Lisa Lang - What to Wear on Mars
Lisa Lang is the founder and CEO of Elektrocouture, OfundamentO and Powerhouse. She’s an inventor, manufacturer and maker, and she’s a leading light in FashionTech, wearable technologies, smart textiles manufacturing and making things glow.
Lisa has gained recognition as one of Forbes Europe’s Top 50 Women in Tech, top 100 most influential people in wearable tech worldwide, one of 25 leaders in fashion and technology worldwide, and she’s been listed as one of the 50 most important women for innovation & startups in the EU.
Dubber Hi, I’m Andrew Dubber. I’m the director of Music Tech Fest, and this is the MTF Podcast. I met Lisa Lang in the lead-up to MTF Berlin, way back in 2016. We were checking out the Berlin Fab Lab and meeting with some brilliant people there who were making new types of musical instruments, that sort of thing, and someone said “Oh, brilliant people? You need to meet Lisa.”. So we went through to the next room, and there, among some mannequins dressed in magnificent dresses, alive and breathing with LED lights, was Lisa Lang, who was in the process of preparing for a Berlin wearable technology and fashion tech event.
Now, fast forward a few years, and we find Lisa in Portugal, where she now lives, running several companies that connect technology, creativity, and clothing. And running several creative tech companies simultaneously, as you might imagine, requires a certain character, a certain energy. A simultaneous firing and fusing of knowledge, ideas, and action. That’s Lisa Lang, and, fair warning, she operates at more levels and at a higher speed than most human beings. So strap in, and enjoy. Here’s Lisa Lang.
Dubber Lisa Lang, thank you so much for joining us for the MTF Podcast today. How are you doing?
Lisa Thank you so much for having me. I’m so excited. I’m always happy to talk and nerd out. I’m very well. I’m in Porto. In the background are seagulls, you will hear them in a minute. How are you?
Dubber I’m remarkably well. Yes, I’m doing very well, and it’s very nice to talk to you. I’m looking forward to actually coming to Portugal later in the year myself to do some MTF related things, so we may cross paths.
Dubber So what brings you to Porto?
Lisa It was quite a long journey. It started 5/6 years ago when I went to Porto for the first time because I visited a friend, and I’ve never been to Porto, I’ve never heard from Porto, and I fell in love because there is magic in this town. It has its own character. You can feel it’s old. You know you have the vibe when you have the aura of wisdom and knowledge around you, and I found it quite impressive. And then I kept coming back because, of course, it’s wonderful. I lived in Australia for many years, I’m married to an Aussie, so of course this whole beachside, seafood, wonderful, friendly people, it was an effect. We kept coming back.
And then I realised that Porto actually has far more to offer because Porto is one of the manufacturing textile hubs in Europe. Very family-driven, very connected, very skilled, very capable. And I was like “If you want to do something in the back-end, if you want to do innovation in textile manufacturing, you actually have to go down to the core, and that’s manufacturing.”. And that’s where Porto also got, professionally, for me, very, very interesting. And I prepared everything. It took me several years to do that move. And then now, finally, mid of last year, my husband and me, we moved to Porto permanently. And I started my now third company here.
Dubber Wow. Because we originally met in Berlin, and you were based there. Is that not a good place to do fashion tech?
Lisa I think it isn’t about the topic, it’s about, just in context… It’s because there is no industry infrastructure in Berlin. So it always, every place, fits you according to what you want to do, of course. So I’m a maker, I work in the industry, I work with industrial manufacturing, and, of course, ideally, you would be very close to your workspace or disruptive space. And, very funnily, because during the COVID crisis it showed that being somewhere where you are very close, almost walking distance, to your factories is actually a huge advantage. Back in the old world, it’s hard, then you travel back and forth. But especially when you work with hardware, textiles, electronics, it really matters that you’re physically in the room. And so our advantage here in Porto was we were able to keep doing our work even through the lockdown.
And in Berlin, it’s like… In Germany, if you want to go into factories you have to travel down South or you have to travel way up North, up in the Scandinavian countries or to Estonia, and so there was simply no infrastructure there for me. Also, I’m a traveller, so we stayed in Berlin for eight years, and it felt like “It’s time to move on.”. But one of our companies is still based there, so we’re getting both out of the best worlds.
Dubber Right. You say you’ve got three companies. What are they?
