Reflections on a Career in Sports and Technology Innovation

J Gauron

Before I started my first job as a design intern at Burberry, I wondered how all of the brands knew that The color that year would be burnt orange, leopard stripe or sherbet pink. How could they foresee this I wondered naively? As a consumer you may marvel at this too, seeing brands all have similar colors, trends, or print themes that align, even as they compete for your dollars.

Later when I attended Rhode Island School of Design, one of my professors called upon a quote of unclear origins which demystified innovation; “the best way to predict the future is to create it.”

And essentially this was true for a while.  Trend forecasting companies, like Stylus and WGSN, brought together color and trend specialist from around the world and wrote up elaborate reports for each season and category, forecasting the future. These reports and memberships were expensive, but this only helped to align the future, and brands unwillingness to step outside of these trends, which then manifested the forecasts as truths. The reality is a slightly more complex version than the brutal summary given by the Anna Wintour like character, played by Meryl Streep, in The Devil Wears Prada.

After design school I moved into innovation design, also known as white space or blue sky, every company has a different spin on the same goal. We are leapfrogging the current designs and aiming for 3-8 years out. Trend forecasting and street fashion are not relevant, it is challenging and risky with a high failure rate, which is a big part of why designers thrive in this space. It is hard meaningful work, which allows us to predict, and in some ways therefore shape futures.

Why do we bother to develop and design so far out, especially if it fails so often?

Many material developments, technologies, or partnerships in this area take years of research and development to fine tune so innovation teams require a long runway. And because of the long timelines constant course correction, much like space navigation, is required. Best bets are made based on qualitative and quantitative knowledge about the brand, user and the market, as well as partnering technology and lead times, but as the project progresses and more is known about these aspects, as well as the future market, the projects evolve.

Current examples of products from innovation type teams which reached the market include Synthetic Spider Silk “Moon Parka” by North Face, Adidas FutureCraft Biofabric shoe, Tierra’s 100% biobased jacket fossil fuel free Deterra Jacket, Pauline van Dongen designs solar-powered windbreaker for nature reserve guides or Patagonia’s Yulex Natural rubber wetsuit, Nike Flyknit to name just a handful.

These are generally costly long term projects, and sometimes they result only in concept cars; expensive high level products which don’t necessarily create huge revenue, or may not go to market at all. Having worked on more than a few projects in this space this can be painful to designers, who strive to create impact through innovation. But concept cars can create enormous media hype for a brand, and in turn sell pull downs; simpler more affordable versions which have a broader reach than an expensive innovation product's pricepoint.  Pull downs are often where revenue is gained from the innovation investment, ironically, and hopefully where the brand deploys some of the advancements in a more widespread, impactful manner beyond the initial splash of media hype.

Although large corporations are chasing innovation as hard as they can, as that edge which will keep them front of mind and center of hearts with consumers, the increasing reality is that start ups and satellite groups are more nimble and can disrupt with less capital. It is the heart of startups today, all one has to do is look to silicon valley, although as I was painfully reminded in a business fellowship largely with tech classmates, scaling up physical goods is quite different than digital. Still increasingly, game changing design innovations, materials, and even manufacturing moves, even those adopted by the big companies, are created by start ups. 

Looking back to my early days at Burberry where color forecasts were the driving future forecast seems like 100 years ago not 15. Today the rules are entirely up to those bold enough to write them.

Kenzen wins Judge's Favorite at Google Demo Days

Super proud to see the Kenzen team win in London (we are a Zurich and SF based co) at Google Demo days while I was facilitating a panel at Struktur on the future of Wearables in the Outdoor Industry.

Always a lot of hustle and challenges in changing the face of an industry but so worthwhile!

Highlighting Europe's Best Startups

Over the past five years, Google for Entrepreneurs has brought together a group of top startups from around the world to Silicon Valley to showcase their technology and meet top investors and mentors.

This event will be our first Demo Day outside the U.S., aimed at bringing the best startups from across Europe to London to pitch to investors.

