”

Following this experience, Maxey decided to start incorporating technology into her work with fashion, and was awarded the prestigious Thiel Fellowship in 2013. Since then, Maxey has kept busy co-founding The Crated, becoming an entrepreneur-in-residence at General Assembly, a fellow at both the Brooklyn Fashion & Design Accelerator and at Autodesk, being named “founder to watch” by Women 2.0, and giving TED Talks. So, you know, all your standard 22-year-old stuff.

But anyway, back to how she’s going to make your clothes less dumb. Maxey isn’t interested in replicating the type of wearable technology with which you’re already familiar—stuff like the iWatch, which is really just wearing a small smart phone. Instead, Maxey explains, “Second generation wearable tech [is] where the technology is just part of the clothing, and it’s hidden. The goal is to create natural interfaces for the clothing we already wear to perform better chemically, structurally, and electronically.” In other words, think less of a tank top that can send text messages and more of a climate-controlled jacket.

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So when can we buy this stuff? In a world where Occulus Rift will soon be available everywhere, why not wearable tech? It turns out, the root of the problem isn’t that we don’t have the technology to do these things, but that we don’t have the manufacturers. And this is where Maxey’s dual knowledge of fashion and technology comes in so handy.

“You know when you want to feed a kid vegetables, so you mush up the broccoli and put it inside macaroni and cheese, and you’re like, ‘Look! It’s the stuff you like, just a little bit more!,’” says Maxey. “We’re working on a similar system where we use materials that garment manufacturers would be comfortable with, so they can just sew these things together. Basically, they don’t know that it’s a circuit, and we’re not telling them it’s a circuit.”

And, while it might still be a while until your whole closet is smart, Maxey promises us that one of the first things she has her sights set on manufacturing is that climate-controlled jacket, which we really, really couldn’t be happier about.

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