Lisa So my first baby was Elektrocouture. That’s where the entire journey started. So it’s haute couture, high-level fashion technology. So it focussed a lot on light, so we make wearable light, because for me it was like “The best way how to show how pretty technology is is actually with LEDs, because they look very pretty, but they’re also really smart.”.
My second company then was The Powerhouse, which is a very classical consultancy agency all around the topic of wearable technologies, smart textiles, and fashion tech, because I’ve noticed that a lot of companies came to me during my work at Elektrocouture and said “This is interesting, what you do. Can you actually help us? Setting up a project, doing prototyping services for me.”. And it didn’t match with Elektrocouture because, especially since our iconic Marlene Dietrich dress, Elektrocouture is very grounded in diva style, whereas The Powerhouse is our workstation. So we do a lot of research there. With my team there I consult the European Commission and a lot of education institutions.
And then now, for the third part, it’s the completion of the holy circle, is OfundamentO, which is the Portuguese word for the fundament. And it’s a B2B manufacturing solution for fashion technologies, because in all of those years with Elektrocouture and The Powerhouse I actually realised that it’s not necessarily that people don’t have ideas, it’s not necessarily that technology is not there, it’s simply just “What happens with all of those ideas? And why didn’t they go on the market?”, and it’s like “Well, who is going to make it?”. If you’re in fashion, you go to a textiles factory. If you’re in electronics, you go to an electronics company. But if you like seriously good quality, sustainable, reliable, great design, want to really bring it on the market, where would you go? And because, of course, I had that issue myself with Elektrocouture, I said “Well, there is an opportunity.”. And now I turned into this Portuguese manufacturing mum. I’m just running around and making sure the customers are happy, and I’m taking the pain away, and they can focus on their projects, on their design, on the development of their brand, and I’m the back-end girl.
Dubber One thing I thought was really interesting about what you’ve said is you made a distinction, and I’d be interested to hear what that distinction is, between wearable technology, smart textiles, and fashion tech. How do you define those three things? And where’s the overlap?
Lisa Well, it always depends who you ask, I think. So wearable technology, the definition, is very much all kinds of devices you put on you which are not embedded in the textiles you’re wearing. So the entire gadget category. Which, for instance, I would also include your glasses, your headphones, because our glasses were super high in tech at some stage. We just acknowledge it as a normal thing because we’ve grown up with it and it’s just normal, but it was a huge technology revolution when the glasses got involved. And, again, we have another development of the glasses with Google Glass and everything else. So that’s one thing.
In terms of smart textiles, it has nothing to do with the product, the B2C product itself, it’s the textiles. And, for me, smart textiles have three categories. One is the category of sustainability, where we finally have to really talk about “What kind of plants are we actually using? The plants we used to use for the textiles we are producing, do they make sense in our new world?”. Like the whole debate about cotton versus hemp and bamboo and seaweed and something like that. And it’s the perfect time to really evaluate that, because we can make fabrics sustainable out of nature but also chemical materials, polyester. There are also 50 shades of polyester, so there’s the bad polyester and the good polyester. And there’s the whole issue about blends and how to recycle. That is one category which I consider is smart textiles because it’s complex, and it takes a lot of intelligence to do that. And this is where the market is. The end-stage one, category one.
Category two, for me, is everything about biochemistry and the way how we’re using the machines to make those textiles. So it can go from colour changing textiles, shape-shifting textiles, but also 3D fly knitting, the way how we reprogram our current industrial machines to create new forms, how we infuse chemical components or also natural dyes into this. And again, because this is bioscience, and, for me, again, this is a part of the smart textiles. And category number…
Dubber I’m going to stop you there, sorry, just for one second. I just want to make sure that I understood you correctly. There were two things that you said in there that I went “Wait, what?”. One of them was shape-shifting textiles, and the other one was 3D knitting. Did I hear that right?
Dubber How does that work?
Lisa Actually, it’s quite simple. So 3D knitting is already quite well known. It’s actually quite an old knitting technique. Most people probably know it as the Nike Flyknit, so they actually knit a sneaker in one go. And the way how you knit it is the way how you pull the yarns in different strengths. When you take it out of the machine it actually goes into form, and I can show you… I know, unfortunately, it’s… Here we have on video, but you can ensure your…
Dubber I’ll try and describe it, how’s that?
Lisa So one of those things… Phases what we experiment. This is a 3D knitted mask, and this is a mask which comes out of the machine like this in one piece. No seams, nothing.
