From her studies at the Swedish School of Textiles in Borås to Professor of Fashion Design at Universidad de Monterrey, Mexico, Marta Kisand's work in smart textiles spans not only many fields, but many countries. She has designed shoes, surfaces, clothing and car interiors - all show her signature graphic style and all are "smart" in more ways than one.
Can you tell us a little bit about your education at the Swedish School of Textiles and why you chose that path?
Marta Kisand: After graduating from my BA studies in Textile Design at the Estonian Academy of Arts I had to take a rather difficult decision. When I started my studies we still had several textile companies and some textile production in Estonia but by the time I graduated, the majority of the textile industry had either disappeared or moved elsewhere. I realized the difficulty of continuing as a professional textile designer, also most of my group-mates continued their education in other design fields. I had to decide whether to change my career direction or stay in the textile field.
I liked textile design a lot and I did not want to throw away everything I had learned so far and therefore I decided to give textile design another chance, but to add another dimension to it, which was the field of smart textiles. Without really knowing much about it (at that time I had only done one LED-embroidery workshop in Estonia) I decided to take a risk and continue my studies at the Swedish School of Textiles. I had heard that this university is one of the few places in Europe where you can work with smart textiles.
I was accepted into the MA program and suddenly I was sunken into the field of smart textiles. I spent my first year of study learning about smart materials as much as possible. In Borås we were lucky to have many researchers and guest designers doing workshops and teaching us how to work with Arduino, how to print with thermo chromic inks, how to make textile buttons, how to solder and how to make sensors etc. It opened up a completely new world for me and I could combine my previous textile skills and knowledge with electronics and technology. I had to learn a lot and start from the very beginning - for example: how to create an electrical circuit?
I am very grateful for this experience and glad that I continued with textiles.
I really like the "Integrity" fashion collection you designed together with Anna Lidström, Eleonor Johansson and Katja Schmitz exploring behavioral communication in urban environments. Can you briefly describe the inspiration and design process, how long it took, etc? Also, what was the general reaction from people when the pieces were worn in public?
MK: The “Integrity” project was a collaboration between design and management students at the Swedish School of Textiles which we had for one semester. (Design: Marta Kisand and Anna Lidström. Management: Eleonor Johansson, Katja Schmitz). We were exploring the crowded urban environment and created a collection of wearables which helped the wearer either to escape the surroundings or to connect with other people. As people relate differently to crowdedness – some love it and some hate it – we wanted to explore the possible design solutions which would help to deal with the crowded environment.
We worked with air-proof materials and created inflatable accessories. Black Air Dress has a huge inflatable collar which can be inflated into a huge shape which creates personal space for the wearer. The wearer can lean on it and have a nap. We thought about very practical aspects of urban life and the necessity to calm down and have a rest in busy urban environments. The Air Pants for example have a belt which can be inflated so that a seat is created. The wearer can sit and take a break when necessary.
The Bookshelf Dress is for a person who wants to escape their crowded surroundings. The wearer can lift up the skirt and a large bookshelf appears. The wearer can hide himself/herself behind the bookshelf.
On the other hand, some people like crowds and want to make a connection with others. Sometimes it is difficult to find a reason to talk to complete strangers. We made the Thermochromic Dress which has a huge skirt and can be shared with other people. It is possible to invite others to sit on it. The dress is printed with inks which react to heat and change color when someone sits on it. This is a good reason to start a conversation and talk about the color change. This is a way to make a connection.
We also traveled to Tokyo – to one of the most crowded cities in the world where we could test and try our collection in the public space. For me it was a very exciting part of the project when we could actually put the products into action and see how it works in reality.
We documented our designs in all possible crowded situations and thereafter we had an exhibition in a small gallery in Roppongi, Tokyo. We presented our garments and also documentation of the project. We made questionnaires for the opening night and received feedback from Japanese people who live in this crowded environment. The feedback was very different: some people don't like crowdedness, some are fine with it, some don't really care and some could not really understand what was the project about. This illustrates well that people do relate very differently to crowdedness and one-solution-fits-all is not really an option.
More recently you've been working with textiles for auto-interiors. This must bring a completely new set of both possibilities and restrictions. What were the main design opportunities and restraints you discovered while working on your Masters Thesis for Volvo Technology and Sustainable Vehicle 2020 for Toyota? Do you think that the auto industry will drive developments in smart textiles?
MK: That's true, the automotive field is very restricted by laws and regulations but at the same time every car producer is interested in innovation. Therefore the industry is investing a lot into research and development. Many projects never reach production for different reasons but despite that the automotive industry is always looking for new innovative ideas.
My MA thesis together with Volvo Technology in Sweden was about finding the possibilities for smart textile use in the automotive industry. There are many smart materials and technologies developed and available but not much of it has entered production. I was investigating the possible smart solutions for truck interiors which would help the driver to work and also spend leisure time in the cab. I was working with color change (thermo chromic) inks and light materials (LEDs and EL-wire). I created textile interfaces which communicated information to the driver and textiles which added comfort value into the small cab environment.
After graduation I travelled to Japan where I made an internship at Toyota Boshoku. I was working on a small city-car interior and created an illuminating textile for a headliner. I was able to produce smart textile materials at their factory on industrial weaving machines. This experience proved that it is possible to mass produce smart materials.
For me, working with very small car interiors is a very interesting topic. This also relates to the crowdedness theme which was explored in the “Integrity” project. Clever design solutions can add value to small restricted spaces. Textiles are materials which can have very different characteristics, it can be stretchy of stiff, thin or thick, plain or structured etc. And it can have all of those characteristics in one material. Using those qualities it is possible to create both functional and aesthetic solutions which fit in the small environment and at the same time take very little space. In the end, a big part of the car interior is covered with textiles (seats, floor, headliner, doors etc) and there are endless possibilities in playing around with the characteristics of textile materials.
I think there is interest in smart textile solutions for the car industry. One important aspect of it is the component and weight reduction issue which can be achieved with smart textiles. Electronic components woven into textiles make the material lightweight and different components merged into one material makes it easy to handle. I believe we will see more and more smart textiles not only in the automotive field but in other fields as well.
Lastly, are you working on anything currently that you can tell us about, or do you have any plans for new projects in the pipeline?
MK: At the moment I am settling down in my new hometown, Frankfurt in Germany and working as a color and trim designer at Opel.
I will definitely update my webpage about my new projects. So stay tuned!
Thanks so much for your time, Marta! More about Marta's work at her website: martakisand.com