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Technology, Math and Science Collide In Diana Eng's Fashion

Aired February 24, 2013 - 14:30   ET


DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN HOST: Welcome to THE NEXT LIST. I'm Dr. Sanjay Gupta. Diana Eng is on a mission to bring innovation to the fashion world and she's doing it with some pretty unlikely tools for a fashion designer. Diana blends cutting-edge technology with design concepts from nature and science to create clothing and accessories with a rich story.


DIANA ENG, FASHION DESIGNER/TECHNOLOGIST: It's like technology, math and science and how to integrate that into a fashion design.

GUPTA (voice-over): She painstakingly researches her design, sometimes for years, counting inspiration in some very unlikely places.

ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, ANCHOR, CNN'S "EARLY START": Those are real lady bugs.

GUPTA: CNN's Zoraida Sambolin takes us on a surprising jour any into the mind and designs of Diana Eng.

SAMBOLIN: That is so clever.

ENG: I like to work with electronics in fashion and it's kind of what people stereotypically think of as adding technology into a garment. I kind of integrate it in a way where the circuit can become a part of the design itself. So I work with conductive thread, which basically replaces wires.

SAMBOLIN: So Diana, this dress has some magic powers?

ENG: No. It just -- it's electronic and so it has some circuit boards over here and they have microcontrollers in them so that basically like a little computer. And then there's a microphone over here. So the microphone kind of senses if there's sound and then the little computer over here will make these LEDs light up because they're all connected with this conductive thread to the little computer.


ENG: This is conductive thread. So it has conductive thread instead of wires. I feel like as the designer, I ultimately want to create products that people can relate to.

SAMBOLIN: Would somebody wear this?

ENG: Yes. I've actually -- I've worn this to a whole bunch of different fashion week things.

SAMBOLIN: It's a conversation starter.

ENG: I feel like my company, because it's small, I'm kind of at the threshold. If there's a new technology or something that they can't produce that much of, I can grab that technology or that manufacturing process and put it into my product.

A large company like the GAP wanted to, they wouldn't be able to because they wouldn't have enough of the new material. Think all of my products are kind of new innovations as they're just starting to come to market.

This is a thermo chromatic scarf I've created. One of my favorite materials to work with is thermo chromatic, which means that it changes color with temperature. So this one, when you wear this scarf in cold temperatures, snowflakes appear.

And the snowflakes grow larger as the temperature gets colder. I just put an ice check underneath. When the temperature drops below 65, a small snowflake will appear on the scarf. But at say, 32 degrees, it's colder and the snowflake on the scarf will grow larger.

SAMBOLIN: How do you do that?

ENG: With the thermo chromatic. This is thermo chromatic powder and you can basically mix the powder with ink. I tried to make clothing and accessories that have a story to tell and the story could be something about a new technology maybe it's creating laser cut lace.

This is our laser cutter. You can use it to cut and etch wood, acrylic, paper. You can etch glass with it. I use it to distress t- shirts.

I thought why not make t-shirts that are distressed in specific places to create a lace pattern.

SAMBOLIN: It's beautiful, but it looks really delicate.

ENG: No. They're actually really durable. I machine wash mine all the time. For example this one I was trying to cut flower shapes because I thought, that would be nice, we could have some flowers, but the reality is when you wear it it's not going to look like a flower at all. This is going to become all stretched out.

It's going to be something else. So I started doing research and I found that cells are kind of similar. So I started looking at flower cells because I felt like maybe those are kind of cell shapes that will have a little bit more femininity to them.

A little bit more delicate. I used those as inspiration for creating the distressed t-shirt patterns. It can take me two or three years to design something because I'm carefully gathering little bits and pieces of the story together to create my design.

I search for special materials. I really search for them. I will go all over the garment district to find them. I really want where the materials are from to be a part of the story.

We're at a craft jewelry supplies and it's basically a warehouse full of vintage jewelry and findings.

SAMBOLIN: It's 5,000 square feet of stuff. How do you know what you're looking for?

ENG: You don't. I feel like it's a jungle sort of in a way of different jewelry parts. I kind of like the whole treasure hunting aspect of it.

These look like they're vintage earrings, clip-on earrings. I like them because the colors and patterns are really different. So this is thread that was used in French uniforms during the '20s, I picked it out because it was shiny.

But then I noticed it's a little bit cool to the touch. So I think it has metal in it. I'm curious it take it back it my studio and see if it's conductive. Yes, so it's really conductive. There is no resistance.

It's amazing. This is so cool. I'm so excited. In the 1920s they had conductive thread.


GUPTA: Up next, they look at the unlikely tools of these fashion designs.



ENG: We're at an electronic arts collective based in Brooklyn. I'm one of the co-founders along with eight other people. We started this space in 2007. NYC Resistor is a hacker space and it's a community of people who get together to learn, make and share things.