Lisa And as you can see, it’s fully in shape, it’s stretchable, and you can… I’m not going to put it on because I’m going to kill my headphones and it will make a terrible noise.
Dubber Yeah, absolutely.
Lisa So you put it on, and this is just purely…
Dubber That’s absolutely form fitting to your face, yeah. Wow.
Lisa Yeah, and this is 3D knitting. And this is made with standard industrial knitting machines with a digital file, and you just have to put in the setting. This is what’s happening already. And then also, of course, if you can make little items like this, of course there’s potential that you can make 3D knitted entire garments. And the cool thing is you can totally fit it to your body structure. And you don’t need seams. You don’t need to sew anything. You just simply knit it in one go. It takes a little bit longer, it’s really complicated engineering, but here in Porto we have the greatest knitters ever. I make them sweat, but I never make them give up. They haven’t given up, so that’s one thing.
Then the category shape-shifting technology. So this comes from space travel, by the way. Exactly the space travel which has given us Teflon and stretch material. Stretch material hasn’t been made for underpants, it has been made for space, of course, because it happened for the astronauts before. So next Teflon version what comes from astronauts is shape-shifting technologies. So one variation is, for instance, if the weather gets warmer your sleeve just expands, and when it gets cold it contracts, gets shorter, and when it gets colder it just gets longer again. So based on temperature, your body temperature, your pH level or UV or any kind of triggers you want, the shape of the garment changes. And it can be either through a mechanical component or it can be through a chemical component, or also, in combination, the way how it’s been knitted or folded like origami is quite interesting in that context as well.
Because when we’re now talking about sustainability, the question is “Well, the reason why we have so many clothes is because they don’t adapt to us.”. So imagine you would have a garment which is changing its colour, its shape, doesn’t have to be washed. So you would wear it far more often because also it’s individually shaped to you and high in quality, so you could reduce your closet into virtually nothing if your clothes just simply would adapt to you.
Dubber Right, because this is one of the things that I keep coming across. When people talk about sustainability in fashion, I go “Well, it’s all very well if the materials are recyclable or they’re made out of seaweed or whatever it is, but if you’ve got 200 shirts that’s a different kind of problem.”. But what you’re saying is you don’t need 200 shirts, you need two.
Lisa Exactly, because they have more than one function. Look at what kind of world we live in now. We are so used to it, that everything else adapts around us. Our computer, we get personalised. We are talking to Google Voice and an Alexa. Everything around us is adapting to us. Even our cars adapting to us and driving us around whenever we want to. But one thing is not, and this is actually… Which is literally touching all of us, because you’re not going to do this naked. There is such an old technology and old way how to do this which is simply just not helping us, especially in this new world where we are, because look at what’s… Our clothes, actually, they have to protect us. Our clothes have to make us feel comfortable when we’re in an uncomfortable situation. That means it has to adapt, and that’s not going to happen with your 30 shades of cotton T-shirts.
Dubber Yeah, I’m with you. Do you make the distinction between fashion and clothing? I feel like I don’t wear fashion, I wear clothing. And fashion is a thing that I think of as being catwalks, it’s very seasonal, it’s very haute couture, whereas I feel like most people, what they interact with is clothing. Do you have different approaches to those things? Or is it all one world?
Lisa I think it depends who you ask. Of course, when you ask fashioners they’re like “Yeah, of course we still matter.”. But I think this is about definition. You’re fashion when you make a statement. You’re fashion when you reflect a society. You’re fashion if you’re pushing something out there. So for me, the whole gaming industry is a part of fashion, if you define it as something being active. Clothing, it’s more like this whole sports, functional-driven, maybe, if you want to make that in categories.
But with everything else, what’s happening out there, the borders are very blurry. There is no black and white, there are only 50 shades of whatever colour you want to pick. As well as our work and our private life also has blurred, so of course that means we have to adapt with our lifestyle. That also means our clothes have to adapt with the lifestyle. And especially now in this crisis, purpose is the biggest commodity now, and that will affect fashion. And if you have a purpose, if you have a statement, if you support, if you make the people or support the people who are wearing your clothes, make you feel better and enable them, that, for me, is fashion. Everything else is just not relevant anymore.
Dubber So where do you come into this? Did you come in as a fashion designer who got interested in technology? A technologist who became interested in clothing? Or some other avenue into your world?
Lisa I actually came in from the category number three of the definition of smart textiles, and it was electronic embedded textiles.
