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First Lady’s Fashion Workshop Highlights Growing Role of Makers and New Technologies in the Creative Economy

On Wednesday, October 8, First Lady Michelle Obama hosted a Fashion and Education Workshop at the White House with 150 high school and college students.

On Wednesday, October 8, First Lady Michelle Obama hosted a Fashion and Education Workshop at the White House with 150 high school and college students. The fashion industry is full of Makers – creative individuals who have a diverse range of skills that they use to create products and apparel that are innovative, stylish and functional. The workshop highlighted the growing impact that the Maker Movement, along with the development of new materials and technologies such as 3D printing, low-cost sensors, and micro-controllers are having in the fashion industry and the creative economy.

First Lady Michelle Obama checks in with some of the workshop participants.

As was evident at the first-ever White House Maker Faire earlier this year with President Obama, these new technologies are helping more young people and adults bring their ideas to life – from low-cost healthcare solutions to innovative products which have become billion-dollar companies. More than 150 universities, 130 libraries, 90 mayors, and a range of federal agencies and industry members have already joined White House efforts to support the Maker Movement, and the White House was excited to help showcase some of the broad impacts that these stakeholders are having.

The Fashion and Education Workshop was built on five core themes: technology, construction, entrepreneurship, inspiration and journalism. The technology workshop was led by Rebeccah Pailes-Friedman, an Associate Professor in Industrial Design at The Pratt Institute. With the guidance of Pailes-Friedman and a team of students from Pratt, workshop participants created their own wearable technology: an LED-powered pin. This project required participants to create their own design for the pin, sew the pin body, and then program LEDs in specific patterns, providing a great example of how fashion can bring together disciplines from art and design to STEM.

On display during the technology workshop were some innovative examples of pieces that illustrate how new technologies are changing the face of the fashion industry. “Gravity of Light” is a 3D-printed, LED-powered hat created by Younghui Kim, a wearable technology artist. Tilting your head down or to the side while wearing the hat creates warm waves of light that fill the hat’s surface, as if light had the properties of gravity. Gravity of Light and similar garments that leverage sensors and other smart technologies provide new opportunities for individuals to interact with their surroundings.

Workshop attendees also viewed an intricate, 3D-printed dress designed by Australian architects Elena Low and Kae Woei Lim. Made out of flexible plastic, the dress took over 450 hours for the innovators to print on an Ultimaker 3D printer, and appeared on the runway earlier this year at the 3D Printshow in New York. To share their work with their fellow Makers, Low and Lim teamed up with Ultimaker to develop a number of different designs for fashion accessories and apparel, which are freely available to anyone on the online platform Youmagine. Anyone can download the files for the inBloom dress and create their own version using a 3D printer.

Innovation at the intersection of fashion and technology can solve challenges as well as leverage opportunities. For example, also exhibited was Leah Buechley’s "bike turn signal jacket." The jacket contains embedded lights that alerts traffic to the wearer's presence and anticipated movement, keeping the wearer visible and safe even after dark. Buechley, a designer, engineer, and educator, created the jacket using the LilyPad, a kit she designed herself to help others make interactive fashion.

In her remarks, the First Lady explained to students how Making can prepare them for a career in fashion: “You learned the highly specialized construction skills that you all can only learn through hours and years of education and practice and technical training.  This doesn’t just come out of just talent, sheer creativity.  You have to practice it.  You have to learn it.  You have to study it.  And those are the kind of concrete skills that you all will need to succeed.”   

Federal agencies and nonprofit organizations alike are striving to help aspiring Makers pursue their passions. NASA's Mars Balance Mass Challenge offers a cash prize of $20,000 to the innovator who comes up with the best design idea for incorporating useful science and technology functions into the traditionally "dead weight" masses that help balance spacecraft landing on Mars. 3D Systems, in collaboration with the American Library Association and the Association of Science and Technology Centers, is donating 3D printers to museums and libraries across the country that demonstrate a commitment to enhancing Making opportunities in their communities. Along with the First Lady's workshop, programs and initiatives like these show that Making is definitely coming into more ways than one.

Stephanie Santoso is the OSTP Senior Advisor for Making.

Got activities supporting Makers in your community, or ideas for new Making initiatives and programs? Let us know by sending an email to