We're a diverse community that prerequisite for being a member was that you had to have ninja skills at doing something. It's grown to roughly 35 members with a variety of backgrounds, ranging from paper engineer and fashion designer to electrical engineer and computer programmer.

These are a bunch of projects that are made by members here at NYC Resistor. And most of the projects are collaborations between a bunch of members who just get a good idea and think, let's make that.

So this over here is our Bar Box, a drink-serving robot. It's a hacked slot machine, mix a drink at random for you and deposit into your cup. It makes very strong drinks, sometimes it tastes like they've been made by a robot, but some of the drinks are surprisingly good, actually.

It's been very exciting being able to be with the group of people who are in Resistor. A lot of other start-ups have come out of Resistor as well. I feel like we all kind of started our companies and decided to branch out at the same time. They have a whole bunch of electronics equipment.

So I feel like whenever I'm doing the technical development inside the things, I'll go to NYC Resistor. We're at NYC Resistor's tool town and Tool Town started when one person had a drill press and another person had a saw. Over time, we slowly acquired bigger tools.

So I confirm that the family I'm making was just part of the family. My husband also enjoys making things and hopefully we'll have a family who makes things as well. I guess, we kind of met each other by collaborating on projects. He made an electro luminescent wire driver for a dress I was working on.

And then we made a hand radio (inaudible) and other hand radio stuff together and we went on a hand radio vacation. I was a geek when I was growing up. I was always interested in science and math and computer programming. I had mathematic project on spiro laterals and I actually competed in the international science fair.

So that was a good experience and I think it taught me a lot about experimentation, which is what I still use in my designs because they were very thorough about making sure that you used the scientific method.

I went to the special nerdy person high school when I was a kid. And I used to have all of these photo shoots with my friends when I was in high school and have like fashion photo shoot and dress all my friends up and then have this big all-day thing.

Where I would take pictures of them dressed in different outfits I had made and they didn't have innovative materials when I was in high school in Jacksonville, Florida, so I would use things like plastic bags from Wal-Mart and trash bags and strange paper I found.

I had really understanding patient friends. I started working with technology in fashion when I was a sophomore in college. I took an Electronics for Artists class my sophomore year. It was taught by a really awesome professor named Paul Badger and he introduced me to microcontrollers like the basic stamp.

We all started integrating the technology into our art projects, which for me was fashion, and I worked with some other people in my class to create an inflatable dress. That was my first wearable.

After college, I missed graduation for filming a "Project Runway Season Two." I brought a bunch of my wearable technology projects on the show with me when I was having an interview. I think that's where I was able to show people for the first time that I was doing wearable technology also. I was really scared that the magnets wouldn't work and then they didn't. I got kick off halfway through the season. I feel like it really help immediate learn how to market myself. I thought that was a really interesting experience like, how can I put my best foot forward.


GUPTA: Diana is putting her best fashion forward in innovative new ways. Up next, turning bugs into jewelry.



ENG: I consider myself an innovator because I really like to explore what can be done. It's not always new technology. Sometimes I'm looking at old technologies or how things used to be manufactured. I feel like since I'm a small company I'm able to really explore different techniques and different materials and then incorporate them into all my products to make them special.

SAMBOLIN: Those are real lady bugs?

ENG: My lady bug pin is a pin that's designed to look like a real lady bug, but it's actually made out of silver and hand-painted enamel. So the idea is that you would wear it on your shirt and it would look like you have a real lady bug on your shirt.

I guess with the lady bug pin I researched all the different species and I was really surprised there were so many different colors and patterns of lady bugs. This one is actually metallic blue color. This one is hot pink this one is purple. This one has like bandage stripes on it.

I think that I just get really involved with the design process and while I'm working through it, I spend a lot of time researching and then I always find something that's super interesting to me and I want to share it with other people.

SAMBOLIN: It's so tiny, how do you work with things that tiny?

ENG: Well, it's actually molded from a real lady bug.

SAMBOLIN: These are real lady bugs?

ENG: Yes, you can compare it to my pin and see how accurate my pin is.

SAMBOLIN: They are identical.

ENG: I feel like there's kind of like an element of discovery with a lot of my different designs. Like maybe you're learning about something that you didn't think existed when you were buying one of my designs. Maybe you find out how something works like in the case of the Farfalle pasta necklace. These are some prototypes of a Farfalle bowtie pasta necklace I'm developing. You can see these are actually made out of the pasta. I started out. I wanted it play with the idea of hand-painted pasta. Maybe as a mom you've received some macaroni necklaces.

SAMBOLIN: And this is your inspiration?

ENG: Yes. So I basically bought a box of macaroni and started painting them with acrylic paint and these were the designs I liked the most. I was looking at a lot of pictures on Pinterest and people were hand-painting different macaroni and pasta and making them into necklaces.