Dubber Oh, okay.
Lisa So my background is… So I have an art degree and an engineering degree, but I come from a family of craftsmen people. So my grandfather is a textile engineer, and my grand grandfather was actually a weaver. But I realised that, many, many years later, it’s because from the region in Germany from where I come from, it used to be a big textile industry, and it died in the 70s and all left and went for Asia. But there’s nothing there anymore, and I’m one of this lost generation from that region. We all had to leave because there were no jobs there. Otherwise, I probably would have ended up as maybe a textile engineer as well. I don’t know. Or as a carpenter. I wanted to become a carpenter, but I was… I found it absolutely fantastic.
And then I ended up in software engineering. Well, first of all, I studied arts, and my parents were like “Oh my god, this is…”. And then software engineering, where they wouldn’t even only touch the computer, which was even more like “Oh my… She’s going to live under the bridge. We have no idea what we’ve done wrong with you.”. But in a very funny way, all of those different states really helped me for what I’m doing now. It’s because, of course, you have to be very multi-interdisciplinary to find new solutions.
So I went full-on tech, but nerdy tech. But at the same time, I’m a woman, and I worked in a male-dominated environment. And the thing is with those software engineering companies, they wear uniforms, jeans and T-shirts. I never wear jeans and T-shirts. I think it’s very inefficient and uncomfortable. And so, for me, the emotional connection with fashion always was… It’s my armour. I was in a high-level executive position as the only female. I had to wear an armour and to make sure my lipstick sticks the entire day so I can focus on my work. But the problem for me always was, with fashion, it’s just that. It covers me, but it doesn’t have anything else.
And then that was around the time, 2007, where this whole wearable tech came, the gadgets, and they were super cool and functional, but they were dead fucking ugly. And so there was… Well, it’s like “Okay, either I’m pretty with nice clothes but they’re stupid, they can’t do anything, or I’m nerdy with functions at my body but it looks stupid.”. And that was the point… It took several years for me to get there, but it started at the point of frustration. It’s like “Why can’t they be smart and pretty at the same time?”, to the point where I realised “Well, that means I have to take care of it on my own.”. And then I started to make products for myself, and that whole thing with companies and business came several years later. So everything started with frustration. Like “What the f-? Don’t you see it?”.
Also, I predicted what’s happening with fashion as an industry. That they’d get entirely disrupted. Because in the tech start-up scene we saw what happened in hospitality, in radio, in music, and they were all very traditional, old industry with very high ivory towers. I was like “Hmm, fashion is going to be next, and only because the ivory tower is a little bit older and a little bit higher than the other industries. Doesn’t mean that they can’t be hacked or cracked.”. And then I pretty much just started and figured things out.
Dubber When you say hacked, do you think of yourself as hacking the fashion industry in some way?
Lisa Yeah, you could say it, in some way. The thing is, I’m working at an intersection. So we’re creating a whole new world. On the one side, what we are doing in fashion, which is being maybe perceived as disruptive, although I don’t like the word disruptive that much because it’s very violent. I’m more in the nurturing department. My business is not to convince you, my business is to help you. If you don’t get it, then you’re already a lost case, so I’m not putting my energy towards you. Very much inspired for it, like what Coco Chanel did with her jacket, because, for me, she was one of the first fashion tech designers, is she put a function to a jacket. She put pockets on a lady’s jacket and added a function which also complied to the overall design and enhanced the design and didn’t disrupt the design. So this is, for me, exactly what we have to do.
Or think about the zipper. The zipper was wearable technology, was super high-end tech. It was made by an engineer, dead ugly, and picked up by a fashion designer and made pretty and implemented. There was a huge debate about if you should use zippers because it’s technology, and you would buy it because of its technology and not because of the design. Exactly the same conversation. So because of that… It was handy that I studied art history because that’s where I have all of my arguments from. So what I’m working towards is that what we are doing is just going to be the new standard and the new normal. So the electronic embedded is going to be as standard as your glasses or your zipper or your pocket.
Dubber If we’re talking about LEDs, or even if we’re talking about any electronics within clothing, we’re talking about carrying around batteries, presumably. We need a power source for this, right? Is that problematic?
