Editor's pick product technology

Science solves another teenage dream: colour-changing hair

The Unseen's new colour-change hair dye (Photographer: Gabor Szantai. Hair: Kierna Tudor)
The Unseen’s new colour-change hair dye (Photographer: Gabor Szantai. Hair: Kierna Tudor)

“Magic is only science that we don’t understand yet,” Lauren Bowker, founder of The Unseen, a London-based innovation, product development and technology licensing company, tells me to explain the concept behind the launch of her new colour-changing hair dye.

Fire, as it’s called, it not the type of dye we already know that changes your current shade to a single different one, but the sort that literally and repeatedly changes from one colour to another, once on your hair, based on the environment you’re in.

“It’s a teenage dream come true, and that was the point of it,” Bowker, who refers to herself as a material alchemist, explains. She took inspiration from occult glamour and more specifically an iconic scene in 90s film The Craft, where the teenage witch does indeed cast a spell to change the colour of her hair.

“I was like, ‘I can do that, so I should just do that’. It’s about bringing sci-fi to real life, and why not? Material science is now at the point of bringing all the things we imagined as kids to life,” she adds.

The dye is responsive to the wearer’s environment, changing colour based on temperature fluctuations. One of them is black when cold, changing to red when hot, for instance. There’s also a black to white version, silver to powder blue, blue to white, and black to yellow. A semi-permanent fix, it lasts over a few washes, and acts exactly as any other hair dye in terms of not ruining your hair.

From a scientific perspective, it’s made possible by using thermochromic ink, which you’ll likely recall from Global Hypercolor t-shirts in the 1980s and 90s. This is the basis for much of The Unseen’s work, including a line of luxury accessories that were stocked in Selfridges in London.

The sort of thermochromic ink you can get off the shelf however, is completely toxic to one’s skin, Bowker explains, so they had to work on optimising it to make it safe to be anywhere near the scalp. “These chemicals that would normally be irritants on their own can be prevented from causing a negative effect with a process called ‘polymeric stabilisation’, in which chain-like molecules (polymers) wrap around the irritant,” she says.

The resulting dye will then change colour when it has a stimulant on it. Bowker explains this as breaking down the chemical bond in the pigment itself. “Above a certain temperature, one of the molecule forms is more stable than the other, and so a reaction takes place producing a molecule with a slightly different absorption of light, and thus a different colour… Essentially, the active part of the dye system is a complex carbon based molecule, which undergoes a reversible reaction with itself.”

Bowker has applied a set of data rules on top so the dye knows at which temperature it should change. She’s fine-tuned it based on either the average temperature indoors versus outdoors or that of the wearer themselves – if they blush for instance, their hair will also change.

“It’s quite whimsical,” Bowker says. “It’s what your body is going through expressed on your hair.”

The dye officially launches in partnership with Storm Models at London Fashion Week this weekend via a series of short films. Bowker is also planning to host some Instagram Live videos in order to show what the dye looks like in real-life, however, largely to prove to people that it’s not fake. “The films are so polished, people don’t believe us that it’s real,” she tells me.

While the overarching idea is a fun one that enables user to express themselves in different ways, Bowker also hopes it will help play a part in encouraging young women into science. Only 12.8% of the STEM workforce in the UK today are women, according to WISE (Women in Science and Engineering), she reminds me.

“I really believe it’s a great example of a product that celebrates women in science and to encourage young females to see the opportunity for creativity within science and engineering – bringing sci-fi to real life!”

Bowker’s other agenda is to seek a commercial partner to help take the innovation to market. The product, while ready to go, isn’t yet available to buy, and The Unseen have no intention of branding it as their own. The aim is to license it out to a major haircare brand that can really make the most of it. Her hope is that it will be on the shelves by the end of 2017.

