Sensewear is an Italian designer duo consisting of Ema and Ivan, both graduates of Polythecnic in Milan . Ema is specialized in furniture and textiles design, but worked in several fields as a trend researcher, strategist, interior designer, and educator. Her expertise encouraged further exploration at the intersection between product design and fashion and gave birth to the sensewear project. Ivan is an industrial designer with a multifaceted experience in product, interior design, furniture, branding, interaction, generative design, and digital fabrication. He is an expert in modular structures and patterns that are used to generate innovative open source products and enhance material performances. We first met in China, where we used to work for the same firm and we have been together in work and life since then. Almost ten years ago we landed in the Arab Emirates where in 2012 we founded Caravan, a design collective with a multidisciplinary approach, whose members share common interests in cultural, material and social aspects of a globalized community, trying to re-establish a balance among being, having and doing. Blending digital-fabrication and artisanal expertise Caravan’s projects aim at creating awareness of heritage to face contemporary challenges. Each work is infused with pragmatic materialism smoothed by subtle metaphors, inspiring its audience reaction alongside empathic participation. Their approach is characterised by strong multidisciplinary and crossbreed process that connects diverse industries towards new unexpected opportunities. Ema and Ivan currently teach design at Ajman University, one of the oldest higher education institution in the United Arabs Emirates.
Sensewear will present their work during the FASHION MAKES SENSE LAB, on June 30 – July 2 at SAM-decorfabriek (free entrance).
Where are you from? Where are you based at this moment?
We are both Italians coming from Lombardy, the region that makes our country worldwide renowned for its vibrant design philosophy and high end industrial manufacturing; although not the typical idyllic postcard of rural golden wheat hills you are used to. We have been based in the United Arab Emirates for 9 years now.
When did you realise you wanted to work in a field of (fashion) design?
In our work we are quite experimental, we try not to get trapped into compartmental definitions, working on the edge of several disciplines. The only constant in our work is the narrative we based our collective on. Caravan is a trip across diverse cultures and media, where the process takes control over the outcome. Whenever we start a project, we don’t know what is going to be in the end, with sensewear it happened to be the same, our objective was to involve sensory therapies in people’s daily activities and a garment collection came up as the most natural solution among several other possibilities. We embraced the challenge with enthusiasm and even though we are not fashion designers, we share the same tools and methodology. We teamed up with professionals working under our direction and in the end we are quite satisfied by the results of the collection and now we are pushing it through an injection of technology to make it responsive.
What are so far your main achievements in your career?
Our collection won several prizes: the Lexus Design Award 2015, the Wearable Technologies Competition at the Venice Design Week 2016, the AXAPPP Health Tech Future Award. We exhibited in Milan, Tokyo, Moscow, Dubai, London and now we are going to be in the Netherland. It’s a great satisfaction although we are aware that there is still a long way to go!
In what projects are you involved at this moment?
We are mainly working in developing and promoting the sensewear, wearables are becoming the next big thing, but we are also on some collaborative projects with experimental theater performers and we are active in social design, working with disadvantaged communities, a quite mature thematic in Europe, but still underestimated territory of exploration in the Middle East.
What are your biggest struggles as a young designer/artist?
Ehm…young? Trying to escape conventional labels that constrain your work into boundaries of a tiny specific field sometimes makes people diffident about how much focused you are, even because we also renounced to a recognizable signature style it is difficult to grow an organic audience. Still we believe the worst struggle is to find financial support for experimental non for profit projects.
What do you love the most about your profession?
Our profession is our passion and our life. We strongly believe underestimated design’s potential could make a big change in everyone life rather than being just a luxurious patina on the top of ordinary products. Design give us the possibility to satisfy our curiosity, to explore everyday new environments, new techniques, new materials, new media, new places and new people that in the end are the real objective of our projects.
How would you define fashion?
Fashion is the real foundation of popular culture since it is the most immediate way to communicate and express yourself. In some regions homologation makes it a standardized status statement that sometime becomes vulgar exhibitionism, expression of wealth without culture. Luckily the fashion system as we know it, basing its success on such extravagances, started to show its limits and other more grounded experiences are becoming sensibly prominent on scene, Fashion Clash is one of them.
What fascinates/inspires you and why?
People, nature, math and chemistry, all the biggest contradiction in life are really a great source of inspiration that help us understanding the complexity we are living in. Dubai and the Emirates are full of such contradictions, the tallest buildings in the worlds are towering on narrow traditional alleys were deliveries comes on hand pushed carts; sometimes you might start your trip on a 7 lanes motorway that narrows down to an unpaved rural road with cows and camels crossing your way; sometimes you could feel being in a Swiss financial district and in a matter of minutes you could find yourself transported in Calcutta.