Lisa For the time being. So we can see it with the LEDs. Why do we use LEDs? Because we want to make things glow. There are a lot of different ways how to make things glow. There is a form of seaweed which glows in the dark all on its own, it’s totally natural fibre, so that would be nice. Better than the whole battery thing. The other thing also is there are several other ways how to power a device, like low voltage Bluetooth on LEDs, because they need, luckily, very little battery.
The biggest problem we have with the battery at the moment is that we’re using LiPo technology, which is a chemical concept, and that is, again, such an old concept, and it’s about time to get rid of it. Also the materials we need to make it, and also push from the automotive industry. There is a new time to develop a new form of batteries. I’m super excited at the moment about supercapacitors because they have a mechanical principle behind it, not a chemical, which also makes them potentially washable. But that kind of thing. And less dangerous. And also super high performance, because LiPos are little wussies because they give after a while. That is not sustainable.
And then also there is another about energy harvesting. That you actually generate the electricity you need to power the tools you have around your body. So solar panels, piezoelectricity, all of those things, which technology-wise are actually totally possible. But the issue is always the transformation from getting the energy, transforming it into a storage, and from that storage putting it to the outlet, and that workflow is actually the issue, not the items itself. It’s the connection in between and inputting it in a context of making it flexible and washable. But the best way how to solve that is with manufacturing, with the back-end.
Dubber It’s interesting you raise washable as a thing, because I know for a fact that if I’m going to be wearing some very cool piece of technology as a piece of clothing, I’m going to spill something on it. That’s going to happen. Where are things at with washable wearable technologies?
Lisa Also, just quickly, the definition of washability is… Because I just earlier said that we want to have clothes which we don’t have to wash. I had a client who is a very big washing manufacturer, and they asked me “What’s the future of the washing machine?”, and I said “No washing machines.”, and I think they had a heart attack. But they came back, it was fine. So the term of washability is also, yes, you spill something, but you sweat, or you are at a party and fall into a pool, or you walk in the rain, so this is about that things can get wet in whatever kind of form or shape. So if you expose it to any kind of liquid, that’s the definition. And, of course, as we all know, whoever accidentally dropped their phone into some kind of liquid, they don’t like each other that much, and that is one of the biggest flaws with this whole electronics stuff. It’s like “Please somebody thought about if there’s any kind of liquid connected to them, can we please solve that?”.
There are several attempts at that. You can encapsulate it, or you can turn this conductivity into a form which is flexible and washable out of its own. So that’s… We are with biochemistry again. Or one of the… But it’s a little bit boring because for me it’s too easy, you just take the electronic out before you wash it. I know that’s the stage where we are now because we have to, but I find that boring. I think the holy grail is the full integration. The full, absolute, seamless integration. And in order to do that… Because with encapsulating, we’re compensating a design flaw which comes from the beginning. The real thing is we actually do the design and technology development from the get-go, from the beginning. And with that, we have to go all the way down to the manufacturers and work together in that intersection, and not do “Oh, we just made a piece of electronics. Hey, designer, make it pretty.”. That’s not how it works. Or vice versa is “We made something really pretty and now we have to add some sort of technology to justify that it’s something new.”. It has to start far, far, far earlier, in a very interdisciplinary team.
Dubber You say you’re not fully satisfied with where things are at at the moment, and you obviously have a vision for where things could be. What does the world look like when you’re washing your hands and going “Right, I’m done. I can retire now. Look what everybody’s wearing. Isn’t this great? We’ve solved this.”. What is everyone wearing?
Lisa Oh god, well, on the one side, this is like “Damn, if I have nothing else to do…”. Because of course, I’m German, so we love to complain, and it’s a part of our joy in life. But also I think it’s… The German attitude is always like “We are complaining because we want to improve things, and in order to improve things we have to define the problem.”. The interesting thing with the traumatic experience the entire world has gone through, and is going through, at the moment, actually enhanced our mission and gave, for a lot of people, a deeper understanding of what we’re trying to do in the complexity between sustainability, locally made, but yet electronically enhanced, because we need protective yet accessible garments for pulse controlled, GPS tracking, temperature, but also totally adapted, and, of course, made in a region which is close to me so I can actually support my local manufacturer. So because of that, that story is far more reasonable now.
