Medicine and fashion don’t often go hand in hand, but Australian designer Brooke Roberts believes that the two can definitely come together. After serving 5 years in the medical field working as a radiographer, Roberts decided return to university at the age of 27 and study fashion. She tells us: “I love science and I had no idea a degree in fashion even existed. I had no option to seriously pursue arts at my school in Charlton, rural Victoria – it wasn’t on my radar.”
But her design inspirations came from her then day job – 2 years after graduating from Central Saint Martins, Roberts had a light bulb moment when looking at a CT scan of a brain. She then created a knitted catsuit by digitally programming the scan into a knitting machine. (Her scans come from friends and family.) You can see how a scan evolves into a design in this short video.
The designs proved popular to a market looking for something new, intelligent, and attractive, and Roberts proceeded to produce collections that gained popularity among her client base. Always looking to shake things up, Roberts decided that she didn’t want regular models for her Spring/Summer 2015 collection, but professional women instead. Sue Walter, CEO of The Hospital Club, Jemima Kiss, Head of Technology at The Guardian, and Elizabeth Varley, Founder & CEO of TechHub were just some of the women she chose to appear in her “Superwoman” campaign: “I asked pioneering and successful women from the fields of science, medicine, technology, media and business to model the collection. It doesn’t make sense for me to follow the industry norms and hire very thin teenagers as models. I prefer to connect with my audience on a more aspirational and inspirational level.”
Since then, her career has progressed in leaps and bounds since she decided to move away from the stress associated with producing a collection every 6 months. Her current focus is fashion knitwear consultancy: “I utilise my science-inspired and technical approach to digital knitting to create knitwear for a number of luxury fashion brands. I am passionate about technology driving the knitting and design process and the growing technical textile and wearables sectors”, she enthuses.
She is also becoming increasingly involved in the fashion technology discourse in London and abroad, with blogs about the fashion tech world for the Huffington Post as well as her own blog, Techstyler. Roberts takes a serious look at the topic without making it into an overly academic read: “I tend to focus on new technologies and the application, or potential application, of them in the fashion industry, and write about technology from a fashion designer’s perspective.”
In addition to consulting for other brands, Roberts also works on various tech projects. Earlier this year, she was asked to curate the Fashion Tech launch of London Technology Week by the Mayor of London’s promotional office; London and Partners. Never one to shy away from a challenge, Roberts decided to do some big picture thinking about who she could invite to take part, instead of taking the potentially easier route of putting together a collection of wearables, given that most people are already familiar with items such as Fitbits and Apple watches. “My aim was to showcase the symbiotic fusion of fashion and technology. I brought together a collection of collaborative fashion and technology products and projects. These include the Headworks holographic mannequin by animator Dominic Faraway; Modeclix, the first draped 3D-printed fabric to follow the contours of the body; my own knitwear, combining brain scans and the latest digital knitting techniques; and the 360-degree virtual reality experience taking viewers to the front row of London Fashion Week, by creative communications agency Village.”
She also debuted her “Fashbot R(evolution)”, produced in collaboration with Holition and InMoov. For this robot installation, Roberts designed a dress for the robot and fashion illustrations were then projected onto it.
Another recent project was the developer challenge with Jaguar Land Rover, where Roberts explored the potential use of knitted textiles as an interactive interface for car interiors, removing the need for buttons and switches and making the interior intuitive and seamless. Roberts enjoyed the collaborative element, commenting “for that developer challenge I worked with programmers, a business consultant, an inventor and an animator. It was a really exciting project and I see myself continuing with such projects.”
While she still does occasional radiography work to keep her hand in – “it feeds into my technical textile concepts and inspires me to continue fusing science, technology and knitwear design” she explains – Roberts is currently in working on a proposal for a new technical textile and robotics project which has potential applications in fashion and beyond. Stay tuned!