The application period for Demo Day has closed. We'll reach out to all applicants by 29 March with an update about the selected startups.

How This Wearable Smart Patch Analyzes Your Sweat To Monitor Your Body

Jennifer Kite-Powell , Contributor
Image courtesy of Kenzen.

    Professor Wei Gao, a post doctoral fellow at the University of California and recipient of 2016 MIT Technology Review 35 Innovators Under 35, spoke in February 2017 at Rice University about bioelectronic devices for personalize and precision medicine. His belief is that wearable biosensors and medical nanorobots combine health monitoring and therapy delivery to take us closer to personalized and precision medicine.

    Research firm Tractica says healthcare is expected to be one of the biggest drivers for body sensors citing connected wearable patches as a key driver. Applications of wearable patches are not just for consumers but will fall into sports, enterprise and industrial markets as well. Tractica forecasts that body sensor shipments are expected to increase to 68 million in 2021 from 2.7 million units in 2015.

    Where to start? Sweat. Monitoring sweat as a key biometric is not new. Sweat contains biomarkers like sodium, glucose and proteins that can be collected and measured non-invasively using sensors. Sweat has been used to monitor other conditions like cystic fibrosis, but now sweat can be used to monitor nutritional deficiencies, ion imbalances, elevated glucose levels and inflammation that industrial workers experience. Sweat can even tell a doctor if your medicines are not working properly....

    Forbes Full Article

    "As Long as There Are No Capes, Wearables Can Only Improve Human Health"

    Really enjoying this posting from the Massachusetts Life Sciences Blog of President Travis Mcreedy.  We had an amazing meeting last week, and he runs an awesome organization Massachusetts Life Sciences which is well worth checking out as tech, life sciences, the body and designer all increasingly intersect and drive innovation.  But I will let his writing tell you!

    From the Massachusetts Life Sciences Blog
    By Travis Mcreedy.

    "This past week, I met Edna.  Well, in fact, I met four Ednas, and one of them is a man.

    For those of you not familiar with the 2004 Disney animated film The Incredibles, Edna was one of the most memorable characters, responsible for providing all the superheroes with their high-tech kit.  Imagine if Versace and Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) could somehow have a child, it would be Edna – designer of high-tech, smart fabrics that functionally enhance human performance that are, equally, human-centered and haute couture.  As someone with children who are equal parts athlete, geek, and fashionista, I am not ashamed to say that meeting four real life Ednas was exceptionally cool.

    Yuly Fuentes-Medel, Julianne Gauron, Yolita Nugent, and Adam Whiton are among the avant-garde of “convergence” innovators – capable scientists on the cutting edge, who mash together computer/data science, biology, engineering, and the arts – targeting wearables as a vector for enhancing human performance.  Between the four, they have worked with organizations such as North Face, New Balance, and TJX.  A latest project for the US Department of Defense was to redesign infantry’s “ballistic combat shirt” with properties that are flame retardant,  withstand small arms fire…and are more comfortable and lighter to wear than a soldier’s current kit.

    Mses. Fuentes-Medel, Gauron, Nugent and Messr. Whiton envision wearables as an extension of the human nervous system – a complex, human-centric technology that senses, takes in data, analyzes that data, then reacts.  This approach requires fundamentally rethinking not only science, but also fashion, textiles and manufacturing.  The possibilities in the health care context are endless…and Massachusetts, with its ‘digital health’, life sciences, and manufacturing expertise, is poised to lead the way.  Local companies like MC10 out of Lexington are recognized leaders in developing flexible electronic fabrics for health care uses, including everything from hydration monitoring and head impact measuring to biodegradable implants.  And the community will only get stronger with this summer’s addition of multibillion dollar wearables giant Flextronics International to the Boston Innovation District.