At the first step, what I think is really, really important, is the way how we’ve done things so far is not the way how we can keep going. And it sounds so simple, but that is a mindset we have to change in the fashion industry, because for me it’s… What the fashion industry is doing, and this is, by the way, how they define fashion tech, their definition of fashion tech is e-commerce and omnichannels, and for me this is simply just putting lipstick on a pig. It’s still a pig. So this is symptom treatment. That you’re trying to add technology on top, but you’re still offering an old product, and we are now on a point where they simply just can’t do this anymore. Of course, the old industry will try to pull us back into the old system because that’s their comfort zone, but starting with acknowledging that this is how far we get and also acknowledging that we need help from the outside.
So we are experimenting a lot with Scrum training for fashion brands, for instance. So learning from software engineers how to actually adapt very, very quickly, but not in a techy way, in a design way. So we’re bringing all of those worlds together. So as you can tell…
So I’m actually not talking about technology because I know where the technology already is, the technology is not the problem, the mindset of the people is the problem, because the machines we can reprogram. Do you know what all of those awesome knitting machines and weaving machines, what they can do? If you would just sit down and listen to them and talk with them, especially also with the engineer because they’re awesome, they’re like players, because the reason why they got engineers is because they like to play and tinkle. There is so much already out there. This is not technology. This is about people have to understand and be open to go and travel into other industry to get inspired. Which, by the way, when you go into the history of huge innovation in fashion, that’s exactly where it always happens. Go somewhere else, travel, bring it back, and put it into your context.
Dubber As far as functionality is concerned, what leads that? Do people say “Oh, look, I want a pair of shoes that can do X, Y, and Z.”, and then people go out and manufacture it? Or manufacturers come up with an idea and say “Let’s see if we can sell this to a market.”? Which way around does it typically happen?
Lisa The thing is, a lot of brands actually don’t do really deep dive innovation. They never did. And this is also the reason why fashion is trapped as an industry, is because it hasn’t innovated. In the last 30 years it focussed on global market scale and selling more and more and more, and they stopped doing really, really deep dive innovation. They outsourced their skills and the innovation to the factories and ship them to somewhere else. A lot of fashion brands don’t even have their software engineering capabilities in-house, they just use agencies or other back-end solutions. Which is fine, as long as you still know what you’re actually doing. Of course you don’t have to build everything up yourself. It’s totally fine to outsource as long as you know what’s happening on the other side.
The frustrating thing from the manufacturing perspective is that the brands come to you and say “Okay, what have you got new?”, and then you show them and say “Look, we making an experiment, so this is what…”, and then it’s like “Oh, can you do this and that?”, and then we’re like “Yeah, of course.”, and they’re like “Okay, when you’re done with that, come to me and I might look at it.”. And it’s like “Okay, so I do the innovation for you, you don’t pay me, I have to cross finance in the back, and then you just want to have the solution, and highly likely exclusive, for a shitty price.”. And that’s how it’s always been in the fashion industry with factories. I’m not talking even about electronic embedded, I’m talking about new patterns, new colour choices, new materials, and because of that friction it was always really difficult to really innovate.
Or you have the crazy Kickstarter or fashion tech artists, they have a really good idea but they have no means or no access to the factories. Or you go into the archives of the factories where they just were playing around, and you’re like “Woah, this is really cool.”, but the brands don’t get it or they don’t even spend the time going down into archives and understanding what they’ve done and to actually pick it up and find a way how to implement it into their branding story. So, again, the issue is the intersection.
Dubber Right. If fashion brands don’t innovate in that way, or they don’t capitalise on the innovation that can be done in that realm, can other industries take those ideas and learn from them and apply them in other sectors? Are there examples of that, for instance?
Lisa Oh yeah, totally, and it’s already happening. See, the thing is, what the fashion industry doesn’t understand is their entire IP for the next generation of fashion is not within the industry. So what my prediction for the old-styled fashion brands, as long as they survive, they will have to pay licensing fees for all of the innovations which are happening in the backgrounds in other industries. So like what happened with the zipper. There is a zipper monopoly, and now you have to pay the price you’ve been given to make this zipper which is everywhere. And it’s a huge business, and they didn’t come out of fashion manufacturing, they came from somewhere totally else.
And this is also exactly what happened in all of the other industries, like in hospitality, in radio, music. Who were the guys and who were the people that disrupted it, like Spotify, Uber, Airbnb? They didn’t come out traditionally from the industries. So in theory, Uber should have come from a taxi association, and Airbnb should have been invented by hotel chains. Did they? No. There was people from the outside who were frustrated with the status quo, and they used new technologies to solve a problem. That is the algorithm which connects all of them, and this is exactly what’s happening in fashion.
