Amy Winters is a material designer, alchemist and inventor. She founded the wearable tech studio Rainbow Winters after training in Theatre Design at Central Saint Martins in 2006 and completed her Doctorate in Programmable Materials at the Royal College of Art in 2017.
Her background in Theatre performed as the initial catalyst for her work. Theatre as a time-art evokes a reaction and interaction between the spectator and performer. Here Amy found a unique opportunity to translate concepts from the disciplines of animation, music, dance, theatre and film, into a new field – interactive wearables! We discuss her work, inspiration and thoughts on wearables.
Nature plays an important and inspirational role in the design of your garments. Tell us more about your creative process and how you go about discovering new materials?
Intuitively, I am fascinated in discovering the poetic, expressive and emotive capabilities of technology. How can unusual interaction approaches be devised through storytelling and narrative? My ideas are inspired by the mechanisms of nature and their underlying rhythms, from the raw energy of a waterfall to the experience of touching morning dew first thing in the morning. I adopt an explorative approach using all my senses to discover new materials – how they look, smell and feel.
Your designs are incredibly unique, tell us about the materials you use and how they react to different elements.
The materials I develop respond to external influences such as light, sound, speed and moisture. The sun-light reactive garments such as the Petal Dress are created through printing photochromic inks, which are invisible indoors but change colour in response to sunlight. The Rainforest Dress, which reacts to environmental elements, altering its colours in response to sunlight and water. Here the water-reactive ink (hydrochromic) disappears, revealing the printed colours underneath the dress.
Describe who wears your work, in what context and why they choose your work?
Currently, my pieces are experimental prototypes. Hosts for ‘thought’ which hover in between the real and the speculative. My particular focus lies in the invention of new material systems. Initially, I started in 2010 working within the traditional fashion structure – developing seasonal collections and retailing the clothes through boutiques and departments stores. The sunlight reactive dresses did particularly well and were snapped up by an innovative and youthful client base. The conceptual pieces such as the sound-reactive Picasso Explosion and Thunderstorm Dress as an example turned the wearer into a living thunderstorm with the aim of creating ‘visual music’ – these were picked up by music video production companies and advertising agencies. The show-pieces were constructed from electroluminescent panels and triggered by sound; when the volume rises the dress flashes, simulating lighting. I was inspired by the powerful energy release of a violent summer storm, the visceral thrill and enchantment of thunder and lightning.
The tech space has borrowed many creative minds from the fashion space however, fashion has been slower to adopt tech experts. What are your thoughts about this and who in your opinion is breaking new ground and why?
Fashion is predominately a traditional discipline, much of the manufacturing processes and infrastructure has not changed for centuries. However, fashion does own a covetable ‘cultural currency’ and a talent for transforming complex ideas into strong, commercial and relatable products. The tech industry harnesses this value up to a point – mainly to package up tech products at the end of the product development cycle. Could this be challenged and pushed further? If fashion and textile designers are adopted earlier on in the product development cycle – would this provoke disruptive rather than incremental innovation? Evoking qualities and senses which cannot be measured, such as imagination, feelings and aesthetics?
What kind of wearable technology do you wear today, (every day) if It all any? What is it about this tech you want to adopt into your lifestyle? If you don’t wear any, why not?
I take a critical position towards wearable technology, specifically the kind we might refer to as ‘portables’ – smartwatches, bands and headgear. This is because simply collecting statistical data for its own sake is not convincing. Of course, data collection can facilitate valuable insights, but the designer could begin to hold a more instrumental role, that is to push the boundaries of what technology can enable – as a tool rather than as an end product.
Most consumer technology products look and perform very similarly to their competitor products, what do you think technology makers need to think about when designing new products if they want to stand out?
Often consumer technology products try to solve a problem, display a new functionality or showcase a clever engineering principle. However, what if there was a more explorative approach? To create a sensory experience? A connection to experience, rather than usability, could tap into undeveloped and potentially lucrative markets.
What excites you about the future and what can we expect to see from you?
Right now, I am driven by the emerging Soft Robotics movement, and I have a voracious appetite for experimenting with new tools and technologies in this field! These new materials are distinctive as machines which look and feel exactly like conventional textiles. Otherwise known as artificial muscles, shape-changing fabrics or even microfluidic systems. Their unique tactility combines multiple material properties such as flexible circuits and batteries. Through these technological tools I am started to invent wearable tech with unusual capabilities – can we imagine a Crying Dress?
Learn all about Amy’s work and experiments on www.rainbowwinters.com