Finding your own distinctive voice can be difficult, where and how do you find your personal creativity (before you start designing/during the design process)?
Design as a drawing activity is the last resource, narration, discussion, storytelling, scouting, researching, documenting. Empathy, when you establish that contact than you know you have the right motivation to do a great job.
What challenges did you face during the design process?
People they don’t want to embrace challenge sometimes and they talk to designer with already something in their mind; they just need someone to visualize it. To makes them confident and reassure about your competence it is important to get out of any misunderstanding.
What do you want to communicate with your work in general?
Design is for all! …and fashion too!
Can you tell us something about the project you will present at the FASHIONCLASH Festival?
Sensewear is a collection of clothes and accessories that emphasize the use of senses. Their primary purpose is to stimulate and improve awareness of our senses, while training us to better use them all. Some Sensewear items are designed to mute physical sensations, some to sharpen them. The collection is inspired by therapies applied to Sensory Processing Disorders and developed with the technical support of therapists assisting people affected with autism. Anxiety, stress, panic attack are most typical autism’s symptoms but more and more people suffers them, therefore the collection is not addressed only to people with disabilities but it is aiming at enhancing everyone hectic urban life. The aim of the project is to design an inclusive collection that could be attractive and wearable by anyone and does not stigmatize a person affected by a disorder.
Why have you decided to participate at FASHIONCLASH Festival?
Because our design will definitely seem out of place at any conventional fashion show, as much as at a regular healthcare business fair. Since contamination, not to be confused with weirdness, is our playground we found ourselves perfectly in line with FASHIONCLASH mission.
FASHIONCLASH is already working on future themes. What are the topics you find interesting?
Inclusive design, design for all, wearables, contamination among fashion and furniture, multipurpose, habitable garments, transformable, magnetic, performing costumes, cross cultures, cross-religions, emergency, hi-tech nomadism.
What are your thoughts regarding ‘religion and fashion’?
Very interesting question! We are living in Dubai, a place where 200 nationalities are co-existing, and among them a lot of different religions! I believe fashion has no boundaries even though, sometimes fashion and religion can really challenge each other.
Does fashion makes sense to you?
Recently fashion in general is a big mess and I’m looking for some sense in the product I buy and design. Unfortunately fashion is one of the most polluted industries and I hope new generations can make a difference!
What are your thoughts on making ‘fashion’ more environmentally-friendly?
Ah! That’s what I’ve meant! It’s a real emergency!
What are your thoughts on the senses in relation to the human body?
Well sensewear express fully this answer!
Do you think that fashion can contribute to a better world / better well-being, and what do you do to make a difference?
We design products that can improve people’s life.
What senses are engaged in your creation process?
We try to include all of them, but I believe the most important is touch.
How does technology change your creation process?
Technology is a very important source of inspiration. Ideas can come from technological innovations, new production teschnologies, new materials. We like to be experimental and we usually try to link new technologies to old craft.
What’s a standard day for you?
Up by 7, breakfast, late to Viola’s school by 8 (Viola is our daughter), late to work by 9, late lunch by 2, we are constantly living on an average 15 minute late, will catch up on Sunday! Insha’allah!
Vegan, vegetarian, healthy diet or any food will do?
We tried gluten, diary, eggs free, but what a sacrifice and what to do with our last compulsive grocery?
What’s your favourite song at the moment?
OK GO – the one moment. The video clip is amazing as all their previous ones. (ivan)
Best Tv-show/movie at the moment?
What is your bad habit?
Ivan smokes! Ema hates the smell of cigarettes!
Are you a people's person or a loner?
We love to have guests and cook for them.
Do you have a pet?
Better not to, since we are living in the desert. We enjoy camels in our backyard!
Your favourite quote?
Imagination is more important than knowledge – Albert Einstein
What’s your favourite city?
Every time we visit a new one we fall in love with it…this summer we’ll find our next crash
What/Who do you miss the most when you are not at home?
If you could move anywhere in the world, where would you go and why?
I’m not lying if I say The Netherlands!! I feel it’s a good place to live. Amsterdam gives me the idea that it is a human scale city where you can live well either single or as a family
What do you enjoy the most in life?
Exploring the culinary landscape of every country and how it relates to culture and language
What’s your guilty pleasure?
Who is your biggest example/idol?
Yves Behar, Victor Papanek, Buckminster Fuller, Madonna, Dolce & Gabbana.
Frame, Monocle… Unfortunately, we lack independent magazines in UAE.
Your favourite hashtags #?
You favorite social media app?
Instagram account you think deserves more attention?
Jahnk0y very inspiring work!
Find more about Ema and Ivan's work here: sensewear