Eighteen years ago this week (on January 25, 2000), I registered enlighted.com and started the process of converting my lighted clothing side projects into a full-time business. Soon after that, I quit my day job, founded Enlighted Designs, Inc., and chose Chief Fashion Engineer as my new title.
As I celebrate this milestone, I've been reflecting on this crazy rollercoaster of risks, challenges, excitement, thrills, and (sometimes) terror. It's been exciting to watch the world of wearable technology grow and adapt to huge changes in LEDs, microcontrollers, the DIY/maker community, the internet as a marketplace, and the rise of social media.
The butterfly wings shown here are nearly 20 years old, practically antique! I recently pulled them out of a storage closet, and they are still partially functional. I built them with bi-color LEDs that can light up red, green, or amber, when red and green are both active. (This was way back in the day when a single blue LED cost about $8 at Radio Shack, and a lot of electronic components were still being purchased at Radio Shack)
Axial resistors are wire-wrapped on 2 legs of each LED, and the lights are animated with a hand-built digital logic circuit at the level of gates, flip flops, and counters, with more wire wrapping to posts on a proto board. It was designed to have a line of 3-4 red lights, followed by a few amber and a few green, moving along a path within each wing.
Today, I could build the same thing using a string of individually addressable RGB LED mini pixels (with drivers embedded within the LEDs!), and design all of the animation in software.
These wings became part of my own Halloween costume in 1998, and they also came to symbolize the major career transition that was approaching. I broke free from the cubicle/cocoon/office environment, and flew away to another world, where work hours have no limits, especially for projects in the entertainment industry.
Some things haven't changed as much, like the reasons why people wear lighted clothing. My earliest clients wore LEDs as a fun form of branding and self-promotion (see Flyerman in 1999, or 2003, or this leather jacket or clear vinyl suit created for DJs in 2001).
That trend continues today, whether I'm lighting up wrestling gear for Naomi, two-time WWE Women's Smackdown Champion, or a suit jacket for Ashraf Habibulah, CEO of Computers and Structures, Inc, and frequent keynote speaker.
To all the people who appreciate and enjoy the lights, and to those who are brave enough to wear them in public, thank you for your continued support!