Mainstreaming XR Wearables Starts with Styling for Inclusion
The old adage “seeing is believing” certainly checks out, but to believe in something, an idea, a notion, has one seeing it proven over and over again. I decided to create a photo campaign to make mixed-reality wearables look good and diversity in tech industry marketing a must. It’s what I believe in and what I want to see. Pics or it didn’t happen, ya know?
When the Magic Leap One (ML1) originally shipped and went to market, I eagerly tried the headset the first moment I could. I was impressed by a number of features right away and the care the good people of Magic Leap put into constructing the hardware, but remained unsurprised when the wearable did not fit over my big glasses and even bigger hair. Plus, there’s no place for the Lightpack when you’re wearing a pocketless dress in your startup’s Silicon Valley office (one of my coworkers had to carry it behind me while I balanced my prescription frames as I tried out Project Create).
Let’s be clear, there was no “woe is me” as I realize the future of wearables’ industrial design is inclusive, fashionable design; the concept of styling them has been danced around, yet barely asked to come to the floor for a waltz or even a twirl. See, we need to address the issue of ‘looking silly’ as soon as possible, of creating flexibility for different hairstyles and body types and the sizes of diverse facial features. It’s all part of the solution to the conundrum of adoption, sales and success for our industry.
With a proactive push and a desire to imagine what the future of fashion might look like if immersive technology truly embraced different bodies, brains and beauty standards around the world, I created a concept to bring to life: what if I pulled from my background as a fashion photographer and produced the first-ever street-style photobook for the ML1 featuring a model and look that could make the wearable come across as a mainstream accessory? My images are meant to make one wonder what our strong model could possibly see, what world is she creating, which one does she live in?
I poured over fashion influences and decided to find inspiration in sets of trendy neons, colorful patterns, Afro-futurism + Asian street-style. With vaporwave-infused illustrations as another source for funky, future imaginings I found myself bringing this project together on a passionate whim. I knew I wanted to cast a female model of color as the protagonist as they are so often underrepresented in tech while notably being the population of entrepreneurs and creators who are most often a great bet to bet on. I wanted her to be intense with clear eyes and an unapologetic stare as if she were an oracle seeing what is to come.
Calling around to every woman I knew who worked in AR and VR, I asked for their ideas about representation, if they’d ever seen a concept campaign like the one I was working on, how they saw their own place in the industry and the state of wearables. Every single one shared that they were optimistic about inclusion, but also that they had struggled with headsets that were too big or didn’t fit their bodies properly, let alone over hijab or braided hair or big glasses, like mine. All this, plus the dreaded smudging inevitable for those who wear makeup.
With a talented team of West Coast women (shoutouts to Taryn McKeen, Jessica Clark and Taylor Smith for making make-believe real) we ran off to San Francisco’s Mission District and brought these vibrant, defiant photos to life. I’d like to consider that what we did together took hardware and twisted it, turned it, put it in heels making it cool, casual hardwear. This is the next step in bringing the rest of the world out of the dark and into our trendy threshold (that, and more content!).
Considering the global fashion industry is valued at $2.5 trillion and the overall tech trade at $3 trillion, it’s easy to see how the two complement each other economically. Factoring in additional cosmetics commerce coming close to $532 billion annually (we need to solve the makeup problem), we have to consider the impact these industries will have on each other as they continue to grow. Just like technology, fashion updates, upgrades and changes almost at lightspeed. From la haute couture to la mode du jour, it is as tumultuous as it is tremendous and it is one of the few industries that could potentially keep up with the tech sector. What besides the ML1 costs $2,300? Louis Vuitton monogram boots, Tag Heuer formula one watches and Gucci bomber jackets, and people are buying those.
For the Business of Fashion’s 2019 report Leonardo Bonanni, advocate for fashion industry transparency and Sourcemap CEO, almost describes tech as he acknowledges that the apparel market is “one of the most volatile and fast-changing supply chains that I know of.” Realistically, only wearables, whether mixed-reality or otherwise, are the products that can merge and match up, but we have to adopt parts of the substantial fashion industry if we want the mainstream to adopt us.
This challenge is not superficial, instead it’s survival and incredibly crucial to overcome as we manufacture similar industrial designs for billions of potential, future consumers. With prayers and pushes for the acceptance of XR or spatial computing wearables in general, we simply cannot expect enthusiastic admission of new users, let alone their capital and ultimately purchases of this gear and the content that comes with it all until the hallowed influencers of fashion and social media choose to style headsets as effortlessly and creatively as they do suits, skirts and sportswear.
Think about it all this way: we owe it to ourselves and our budding industry to make it look as cool as possible in as many ways as possible and to vary the voices and forces leading the charge. Like a colorful and assorted diet, it’s statistically proven that diverse teams are better, stronger ones.
We need more XR imagery that features of the faces and personalities of those we wish to see in the industry, if only to attract them to join us, to invest in us, to create with us. Consider stock photography—we seem to only have access to a myriad of repeated looks of shock and awe in headsets on the same body types with the same skin colors without any break for diversity. Try to imagine how much nicer all our pitch decks would be with a photo upgrade.
This photoset is a call-to-action to bring women and minorities into the fold to rebuild our world, redesign our technology and reimagine the potential for wearables and mixed-reality through and through. We’re coming for you.
Special Thanks: Erika Barraza, Young Byun, Lynda Choi, Jesse Damiani, Debra Davis, Bob Degus, Jayna Finucane, Rogue Fong, Ali Heston, Autumn Kelly, Michell Muldoon, Malia Probst, Lucas Rizzotto, Vivian Tan, Martina Welkhoff, Aidan Wolf