In January 2019 ten teen girls interested in fashion design and unfamiliar with computer programming were introduced to the world of possibilities afforded by the ability to code during our Fashion + Tech project sponsored by Best Buy. Students learned technical skills in the areas of electronics, using microcontrollers and Python to allow their garments to interact with the real world. With sensors as inputs and lights as outputs, each student saw that computer programming can bring to life ideas that before seemed only fantasy.
In addition to the tangible skills gained, students saw how two traditionally separate industries, fashion and technology, can come together to revolutionize not only those two fields, but can impact additional areas such as healthcare, public awareness, athletics, and more. They learned that when people with diverse backgrounds - be that education, experience, race, class, or otherwise - come together, new and important accomplishments can be achieved.
Furthermore, this project not only bridged the gender gap for these ten females in computer programming, but put them far ahead of the majority of their male counterparts of the same age. This unique experience has given ten girls an advantage in a male-dominated field at a time in their lives when they can easily pursue a path and will no doubt have successful experiences in computer science should they choose to do so.
The final product of this project was not just the ten garments and ten accessories created by the students, but a public runway show where the students modeled their outfits. While nervous to present their work in front of such a large crowd, the students were clearly thrilled with their accomplishments and did an amazing job from design to implementation of their ideas. This was not a cohesive runway collection, but ten unique looks that reflected each individual student. Some of the ideas that students brought to life in their garments included a set of green lights with one blue light every 1,000 units, to represent the the genetic anomaly she was born with. Another included a microphone and set her lights to change with the music played during the runway show. A third used a real time clock to synchronize the lighting of two neopixel rings with the visibility of the actual sun and moon. I could go on: there are seven more unique examples, each of which students had complete creative freedom and ownership over. The impact of that alone - making a project of your own creation - is profound.
Congratulations to our Fashion + Tech project students, and thank you to our many collaborators and of course Best Buy, who made this program possible!