These high-tech clothes make you money by selling your data

U.S. LOOMIA’s connect fabric brings tech functions to fashion and sells your data to the highest-bidding brand

LOOMIA wants to give your clothes an invisible high-tech makeover. The Brooklyn-based startup has developed a material that, when connected to sensors, can emit light from your jacket or heat up your boots in the winter.

The electronic layer is similar to nylon and can be sewn into garments as seamlessly as a care tag. So far, it has been used in prototypes for household brands including Calvin Klein and The North Face.

“The electronic layering is essentially a drapable, crease-able, stretchable circuit board,” explains Madison Maxey, the founder and chief technology officer of smart-textile firm LOOMIA. Before starting LOOMIA, Maxey was a master seamstress at a French tailor. In 2013, aged 25, she won a Thiel fellowship to pursue advancements in fashion and textiles, and founded her own studio, The Crated. It was a year later, when she was made artist in residence for software company Autodesk, that she began to experiment with conductive ink.

Conductive ink connects circuits without the need for wiring. Until Maxey’s development, most ink solutions were rigid, making it difficult to attach a circuit directly into clothes – although possible, it would make the fabric heavy and clunky. Maxey invented a metal compound formula with the consistency of Spandex, which became the basis for her electronic layering. By adding a resistive heater to the circuit, she was able to build a self-heating fabric, connected to a slim, tag-like battery to keep it charged for two years. Maxey rebranded The Crated to LOOMIA in 2016 and hired long-time friend Janett Liriano as CEO.

The pair soon realised that electronic layering could do more than just react to the environment; it could also be used to gather data. “There probably isn’t a better way to track your motion than by using your clothes,” says Liriano. But the company wasn’t interested in developing a Fitbit-style wearable, and the security and privacy issues around storing personal data made Maxey and Liriano uncomfortable.

“We thought it was better not to collect [at all], rather than collect without a good plan for thoughtful storage,” says Maxey. They started researching decentralised cloud storage services such as blockchain-based Storj (where information is kept private and encrypted), and set out to find a way for users to sell their own data without involving a middle party. “People know that businesses are making a lot of money from them,” says Liriano. “Consumers want to leverage their own data. They don’t want big businesses to be in control of it.”

Their solution is the LOOMIA TILE: a device that can be stitched into the seams of clothing and connected to sensors to gather information as the item is worn. “With the tag and its sensors, we know when this jacket is moving, that it’s 20°C, that you’ve worn it seven times this month,” says Liriano.

This sort of data could be valuable to fashion companies. Understanding how often customers wear and wash products, for example, could make it easier to predict future demand. “Fashion brands now have the ability to get real user feedback – stuff they’ve been trying to get from focus groups and surveys for decades,” says Liriano.

To share their data, users scan the TILE with their phone and submit the information to Storj. Brands will then be able to pay users for their data in LOOMIA’s cryptocurrency tokens, created on the Ethereum blockchain, and customers can use these tokens to purchase goods through the TILE app. LOOMIA had its first successful token sale in May 2017; the TILE is currently in prototype stage, with production expected in the summer.

Meanwhile, LOOMIA is continuing to work with fashion brands to integrate its smart material into their products. Liriano says that there are some challenges in scaling – teaching seamstresses to connect the electrical circuits will take some time – but she expects to see the material used in consumer products in the next three years. “Technology should be like nature,” she says. “Highly functional and constantly at work with-out you realising.”