Aspiring fashion designer Lauren Bowker had just started her textile design degree when she broke her back and spent 18 months in and out of hospital. While she didn’t know it at the time, the experience of not being able to visualise or communicate her chronic back pain to her doctors or loved ones would completely change the course of her career. With a newly sparked interest in materials with medical benefits, the designer created a chemical compound that could detect carbon emissions, which she then developed into a pollution-sensing jacket as part of her master’s degree at the RCA.
Early experiments such as this eventually led Bowker to set up her own studio, The Unseen, which combines her fascination with both the traditional and more futuristic elements of materials design. “I think without that back condition, I’d never have had the drive to be where I am today,” she tells CR. “I really believe we can use materials science and innovation to create much better products that can actually impact someone’s life – whether it physically impacts them from a health point of view, or makes them the coolest kid at school that day.”
Since launching in 2014, The Unseen has been commissioned to create a jewelled headpiece for Swarovski that changes colour to reflect the wearer’s emotions; astronaut suit patches that document the journey into space for Virgin Galactic; and wearables that visualise the performance of athletes in collaboration with Puma, among other things.
“Obviously, everybody has an ‘unseen’ that they want to visualise so the studio grew in that sense, working with big brands to create material innovations for them. We were pulled across so many different industries because material was always at the heart,” says Bowker.