It's not an easy task to define the practice of designer Jasna Rok. Fashtech pioneer? Radical innovator? Visionary designer? ‘All of the above’ seems only appropriate. In fact, Jasna founded the first FashionTech design studio in Belgium, where she combines innovative technologies with interactive fashion and roams the planet to share her vision to disrupt the current fashion industry, but she doesn’t stop at fashion, the redefining of other traditional industries through the future of fashion and technonlogy is her true mission.

Graduated just three years ago, Jasna Rokegem already has a strong vision on the garments of the future and how it adds value to our daily lives. Her vision did not go unnoticed: she has been nominated as an Innovator under 35 by MIT Technology Review, received the award as a leading woman in STEM, she has been selected as Global Entrepreneur (subsequently representing Belgium at the Global Entrepreneurship Summit in India), and was recently invited over to the NASA Headquarters for a keynote lecture on her work, next exciting stop is SXSW in Austin, Texas. All the reasons for a sit-down with Jasna Rok to learn more about her foresighted practice, her partiality to space travel, Nokia, and more.

How do you define yourself?

It’s difficult to answer. All too often when people try to push me into a category, I seem to crawl out again. At our studio, we are pioneering in the field of combining innovative fashion with advanced technology. And by turning our concepts into working prototypes, our goal is to make the future tangible for a large audience —but also understandable— with the aim to open the debate on what our future may look like.

The future is not fixed yet, but by speculating upon scenarios for what it might become, we’ll have time to tell which scenario emerges and finds its way into society. From the beginning, I have pushed boundaries with my work. This results in speculative concepts that on the one hand directly refer to what’s to come, but on the other hand are simultaneously ready for future applications.

Photography by Ellie van den Brande

Can you elaborate on your vision for the future of fashion?

I have a very specific view on this: I believe that in the future, we will all wear one garment. This doesn’t just mean that I foresee a single piece of clothing that changes its color and shape, but rather how this piece of garment will relate to us as humans.

However, by making such a statement, it usually upsets people. But, if I continue the conversation and give examples of my work —such as how a garment can change shape and color by means of brain waves, and how we, together with nanotech experts, have developed clothing you will never have to wash— this slants their views.

And what about astronauts? They only wear one garment. They wear a space suit and do not have a whole wardrobe to choose from. It’s not that crazy.

Clothing is a technology that, compared to others, has been around for a long time. What’s your view ‘clothing as a technology’?

I consider clothing as an extension of ourselves. Just think of the amount of technology currently available to us. When applied smartly, we can work towards a future where we could wear our clothes as an interface to the outer world, able to receive responses to our inner most feelings. Clothing can therefore add a new dimension of interaction and the communication of self-expression, and how we deal with our identity.

Can you give an example from your own work?

Imagine if I, as a stylist, take a wanderer off the street and dress this person perfectly as if he were the CEO of a billion dollar company, you would probably believe it’s true, as he’s ‘dressed for the occasion’. With our first collection Fashion on Brainwaves we have completely tilted this idea of identity connected to what we wear and how we present ourselves just like we do on social media. The collection pieces provide neural feedback by measuring how the wearer feels - how relaxed or (un)comfortable they may feel: when feeling uncomfortable, the garment’s collar goes up and closes the wearer off from the outside world, so they can recenter first. There is no more pretending to be something you’re not.

In other words, the brain displays who the wearer really is. Not just in terms of identity, but through giving real-time feedback. This way you can continuously optimize yourself, and in turn, it means that we’ll bring about an entirely new way of communicating where you convey information to other people without the words.

After Fashion on Brainwaves came Mindlight, can you tell us a bit about that project?

MindLight is a more practical future tool. It gives you real time neurofeedback on your state of concentration. Think about how in Sweden people work for 6 hours a day—instead of 8 hours—and are much more productive. So, with this smart jewel, you are able to train your brain to focus. Interesting for people who want to work less, but be more productive. In the future, this could be an alternative way to help people with attention disorders.

Photography by Ellie van den Brande

Needless to say that your work is technology-driven, where do you find the technologies you are working with?

Sometimes it feels as if I’m an alien with sensors in my head. It may be weird to say, but I have ‘a feeling’ for new technology. My work often starts from the ‘what if’ question. I formulate a concept in my head, and only afterwards I start to think about where I can find the technology. If the technology is not around yet, I will look for the right partners who can build it for me.

Tell us more about these partnerships.

We only partner with companies that share our vision and are able to add their own specialized expertise to our collaborations in different fields, think sports, entertainment, sustainability, healthcare etc. By working closely with companies in the fields of science and innovation, we aim to blend fashion and technology, giving life to scientific based creations. Together, we are committed to building the most creative, innovative fashion & technology.

You have recently worked with Nokia Bell Labs to “expand the possibilities of artistic expression and technical innovation for the future of wearable items”. What were the outcomes?

Consider how today, everyone is talking about artificial intelligence. In contrast we’re now exploring the notion of emotional intelligence [to recognize, understand, influence and manage our own emotions and those of others]. Rather than focusing on the physical body, we focus on emotional intelligence.

We have built the first prototypes of Emotion Identifiers and Simulators. With this we can detect whether the wearer feels angry, neutral or happy. We are already able to make this tangible, both through visual and haptic feedback. It certainly links to how we communicate today through emojis and photographs. But what if we can visualize, simulate, or maybe even transfer emotions in the future?

Photography by Ellie van den Brande

What do you need to bring your work to the market?

Well, there are currently quite a few problems in the fashion industry as such. This means that if you want to change one part of the chain, you have to do this across the entire chain. This is exactly why we choose to work together with other industries: things go faster there.

Do you have any advice for the fashion industry?

We need radical innovation, and a new mindset. Be open to it.

Where are you in five years?

I want to go to the moon! As you may know, Space X has just sold its first tickets to a Japanese billionaire visionary who wants to take artists into space. I want to take my new project to the moon! I’d like to wear one of the Emotion Identifiers and Simulators, and leave one on earth. This way I can pioneer in intergalactic communication!

Need more Jasna in your life? Good! To our Dutch friends, Jasna will star in the upcoming Tegenlicht episode on Future Fashion, which airs coming Sunday, 9 November at 9pm on NPO2. To our US friends, catch Jasna in March 2019 at the stage of SXSW, here she will present the first prototype of Emotion Identifiers and Simulators. Want to help Jasna to the moon? Join Next Nature Network and let’s make this thing happen, together!

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