The garments for introverts made by Lilian Hipolyte Mushi (BA Design 2013) have proven quite eye catching at this year’s Undergraduate Show “This is War”, where I’ve seen many people taking photos of her Proxemics Protector- a dress that sprouts wooden wings if you get too close to it. Since then, her work has been popping up on design blogs. Here’s what Lilian had to say about introversion and her project.
Q: Would you consider yourself an introvert?
A: To some extent I am an introvert. For me, it was rather a case of finding out how much of an introvert I was, especially because I felt that my level of introversion was highly affected by my location.
Q: Do you think the way public space functions (especially in a place like London) is overlooking the needs of introverts? I’ve heard a lot of people say the contrary: that the modern world, with its spaces where everybody is off in their own world with their ipod etc, is increasingly pushing us into isolation.
A: I think, on a bigger scale, the way we have designed these spaces encourages extrovertion. What technology has done is extend the space where introverts can function. Which is great for introverts as one of the things we are great at is non-physical or face to face interaction, but when it comes to one to one interaction or crowds, introverts can only survive for a very short period. This is because socially and culturally, we are encouraged to be extroverts. What my project tries to do is to rise the awareness of introverts and their social needs.
Q: In your project outline you talked about helping introverts by generating admiration and conversations around these interesting and unusual garments and devices that you designed. How about the possibility of negative reactions from others, though?
A: Provoking reactions from the public was one of my main goals. And you are absolutely right, when I was out in Greenwich testing one of the garments (the Proxemics Protector), not everyone was pleased and I did get people frowning at me. What was good and I felt worked best, was that these same people, out of frustration, came and asked what I was doing. Only then I got a chance to talk to them about introversion (most people do not know what introversion is and the confuse it with shyness). I think the first step into generating a discussion around any subject is to get people talking about it, regardless of how the conversation starts.
Q: The Proxemics Protector was definitely the most impacting of the pieces. Do you think it could have the opposite effect, of keeping people away, by redrawing a larger boundary of personal space around the wearer?
A: Introverts recharge socially by isolating themselves from others. On that regard the boundary around one’s personal space is very much welcomed at times. That is why this garment is distance controlled. The user is free to adjust the comfortable distance at which the wing structure can open and control it depending on how ‘extroverted’ they feel on a social encounter.
Q: Why do you think people confuse introversion with shyness?
A: I think it’s just a case of knowledge and reading on the subject. Also the two have some form of similarities especially when it comes to the socialising part of it. Where introverts choose to isolate themselves from other, shy people do it out of fear.
Q: How did you develop these devices, did you build them yourself? What kind of research was necessary?
A: I did everything from scratch. I had to learn a lot really quickly, from programming, to servo motors to pattern drafting and cutting. I did a lot of book reading and video tutorials, and of course a lot of time online.
Q: What is going to happen to this project now, do you intend to work on it any further, or try to sell items such as these? And what are you up to in general now that you’ve graduated?
A: I am currently working on further exposing the project, press, etc.. Whilst I was doing this project, I discovered a lot about smart materials and their potential applications, beyond just garment making, so right now am looking for some research areas whilst I figure out what Masters program I want to go on to next year. Also, I was just over in Tanzania, where generally design is non existent, so after graduation (in a month or so) I will be back there on a mission to introduce, educate and promote design as I feel there is great potential. The garments themselves are looking for a permanent home at the moment.