Scan the landscape of wearable tech available today, and you’ll see endless hardware–fitness trackers, step counters, smartwatches, and more. None of it is particularly wearable. For tech to feel as natural as wearing a T-shirt, it’ll need to soften up. That’s what young entrepreneur Maddy Maxey believes: her new clothing line exploits UV-reactive inks to create interactive garments, making the combination of cloth and technology feel intuitive.
Maxey worked with the digital printing partners at Print All Over Me to create clothing that changes patterns in response to light. The trick: photochromatic inks, which are made up of molecules that turn transparent when exposed to sunlight. The technology has been around since the mid-1800s, yet it still feels futuristic when applied to clothing. The clothing line includes baseball caps, T-shirts, sweatshirts, sweatpants, backpacks, and more.
Many of the designs make subtle allusions to math or science concepts. There’s a long-sleeved T-shirt printed with geometric patterns that were generated through parametric equations. Other T-shirts and caps use ASCII art to form the pupil of an eye that widens in the dark. One baseball cap has a disappearing cat face, referencing Schrödinger’s cat.
Right now, Photochromia’s technological abilities are pretty basic; disappearing ink doesn’t perform nearly as many sophisticated tasks as some of Maxey’s competitors, like Ralph Lauren’s Polo Tech Shirt, which tracks biometric data from the wearer. But she thinks that opening up how we think of wearable tech with projects like hers and others will help prepare people for what wearables might look like in the future. “Ultimately, I want to see clothing that truly serves the purpose of wearers,” she says. Think of hydrophobic or anti-microbial cloth, which could protect clothing from bad weather or harmful bacteria, or modular clothing that could shape shift, reducing the amount of clothing necessary to produce different looks.
Photochromia is on Kickstarter, where you can get a UV-reactive hat by donating $25. If you’ve got more money to burn and want to see your own design in print, you can pay $1,000 for a custom design, printed in the same UV-reactive ink.