    “Life sciences” is more than just biotech, pharma and drugs.  At the MLSC, our mandate covers the medical device, diagnostics and bioinformatics sectors as well, and having such subsector diversity contributes to our unique, strong and resilient life sciences ecosystem. It would appear that in this diversity, we have all the ingredients to innovate and lead in medical, human-centric wearables. According to health thinktank Rock Health, Massachusetts has the fourth most vibrant digital health sector in the US. Phillips, and its Internet of Things (IoT)/Wearables division have a large presence in Massachusetts, along with medical device leaders Johnson & Johnson, Boston Scientific, Hologic, and Medtronic and health IT juggernaut IBM Watson Health.  Researchers at our medical institutions like Mass. Eye and Ear, Boston Children’s, and Harvard Medical School are also exploring wearables and how to deliver hard to administer drugs to better ensure patient adherence.  And let’s not forget that this spring, Massachusetts was named as the headquarters for the $317MM public-private Revolutionary Fiber and Textile Manufacturing Innovation Institute.

    As Edna from The Incredibles said, “I never look back, darling.  It distracts from the now.”  And right now, Massachusetts is experiencing a wearable tech moment."

    WT VOX "Top 5 Technologies Transforming The Fashion Industry By 2020"

    Top 5 Technologies Transforming The Fashion Industry By 2020

    By Martin Smith
    Posted on 30th August 2016

    Top 5 Technologies Transforming The Fashion Industry By 2020

    If you look back and carefully, analyse how you have spent your last 6 hours of the day you notice that you have had countless moments of interaction with the internet.

    Quietly, in the background, your life is becoming increasingly connected and dependent on your devices; smartphones, connected objects, IoT architectures and digital platforms that are silently taking over the cities.

    But how are these technological advancements affecting the fashion world? Can technology reach the fashion industry and alter its core and if so, to what extent?

    Already signalling profound shifts in the fashion industry, here is my top 5 technologies transforming the fashion industry, finishing line 2020.

    Read article in full on WT TOX site here

    WT TOX Innovation in Fashion.
    The most trustworthy, authoritative resource in Wearable Tech and Fashion Tech.

    Business of Fashion Op-Ed | A New Toolkit for Designers

    Really enjoyed this op-ed by friend and collaborator Todd Harple in a recent BoF on the intersection of technology and fashion, from his perspective as Director of pathfinding and innovation strategy at Intel. 

    A dress by Chromat, featuring Intel curie devices | Source: Courtesy

    A dress by Chromat, featuring Intel curie devices | Source: Courtesy

    NEW YORK, United States — It’s New York Fashion Week, and there is a frenzy backstage as models are worked into their dresses and mob the assembled engineers for instructions of how to operate the technology that magically transforms a subtle gesture into a glowing garment suggestive of the bioluminescence of jellyfish. I know there’s not enough time for them to do their work. Almost instinctively, I find the designer and bargain for 20 more minutes.

    While I wonder to myself how I got here, backstage at a runway show, I also know I am witnessing what may be the harbinger of how a fourth industrial revolution is set to change fashion, resulting in a new materiality of computation that will transform a certain slice of fashion designers into the “developers” of a whole new category of clothing. By driving new partnerships in tools, materials and technologies, this revolution has the potential to dramatically reshape how we produce fashion at a scale not seen since the invention of the jacquard loom.

    The jacquard loom, as it happens, inspired the earliest computers. Ever since, textile development and technology have been on an interwoven path — sometimes more loosely knit, but becoming increasingly tighter in the last five years. Around that time, my colleagues and I embarked on a project in our labs to look at “fashion tech,” which at the time was a fringe term. These were pioneers daring to — sometimes literally — weave together technology and clothing to drive new ways of thinking about the “shape” of computation. But as we looked around the fashion industry, it became clear that designers lacked the tools to harness the potential of new technologies...

    here for the full article

    Fast Company "MIT's Next Breakthrough Interface? Temporary Tattoos"

    Super happy to see Cindy Kao of the Media Lab, and our Techstyle wearables group there making huge strides with her awesome work, and in collaboration with our friends at Microsoft too!  Wearables are a small world indeed!  (Fastco Article)

    MIT's Next Breakthrough Interface? Temporary Tattoos

    Inspired by popular gold leaf temporary tattoos, MIT Media Lab and Microsoft Research teamed up on a crafty new wearable interface.