So in the background, the big technology companies like Google, Microsoft, Samsung, Sony, Apple, they’ve been filing patents left, right, and centre in the context of wearable technology, smart textiles, electronic embedded. Not only in fashion, but also in interior design, in smart homes, in smart houses, in cars, everywhere where you can imagine textiles. Space travel. They have the knowledge, and they, by the way, have been hiring a lot of people from the fashion industry, especially from the sports industry, because that’s where the innovation is happening. Not at the fashion industry. And all of these big companies have been filing patents in the last years more or less quietly. Look what Google is doing with their Google Jacquard project. Nike. These are the guys… So all of those fashion people, they have to… Because they don’t have their own knowledge they will have to pay a price, literally, for that. And it’s already happening, so that’s the thing. It’s not like…
Dubber Okay. We’re not crystal ball gazing here, this is something that’s already going on.
Lisa No, no, no.
Dubber And you mentioned the space programme a couple of times and the idea that new textile ideas and products have come out of that and have leapt across silos. Is there anything going back the other way? Or is there a cross-pollination of, let’s say, sports plus space plus Microsoft plus fashion? Are those things coming together, or is it still very much “No, we’ll do our thing, but we might take from yours.”? Is it collaborative in any way?
Lisa Yes, absolutely, but especially with sports brands, so like what you saw with Virgin Galactic. They did a collaboration with Under Armour for making the spacesuits. The spacesuits from SpaceX which recently went for travel, they were made by the same designer who made the costumes for Black Panther in The Avengers. So you have a very artistic approach but also a very performance-driven approach because they are the best ones. The cross-pollination in that intersection already has happened before, and will, and is happening now.
So, for instance, with that shape-shifting technology. Electronic embedded textiles are going to be super important, of course, for space travel. It’s because you need to monitor those astronauts, what they’re doing up there, but also you want to… When you digitise your garment, your garment can talk with all of the electronics around you. On Earth we call it IoT, Internet of Things. Up in space, it helps you to survive. Good argument. So, again, it’s like space is so exciting and so inspiring, and it makes us focus because we have to deal with very little resources, and we have to be very innovative. And also we are forced to think from a complete different way, and if we think in that context, we actually can find solutions to help us on Earth.
So little examples. One of those issues is when you wear any kind of the normal kind of fabrics we know in space, they give up fibre, and that fibre clogs up the air ventilation, which is a disadvantage if you want to breathe in space. So the astronauts actually have vacuum cleaner duties where they have to clean up air ventilation. Also because their skins and their hair and some things find their way in. Anyway, so this is one thing. So of course, on one side you want to have a garment which doesn’t give up fibre. On Earth we have the microfibre issue. Same issue, same solution.
The astronauts have to train their muscles every day, otherwise they will lose their muscle power. They sweat, but they can’t change their clothes because their suitcase is not big enough, so they have to wear garments over and over again, which of course is not comfortable because there’s no space for a washing machine. Kind of essential. So one of those things, like “Well, how about we can make a full cradle, cradle-to-cradle?”. For instance, you somehow generate your garment in the morning if it’s… I don’t think 3D printing is the solution because everybody who is excited about 3D printing has never worked with 3D printing, because of how a pain it is. But I like spray technology a little bit better. So imagine you wake up in the morning and a fabulous garment gets knitted, sprayed, whatever, on you. You wear it. When you wear it, what happens? You move, you sweat. What is in your sweat? Minerals. So you wear it, you move it, and at the end of the day you actually nurtured your textiles with so much water and minerals that you can actually use it as a fertiliser for your garden on Mars. And, again, practical for on Earth because the whole cradle-to-cradle thing.
See, the same thing is why science fiction is so inspiring, is because it helps us to focus on the topic in a different context, so the issue actually appears far more focussed and far more open. And I think this is why space travel is, in this context, even now more important because when you leave the space capsule you get attacked, you can’t breathe, you need to have very uncomfortable protective gear. It feels like the world we are living in now, so we can a little bit understand what people who have to wear protective gear all the day are actually going through because it’s very uncomfortable. Every wood chipper can tell you about all of those nasty rashes they have between their legs from those bloody protective pants because of the way how the seams have been set. And the problem is bad design. Wouldn’t it have been nice if you would have more engineering and more design working together? As you can see, I can talk about that for, non-stop, ten hours.