I kind of remember when I was a child I also made macaroni necklaces for my mom. I thought it would be really neat to have that as almost like fine jewelry so you could permanently have a cute pasta to wear.

SAMBOLIN: What is it about this design of the bowtie pasta that you like so much?

ENG: Well, I like it as a necklace because when you wear it as a necklace, it looks lying you're wearing a bowtie. Like this black one over here.

SAMBOLIN: My goodness.

ENG: It's like you have a bowtie and it's a pasta. It's molded from a real Farfalle pasta, but then it's made out of brass and some are made out of sterling silver. We're at Lauren Tiffany casting, which is where I get my lady bug pins and my new Farfalle bowtie necklace made.

SAMBOLIN: You could be shipping all your stuff or have it be made overseas somewhere as opposed to here. Why is this so important to you?

ENG: We're in the jewelry district right now and I feel like it's really important to support local manufactures. Lauren Tiffany isn't the cheapest option for me to manufacture it. I really like that they're a family-owned business.

Today they're making the Farfalle necklaces. So these are basically a bowtie pasta. I brought a bowtie pasta here. An actual piece of pasta and they created a mold of it. Now it's being created in brass.

I like manufacturing with Lauren Tiffany because I kind of feel like their things are hand-made. Not made by machine and a lot of the times now I especially if you manufacture overseas, everything is made by machine. So it comes out absolutely perfect.

Like there's no hand refining, no polishing and the stuff from Lauren Tiffany has all of this individual character to it. It really makes each one special because they're all unique. Like no two pasta necklaces are the same. (END VIDEOTAPE)

GUPTA: Diana has no problem incorporating old school techniques into her high-tech design. Next, teaching the art of tech and fashion to teens.



ENG: Today, we're at Moma, the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. I'm here to teach the Click-It Moma class is one of the make-it classes. There are about 22 students in the class and the 22 students come from all over New York City.

It's really a chance for them get hands on into making art because a lot of the art programs have been cut from schools here. I'm teaching the wearable technology course. So we're looking at different ways that technology can be made wearable. Today, we're going to be starting work on our final garments.

Today is the first day that the students are working on their final projects. So they're basically putting together all the elements that they've been learning in our sort of introductory classes to create garment of their own design.

Each piece of the LED strip needs to be connected to the battery pack.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's going to come out through here. I'm going to make everything hook on.

ENG: When I'm working with students, I like to start by demoing a technology for them and showing them how the technology works.

We're going to sew a loop around this strip like this. There is a little bit of magic in how electronics works and this gets the kids excited about how to integrate the technology into the pieces that they're creating.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Working on a dress. I want to add lights to it and maybe like Diana can help me program those lights.

ENG: I have noticed that when I show the students new technology or a new technique to work with, that sometimes a light bulb goes off and they're like, wow, that's amazing, like I didn't know I could make that. I think they're really just connected from the technologies they use, they all have cell phones but they don't necessarily know what goes into making a cell phone.

Working on an LED dress and a video dress and it's like going to come around, wrap around. One of the great things about teaching at Moma is that we're able to draw inspiration for our explorations from the galleries.

We were looking at Monet's "Water Lilies" and were exploring different shapes and textures. The students actually took videos of different art pieces and projected them onto the dress these made to create video dresses.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're making inflatables for the skirt part of our dress.

We're also playing with inflatables. The students created their own inflatable shapes and used different art works in the galleries as inspiration because they could see how different bodies were represented in sculpture.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is going to be to create a tron. When you buy a helmet we install lights in it.

ENG: I think a lot of new things are possible with the technologies we have today. I think this is an opportunity for students to explore what they can make and create with the new technologies and we're exploring it through fashion. I think the kids will be able to see how this could apply to any medium in art and design.

I'm working with Sparkfun, which is kind of like a do-it-yourself electronics company to make the 21st Century fashion designers tool kit. It has thermo chromatic ink, fibre that heats so that you can heat the ink and create changing images. It has an inflator in it and inflatable materials so you can create air bladders.

It will have our French vintage thread from 1930 that happens to be super conductive. I'm interested in making people think differently about things. With the kit that I'm creating with Sparkfun or my class at Moma, I feel like it's really teaching people to look at materials that are already kind of existing and think about how it can change how we live our lives and things that they can create.


GUPTA: Diana Eng is reinterpreting what it means to be a fashion designer, an entrepreneur in the 21st Century. Her inspiration for creativity comes from unlikely places and results in innovative, fun and surprising fashion and that's what earns her spot on THE NEXT LIST.

Special thanks to CNN's Zoraida Sambolin. I'm Dr. Sanjay Gupta. Thanks for watching THE NEXT LIST. See you back next week.