We stopped by OCADU’s Social Body Lab for a tour and a chance to chat with Research Assistant Izzie Colpitts-Campbell about her involvement and their upcoming projects.

Hi Izzie! Can you tell me a bit about your background and how you got involved with the Social Body Lab?

My background is primarily in visual arts. After completing two years of my degree at NSCAD in Intermedia program, in Halifax where I’m from, my art started to shift away from performance, textiles and video to electronics and software. I’ve always loved math and logic so being introduced to the combination of tech and art was pretty exciting for me.

Because of the various maker and tech communities in Toronto I decided to transfer to OCAD as an easy way of moving from Halifax to Toronto. Shortly after, I met Kate Hartman the director of the lab on a bench eating lunch at a small conference at OCAD, which lead me to take all her classes, get a wearable technology minor and start working at the lab.

Body-Centric Technology was a pretty great fit for a nerdy artist, interested in interaction and the body.

What projects have been developed at the Social Body Lab in the last while? What are the upcoming projects?

Our most recent project, and most of my involvement at the lab is Monarch. It has been our primary focus over the past year or so. It is a muscle activated textile that sits on the wearer’s shoulder and expands towards their face when they flex their bicep. Originally a collaboration with Intel research, we were interested in how wearable tech can act as a type of prosthetic which expands the bodies abilities and feel like a part of the wearer. Monarch is really about the ability to expand forms of physical expression through wearable technology.


The project’s already produced a first iteration but other the next few months we’re focused on the creation of a second round of designs. With this round, our aim is towards making it more personalized and wearable as a fashion object, currently is consists of a rather hefty leather harness to attach it to the body. With this round of Monarch we’re each creating our own and plan on conducting a series of self studies, things like, wearing them at the lab, in our daily lives or heading out as a gang of Monarch wearers and, seeing how they are seen and experienced in a setting outside the lab.

Are you working on any side projects yourself right now?

Because the lab operates on a primarily part-time basis everyone here has a good number of things on the go. It’s part of what makes the lab so great to work at, we all bring our outside experience and interests to the projects we’re working on.

I’m a full time student who generally has two or three jobs/projects on the go outside of school. I like staying busy so tend to like juggling a good number of projects at once. Outside of the lab, I’m currently putting together my undergraduate thesis which focuses on our experience of the body through wearables, helping out a friend with glow-y, cyberpunk-inspired props and costumes for a photography book they’re working on, as well as being a director at Dames Making Games Toronto. I am also one of two programmers on an indie video game set to launch this spring called, Knight and Damsel.

Currently most of my time is occupied with projects that fall under the umbrella of making weird, body-centric tech and leather working, which I have to say is pretty ideal.

As a maker in the wearables industry, what is your favorite technology being developed right now?

There has definitely been a lot of excitement at the lab around our new printed circuit boards for Monarch. Having a custom circuit board makes your wearables more stable and saves us a lot of headache when presenting the project. With this understanding we’ve been looking at ways of producing our own simple circuit boards with things like the Othermill or the Voltera. At the lab we’re generally looking for smaller batches of boards with only a few layers so, the idea of being able to produce the stability of a printed board on site at the lab is really exciting.

If you could create anything at the Lab with unlimited funds, what would your dream project be?

I actually threw this question out to everyone at the lab last time we were in and just being able to do more of what we do now would be incredible. Especially, with the part-time nature of the lab we manage to do a lot but it would be amazing to be able to have a more full-time infrastructure here and be able to expand the scale of productions.

Last summer the lab successfully Kickstarted the Vega Edge, a fashionable bike light designed in collaboration with Angella Mackey but because we tend not to be functioning in a commercial context there is often limited funds to create multiples. In a research context, we’re lucky to have the freedom to create more experimental wearable pieces like Monarch. Wouldn’t it be amazing if we could expand our Monarch gang outside the few people currently working at the lab and see what happens when they’re all released into the wild?


What do you hope to achieve in the coming year with respect to the development of your own technical skills by being part of this environment?

The lab thrives on a highly collaborative process, it’s a great place to learn from one another. Over the past year I’ve been picking up a lot of material skills, primarily leatherworking, but I’m looking forward to applying those to better integrate more complicated tech into my wearables. Currently I’m interested in getting back into the hardware/software end of things, work on networking and designing circuit boards, which is a skill the lab is collectively learning right now. It’s amazing being lucky enough to work with and learn from talented people on both the material and technological sides of wearables.

Are there ways to get involved in the Social Body Lab, either as a student at OCADU or a member of the public who’s interested in the initiatives you’re pursuing?

The easiest way to get involved with wearables at OCAD is coming to the monthly Toronto Wearable Meetup that the lab hosts. Every month there are a few local speakers talking about their most recent wearables, body-centric or e-textile projects with plenty of time afterwards to chat with other people in the community about your own projects. If you’re a student at OCAD I’d highly recommend taking the various wearable technology classes, there are two of them one that focuses more of computation and the other which is more about material exploration.

Learn more about Izzie through her website, or follower her on Twitter. You can also check out the Social Body Lab on their website, process blog , and Twitter