At the start of the coronavirus pandemic, fashion designer Chelsea Klukas of Lumen Couture planned to make some standard fabric face masks for friends. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend wearing homemade face coverings to prevent the virus from spreading.
Lumen Couture offers a wide range of technology-based fashion, including dresses, hoodies and costumes. Klukas switched to masks when personal events were canceled and sales of other products declined. She decided to add the technology to make the face masks a little more fun.
"I had the components nearby, so I put together a quick DIY YouTube tutorial on how to make them," Klukas said in an interview with The Verge. "It really exploded until people asked me about a ready-made mask."
She added that she didn't want to try to benefit from the pandemic, so Lumen Couture donated the proceeds from the sale of the mask – about $ 5,000 – to the World Health Organization's COVID-19 aid fund by June.
Customers who buy the masks are a completely different population than their usual clientele, Klukas adds, and she has seen more male customers than expected, most of whom would not call themselves fashionistas.
She adds that she believes masks that anyone can wear help make them a statement piece of clothing. "I think we see the introduction of mask wearing as a new form of expression. Other fashion designers also take this up. I think we're going to start seeing the Rolex version of masks. "
The LED display mask has a thin LED matrix screen, and carriers can use an app to control what is displayed – drawings, custom text, and even voice input. The fabric is breathable above and below the screen and the technical components can be removed so that the mask can be washed or worn as a normal mask. A battery and a charging cable are included.
The app has a microphone input, and some wearers use it to display social distance messages – such as "step back" or "6 feet" – that may be difficult to hear when someone says with a covered mouth.
The hardest part of designing clothing with LED lighting components is where and how to hide the batteries, Klukas said. "There are a few tricks where you can hide yourself in a dress with a fluffy skirt, for example," she said, "but if you want to do something slim and skin-tight, it's more of a challenge."
The masks were by far their best-selling product, but Klukas says she can't wait to go back to personal shows where people can personally touch and experience the LED-enhanced clothing. "Especially with some of the more adventurous pieces, people will experience the magic up close and it is difficult to show it through videos," she said. "The person wearing the fashion is part of the story and doesn't convey the story so well on a flat screen."