MeU introduces ‘hackable’ clothes

Can the startup's open source wearable LED display provide a new platform for brands?

Putting static logos on T-shirts is so last century. In 2014, not only can we wear LED displays, we can customize them too.

While tech textiles are not a new phenomenon (CuteCircuit, for instance, has been lighting up runways since 2004 and Nite Life T-Shirts flash to the beat of music) on Monday MeU, a Toronto-based startup, is entering the space with an open source wearable LED display that invites people to “hack” their clothing.

The platform enables users to display any text image or pattern on clothing, bags and other accessories on a full-color LED square display with 256 LEDs. Users can manage the platform via an app that comes pre-loaded with icons, animations and text.

MeU will formally announced the launch of its Indiegogo campaign on Tuesday at the Wearable Sports and Entertainment conference. As of this morning the company has raised US$6,000 of its $175,000 goal, which it hopes to hit by December 5.

While the company’s founder, Robert Tu, says he is excited to see what others will do with the platform, he sees the opportunities as spanning both everyday use and advertising. For example, he says, it could be used by cyclists to increase their visibility on the roads or by those with limited speech as a way to communicate.

And of course, the technology offers the opportunity for advertisers to integrate their messages into live events using clothing as the media. “Brands could create a really unique experience for the audience,” Tu says, adding that in the beta-testing phase of the tech, the company branded individual dresses at parties.

Imagine, for instance, during a concert, the screen could be programmed to spell words or flash images on a performer or DJs clothing during a set, then display ads between the sets. Or models on a catwalk could deliver messages on their designer clothes.

Sean Dixon, director, emerging media at OMD in Toronto, says that there is “definitely brand appetite” for this type of application.

The opportunities for brands in the space, he says, is around building around the interactivity of the device, whether with the environment or other people. However, in a crowded cool-tech space, Dixon says he wonders if MeU will be able to get the attention of marketers.

“A fashion-aligned brand could absolutely consider it but would they go with CuteCircuit because it is so much more developed and fancy?” he wonders. “Night life, that is not as changeable but from a brand perspective, if they just want a light up shirt, they can get that and it’s not terribly expensive.”