Madison Maxey may be the future of fashion. She designs second-generation wearable technology—think textiles infused with circuits, not the Fitbit-type gadgets on the market today. After one semester at Parsons, The 22-year-old won a $100,000 Thiel Fellowship, allowing her to drop out and pursue her goals on her own terms. She has since co-founded The Crated, a Brooklyn-based design studio at the intersection of apparel and technology, and was recently featured on Forbes’s “30 Under 30” list. There, Maxey has collaborated with major companies including a co-branded project led by Google and fashion designer Zac Posen, for which she designed a programmable LED dress. Her creations, like an electrically-heated jacket and a collection of UV-responsive apparel, push technical boundaries while remaining aesthetic objects. With these designs and others, Maxey is paving the way for futurism in fashion.
Why did you feel that pursuing personal projects, rather than completing your degree, was the right decision for you?
I understood college as [something] you need to get a job in the real world, so when I startedfreshman year, my priorities were to get more internships, more work experience, and to gain advanced skills. But just being a very determined person, I felt like I just couldn’t sit in a classroom and happily pay for the education until I had failed on my own.
Would you recommend practical experience over classroom learning for emerging designers and entrepreneurs?
It depends. I think you have to be willing to set your own schedules, limitations, goals and, expectations in order to make things work on your own. It’s really just identifying how someone wants to live their life and then seeing what route best gets them to their goals.
What was the goal you had in mind?
I just had this thirst for knowledge and experience in this space, and so a lot of my goals weren’t necessarily the endpoint, but I knew that nodes on the route were getting industry experience, learning how to start a business, programming, getting all these different skills. And so with the end goal in mind, I’m still not sure where I will wind up. But every time I do something new it’s normally because it will help me learn something new. The goal is to satiate this sense of curiosity. And that’s gotten me to some really good places.
Did your interests in technology and fashion begin together or did one lead you to the other?
[My] love for making things was a natural progression to hardware and programming and different kinds of technology, because the more tools that you have, the more things you can make. And that’s the goal, to make wonderful things.
Is the introduction of wearable tech posing a challenge to the heavyweights of the industry?
There’s a big divide between technologists and fashion designers, and I’m not sure how intentional it is. But I worked on a project with Zac Posen, and it was just really interesting trying to explain some of the limitations that we had. If you want to make a dress with a really complicated silhouette it’s a question of finding the best seamstress. If you want to make a dress that has 20,000 LEDs, then you’ll have really massive, clunky battery packs, and it actually may not work. So it’s kind of like you can only push the limits so far in a really different way than you can in the fashion space.
What do you hope to accomplish with your company, The Crated?
The Crated really started as an exploration of the wearable technology space, especially textile wearable technology. So, over the past three years or so, we’ve done consulting and prototyping for different companies in the wearable technology space. I’ve done everything from research for Man Vehicle Lab [at MIT] for a second-generation spacesuit, to the Google and Zac Posen runway dress. All of these things need [complex manufacturing processes], and there’s not a lot of industry standards right now. So, the next generation of The Crated is focusing on [that] and enabling technologies for the space.
Do you think that in the future all of our clothes will have technology involved in them or it will still remain a niche market?
I don’t know, but I think it’s possible that everyone will [own] an electronic garment. A lot of industry-wear—anything from suits for pilots to help track their biometrics to outfits for construction workers that help them carry loads. I think we’ll start to see technology much more in industry than we will in our closets.