By day, they are designers, artists or producers. By night, they are Trafo Pop, a gang of bikers on bicycles with jackets flocked with LEDs. Discover the Berlin “hackerspace on wheels”.
Berlin, special report
They seem a bit crazy with their fluokid looks, their biker jackets, their conferences “how to catch a unicorn” and their night-time gatherings in a gang. Trafo Pop is a hackerspace of a rather special kind. Watchword: “Make fashion that doesn’t just keep us amused, but entertains others.”
Most of all, Trafo Pop is a “hackerspace on wheels”, explains Thomas Gnahm, founder of the collective and artistic director. The graphic designer got the idea when he was looking to get away from his computer screen and “do something for the community”, he says. In New York, he meets a gang of bikers. “They were rather cool, they had secret codes, like Illuminati.” Thomas found his concept: something “cool and hipster”, but also popular. Immediately after, he finds his developer and “electronic mastermind”, Stefan Hintz, and around ten contributors. The collective Trafo Pop (as in popular transformation) is born.
The luminous jackets with neon colors have become their trademark. “The first one we made had only two flashing lights”, remembers Thomas. They then develop the idea like this jacket with an embedded iPad that shows videos of Monster Truck, these 4WDs with oversized wheels.
On their website, they are selling a kit for a DIY Trafo Pop jacket. The collective also holds mobile workshops in numerous places in Berlin and help participants with the creation of their own model. Two and a half days to design the template, draw the patterns on software developed by the collective, shape the fabric with a laser cutter and program your Arduino to enliven the jacket. “The issue is not fashion or technology, it’s sharing knowledge, like Wikipedia. The jacket is only a platform”, reckons Thomas Gnahm. At the end, a badge decorates the work of art: you are now in possession of a genuine Trafo Pop, unique edition.
Then comes the time to party, on bicycle and to music. “Everybody can join us. We have a sound system and we organize theme parties. For example, we will cycle to the seaside and take a midnight bath, or we have illegal techno parties under a bridge. We also held a party for the anniversary of fall of the Berlin Wall. David Hasselhoff (who had sung in 1989 in front of the recently fallen wall wearing a flashing jacket) should have been there. In the end, he didn’t show up.”
“Looking for freedom”, David Hasselhoff, Berlin wall (December 31, 1989):
Crazy, admittedly, but serious. In addition to Trafo Pop, Thomas Gnahm created Wear It Berlin, a festival that gathers fashion and wearable professionals. Since portable technology is “more than a concept”, he says. “People are talking about these subjects more and more. But what is really happening? Not much. We want to stop talking and do tangible things.”
So, last April, he organized the Fashion Hack Day, in Berlin: 48 hours, 50 participants (of which 63% of women) and 11 prototypes at the end. The first prize was awarded to the project Knowledge is Power, that allows you to post on your clothes data on harassment. Among the other projects, Autee, a T-shirt that makes the emotion of the person wearing it visible, to help autistic children understand the mood of people who supervise them, Stethosuit, a device that mixes body sounds with space sounds (that apparently sound alike) for a feeling of unity, or a Chat-shirt, that starts a conversation at the push of a button. The ice is broken.
iPod of textile
The playing field is huge, says a delighted Thomas. “All the industries have entered the digital world. Cars, communication…you have applications to analyze your food. Why hasn’t it reached fashion? The industry is a decade behind; we still dress as our grand-parents did. Do you know what this means? It’s up to us to discover this new language, and maybe influence it. Anything goes”, he exclaims, supported by a demo. We all know how to identify this movement of the thumb and the index finger moving away: it’s the zoom. Or the swipe to scroll through pictures or aspirants. But what happens when you rub your forearm? “Nothing, and that’s what is brilliant!”
Last May, Google presented in partnership with the manufacturer Levi’s the Jacquard project, the first industrial connected jacket. Even though the news was relayed by the international media, the excitement died down fast. “The information was underestimated, reckons Thomas. We should pay more attention to this; it could be the iPod of textile. They are creating an ecosystem, software, uses…”
Thomas hopes the Trafo Pop initiative will flourish as a means of promoting open source fashion. Two new “chapters” (branches) should open in the Netherlands and in London. “Fashion is good, it’s beautiful, but desire is created by the major labels. The free movement, be it Wikipedia or Linux, is not very sexy.” Until it finds itself embodied in a flashing jacket…
He therefore dispenses advice to aspirants to the position of branch leader. Prerequisite: a place to create jackets and the will to organize bicycle trips. “You can involve a cycling club for example”, he suggests. “All the rest is free. If you make it a business, that’s fine, but you need to inform me.” In France, according to Thomas, the Trafo Pop label has not yet found a taker. Volunteers welcome!