    Mark Wilson 08.12.16 7:00 AM

    We’ve seen stick-on circuits capable of putting a phone on your finger, and while they’re certainly incredible to behold, they aren't accessible outside of world-class research labs and production lines.

    But a technology called DuoSkin, by MIT Media Lab and Microsoft Research, could enable anyone to create custom, wearable circuits—and apply them as easily as a temporary gold leaf tattoo. And not in 10 or 20 years, but using craft store materials, today. In a new paper being presented at the International Symposium on Wearable Computers next month, the research team details how you can shape circuits using any graphic design software, cut the pattern out of a sandwich of tattoo paper and vinyl, and then coat that vinyl with gold leaf. Not only is gold leaf en vogue, as far as temporary tattoos go; gold leaf also makes the tattoo conductive to electricity, and your touch.


    The result is an impossibly thin temporary tattoo that’s applied to your skin with a wet wash cloth like any other. Once there, it’s capable of adding to your body touch pads, buttons, personal radio IDs, or even glowing LED displays. The DuoSkin tattoo can allow you to swipe and tap around your phone’s music and unlock doors or turnstiles protected by NFC. In one example, a pair of heart tattoos link up, so with the touch a button, you can change the color of the tattoo of your significant other (perhaps to signify if you were in a bad mood in the most passive aggressive way possible).

    Of course, the practical uses of cheap, temporarily wearable technologies seem endless. It’s not hard to imagine the utility of such a tattoo on a patient at the hospital. Your identity could be stuck right to your body thanks to NFC technology. Even something as simple as calling the nurse could be miniaturized from a bulky remote to a thin button on your skin. And given that the team has successfully embedded heat-sensitive pigments, as well as LEDs, these tattoos could be specialized to signal all sorts of issues to health care providers.

    Then again, if the context of health care doesn't sound terribly exciting, there’s always Coachella. Really! Because while that may sound snarky, enabling such a wide swath of use cases is really the point of the whole project.

    "It is our vision that future on-skin electronics will no longer be black-boxed and mystified; but they will converge toward user friendliness, extensibility, and aesthetics of body decorations," the paper concludes, "forming a DuoSkin integrated to an extent it has seemingly disappeared."

    [All Images: courtesy MIT Media Lab]

    Critical Tools for the Tech Enabled Designer

    Tobias van Schneider's Medium article "My Top 11 essential tools I could not live without" is an absolute must read toolkit of efficiency, design, enjoyable and just cool apps and tech tools to make work, particularly remote and online work more enjoyable and fluid. 

    This article "The 5 Best Apps For Freelance Designers; Manage your email, time, money, daily tasks, and legal documents better with these (nicely designed) digital tools" is also great, whether for freelance designers or just those of us seeking more order in the overwhelming noise!

    I highly highly recommend checking out Tobias's site itself as well, van where the multi talented self taunt former creative lead of Spotify explores so many ideas which resonant deeply, learned through experience, creative inspiration through audio shows, newsletters, and more.  Awesome multi-hyphenate designer carving his own arc.

    Tangible Media Teams Biological Actuator for Apparel - Biologic

    I was thrilled bye the final product of the multi year Biologic project run by an extraordinarily talented team of graduates, primarily envisioned by Lining Yao, out of Hiroshi's team at the Media Lab. I had the opportunity to see the project throughout because of my role as New Balance liaison, and ideate together with the team, while working on thermal body mapping and cooling explorations as my own team worked towards the research, development and design of "Data to Design" project for the 2016 Rio Olympic uniforms for New Balance. 
    We also had the pleasure of exhibiting Biologic in the Fashion 4wrd show September 15th at the Boston MFA.

    Congrats to the whole team, I look forwards to seeing where the team takes this brilliant biological actuator next!