Dubber I’m a little bit concerned that we’re going to be attacked in space. That one alarmed me slightly. But just to be clear, once we’re on Mars we’re wearing high-tech spray-on superhero costumes, essentially?
Lisa Yeah. Fully sustainable and also flexible.
Lisa Compostable, yeah, but also it’s because the first generation on Mars are not going to only there be for holidays. They actually have to work. And it’s very windy on Mars, by the way. Mars is there for mining, so of course one of those things is there will be a huge demand for mining gear, workwear, on Mars to retrieve the resources from the planet.
Dubber When you think about fashion technology, it’s a leap to go to mining on Mars, but I’m really glad we got there. Tell me about what you’re doing back on Earth, because you’ve got some interesting projects coming up, particularly thinking of where you’re based now in Porto.
Lisa Yes. I’m in the city of makers and the artisans, and the power is now with the people who can do and make and create. And I think this is also a great opportunity for the city of Porto to actually finally shine and rise and put some spotlight on it. And one of those projects that I’m really looking forward to, it’s in September, it’s from the 9th to the 13th of September, is we’re going to do a satellite event for Ars Electronica in Porto.
So Ars Electronica should have been one of these events this year in the normal world, which is not there any more, so the wonderful people from Linz decided to make a satellite event, and I was able to annoyingly, charmingly convince them to include Porto. So my Portuguese company is going to organise the Porto Garden, and we will do a whole series where we give insights to makers and artisans and they show us their factories, they show us their workshops. We will have a philosopher’s round table for artificial intelligence for social impact. We will talk about materials in space, because the world’s biggest cork manufacturer and grower in the whole world, Amorim, actually comes from Porto, and SpaceX is using cork for their space travels, so we’re going to talk with the head of innovation about it. And so there’s going to be this whole array. We’re working on a future trend report which is called ‘What Next?’, or I call it ‘See the Opportunity in Chaos’, or ‘Find Your Opportunity in Chaos’. So we’ve been interviewing a whole array of people, and we’re going to release that report.
And that’s the thing, also, is, for me, it’s because I want to say thank you to the city who welcomed me with open arms. I know I can be very annoying when I want something, but that’s… You have to break an egg to make an omelette. Especially manufacturing, you have to be very persistent. And everything starts with giving before you can take, so this is my way to say thank you, but also enable the… Especially the young generation who just were coming back to Portugal, and now taking over the factories and actually make them understand, and… Well, they know it, but just give them an extra special love to celebrate how good they are, really. Because if you go to our www.fndmt.eu website, subscribe to the newsletter, we will blast it over social media left, right, and centre. I will make damn sure nobody is going to miss that. And we will have a lot of roundtables. And then hopefully, of course, next year a lot of new visitors to Porto.
Dubber Fantastic. And hopefully we’ll be bringing the MTF community there just after that in October, so we will definitely see you there. But for the September event in Porto, Ars Electronica, most people, I assume, will be attending online, and we’ll put links to that in the show. Lisa, it’s been an absolute ride. Thank you so much for taking part in the MTF Podcast. I really appreciate it.
Lisa Thank you so much. And also, to you listeners out there, if you want to debate with me on things like that, please do. That’s the biggest pleasure I have, is I love to talk about this stuff.
Lisa I have an opinion, but I can also listen. So I’m happy to be convinced. Show me the proof.
Dubber And people will find you where?
Lisa At the moment, everything goes to OfundamentO, FNDMT. We will set up the link. My private account on Instagram, on Twitter, and on LinkedIn is lilaineurope. That’s how you can find me.
Dubber Fantastic. We’ll put links on the podcast page. Lisa, again, thank you.
Lisa Thank you so much.
Dubber That’s developer, fashion tech guru, and cultural and creative business powerhouse, Lisa Lang, and that’s the MTF Podcast. Now, if you want to hear more from Lisa, there is no shortage of her keynotes, TED Talks, and presentations to watch online. The MTF Podcast is out every Friday, so don’t forget to subscribe if you haven’t already, and share, like, rate, and review. I’m Dubber, you’ll find me @dubber on Twitter. Music Tech Fest is @MusicTechFest on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, and nothing else.
This episode was edited by Sergio Castillo. The music you heard at the beginning of the show was by Red City Hero, and what you can hear in the background now, that’s music by airtone. The MTF audio logo, that you’re going to hear again in a moment, that was created by Run Dreamer. Have a great week, and talk soon. Cheers.