Music is an integral part of life for most people. They hear it in the car, in the store, put it on at home, go to a concert or go out. But there is also a large section of people who cannot (easily) experience music – the Deaf community. Company Tactus has designed ‘smart clothing’ that converts music into vibrations, making music suddenly more inclusive in experiencing and creating it.
Behind the brand are Jeremy Chow and Lucas Barton. The ball started rolling when Chow met Professor Laurie who is not only a dancer and choreographer but is also Deaf. The two shared a common passion: music. Chow learned about the challenges for the Deaf community to experience music through his friendship with the professor. For example, one-way music is experienced by placing hands on a speaker to feel the vibrations. However, this way of experiencing music is very local and Chow and Barton, both engineers, wanted to make music accessible everywhere. “We want to make it as easy for the Deaf community as it is for hearing people experience music.”
Chow explains to FashionUnited that the fundamental concept of music has not been changed by Tactus. “Music is vibrations in the air, so we stuck with the vibrations. We take the frequencies of music and convert it into vibrations at different frequencies.” One of the reasons to work with the vibrations is also because this is a way the Deaf community is already used to experiencing music. They also feel the vibrations the most in their upper body, which is why the Tactus product was also chosen to focus on this part of the body.
Barton explains that Tactus collaborates a lot with Deaf people in the design process and does a lot of research in the process. “Our research shows that Deaf people use the same part of the brain that hearing people use when hearing music. This part of the brain is used by people with hearing impairment to experience vibrations. Deaf people have a larger part of the brain that experiences vibrations – so you can see that they are more sensitive to it.”
Wearable technology: Tactus helps the Deaf community experience music more easily
The innovation is incorporated in a top. This top is currently available in white and black, but the duo indicates that in the future it will look at the form in which the product is molded. “We want to offer the option to personalize the product,” Chow said during the presentation as part of the Tommy Hilfiger Fashion Frontier Challenge, in which Tactus was one of the finalists. The product will launch at the end of 2023, Chow and Barton indicate. “We have so far focused a lot on the technology and integrating it into soft fabrics. We see flexibility in the implementation in various forms now that we know it works in textiles.”
Tactus ultimately does not go home with one of the (cash) prizes during the Tommy Hilfiger Fashion Frontier Challenge, but luckily Barton and Chow indicate that they can continue on the path they are on. “We have been very lucky with the scholarships we have received so far and there are several more we can apply for.” Chow indicates that some additional financing is required for the launch of the product and the certification of the product.
When the two look to the future, several things emerge. “We want to continue to drive innovation in the field of wearable technology. We’re pretty unique right now in the way we’re taking technology into a portable form – you don’t see that in the market yet. It’s about the way of integrating technology into textiles,” says Chow. Barton adds that the two would also very much like to see a future in which the products are available in all schools for Deaf children. “This way they have access to music early in education.”
Nonetheless, Barton and Chow continue to work with the Deaf community. “We are making this with them – they are part of the process and we want to keep it that way. Their input is extremely important to us.” The duo also hopes that people with a hearing impairment will continue to follow their passion for music. “The challenges they have to go through and then they are still so interested and excited about music – that is fantastic.”