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Editor's pick product technology

The future of fashion: 10 wearable tech brands you need to know

emel and aris - wearable tech
Emel + Aris

When we think about wearable technology today, the first thing to come to mind is still clunky wrist-worn devices – smart watches and fitness trackers that no matter how hard they try, haven’t yet truly nailed looking like something we all want to wear everyday. In fact, that “fashion” aspect of wearables continues to have a really long way to go in terms of true integration in our lives.

Didn’t we all imagine we’d have completely connected wardrobes by now? As Matthew Drinkwater, head of the Fashion Innovation Agency at London College of Fashion, said to me for a story in Wired UK: “It’s 2016, where’s our smart clothing? Where is it?”

Indeed, “fashion tech” as a term rarely means anything close to what we actually put on each morning and rather still relates to things like dresses that light-up – beautiful Cinderella gowns that enhance the wearer on their journey along the red carpet for instance (Met Gala anyone?). Or lingering memories like that of Google Glass and its collaboration with Diane von Furstenburg… Say no more.

As a starting point, all of these launches have been incredibly important in terms of experimentations that lead the industry forward, but they also do a relative disservice to “wearable technology” as a category to be taken seriously in fashion.

So what are the solutions that are going to win? Head over to Forbes for an outline of 10 brands to be aware of in the rather small but fashionable wearable tech space. There’s Google’s Project Jacquard jacket with Levi’s, Emel + Aris, The Unseen, Zenta, XO and Thesis Couture, as well as some that stretch what the term “wearables” might mean – stepping beyond connected textiles into deeper fibre science with Bolt Threads, Spiber and Modern Meadow.

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2015: a designer meets digital year in review


It’s been another big year for the fashion industry and its integration with technology: from the release of the (Hermès) Apple Watch, to Natalie Massenet’s departure from Net-a-Porter as it merged with Yoox, not to mention the ongoing and evolving discussions around fashion weeks becoming consumer-facing events.

There’s also been a broadening discussion on the role smart fabrics play in the wearables space, virtual reality is increasingly on our radar for its relevance to retail, and we’re obsessed with how the industry is slowly adapting to a new aesthetic thanks to apps like Snapchat.

Here then, are 10 of the posts you loved the most on Fashion & Mash this year. It’s a collection nodding to many of the aforementioned subjects we continue to track, as well as the likes of personalisation, data, instant messaging, emojis and more. A veritable feast of trends we’re watching across the digital landscape as we head into the New Year…

Thank you for reading and see you in 2016. Wishing you a very happy holidays from everyone here at the (growing!) Fashion & Mash team.

Editor's pick technology

10 wearable tech gifts for the fashionistas in your life


If the new Hermès Apple Watch is a little out of price range, but you’re after something more than the standard fitness band to fulfill your wearable tech gift giving quest this holiday, look no further…

In honour of those thinking about fashion and not just function, our Forbes round-up of 10 wearables now on the market, is well worth checking out. Ranging from Everpurse x Kate Spade New York, to Altruis, The Unseen and Topshop x bPay, they not only do neat things like pay for products or help charge your other devices, but look pretty good too. There’s also Unmade, Gemio, Ringly, Away, Misfit x BaubleBar and Love & Robots.

Editor's pick Startups technology

Material science hits Selfridges with The Unseen’s colour-change accessories line


There’s something quite magical about an item that changes colour when held in your hands – a combination of awe and wonder harking back to science experiments we were all tasked with exploring as children.

If only you could bottle that, and sell it…

Well, now you can. Or rather, The Unseen, a London-based company fusing the worlds of science and design, can. Founded by Lauren Bowker, who refers to herself as a material alchemist, this is a start-up that has captured the simple idea of colours that alter based on user interaction or the environment they’re placed in, and launched it as a limited-edition, luxury accessories collection in UK department store, Selfridges.


There’s a calfskin backpack that shows vivid flushes of colour in response to air pressure as the atmosphere brushes across it’s surface, and an Italian alligator-skin shoulder bag with environmentally responsive ink that changes to reflect the different seasons in the UK. It turns black in the winter, red in the spring, blue in the summer and green fading to red in the autumn.

Read my full interview with Bowker over at Forbes.