Written by Doug O’Neill

Eddy Song knew he was onto something good (and original) when he attended Nuit Blanche 2016, Toronto's annual all-night arts festival that turns the entire downtown (and neighbourhoods beyond) into a de facto dusk-to-dawn art crawl. It’s one part mammoth art festival, one part humungous block party that brings thousands of Torontonians and visitors into the streets – after dark. 

Song chose Nuit Blanche to test his new wearable tech product for two reasons: Nuit Blanche is one of the most sociable festivals on Toronto’s entertainment calendar (which appeals to Song who is a self-professed extrovert) and it’s largely under the dark of night. Song’s goal that evening was to see how well he stood out in the darkened streetscape and how much attention he’d get. He succeeded – thanks to his glow-in-the-dark sleeveless pullover that was lit up with innovative fiber optic clothing technology that’s at the heart of his start-up, Inlighten Co.

“Our garments give the wearer a luminous, glowing experience at a music or street festival,” says Song. “While the fiber optic-driven shine is visible in daylight, its luminosity is diminished. It’s best worn in the dark. Our apparel is similar to clothing that lights up under a black light, except no black light is required for our products.”

The slogan Song chose for Inlighten sums it up best: “The Only Light Up Festival Wear You Need,” and that’s the demographic he targeted when first coming up with the idea. “Our festival-loving clientele, who range from 25 to 35, are very tech-savvy, trendy and like to spend their disposable income on experiences, not necessarily ‘on buying things.’ This outgoing demographic loves getting attention and aren’t afraid of going out in public wearing luminous clothing. I know from experience how connected I become when wearing such apparel. It changes the event experience for people.”

“When I moved to Canada from China seven years ago, I didn’t know many people, so I set out to find that sense of belonging,” says Song. “I went to a lot of big parties and large music festivals where I connected with people. It helped that I’m extremely outgoing. I love talking to people. I think I was the first person to show up at a night-time concert wearing light-up shoes. I’ve always loved that attention because people talk to me, ask me questions. I’ve always been aware how people react when you are brave enough to wear clothes that are new, different, edgy.”

In short: Song discovered that wearing attention-grabbing clothing prompted people to open up.

Inlighten’s apparel line runs from Revival Hoodies and Prophecy Bombers to Divinity Masks and Firefly Bras. Song isn’t a developer by training, but he’s always been tech savvy. “My dad is a professor of computer programming back in China and, also through my own interests, I’m exposed to the latest computing electronics. I’ve always been an early adapter in that sense.” Song used his trusting relationships with developers and manufacturers in China who “totally got what I was doing.”

How the luminous apparel technology works

“Inlighten uses fiber optic technology, sometimes called light-emitting fabric,” explains Song. “The extremely light, totally washable thin fiber optic thread – no larger than human hair – transmits a full spectrum of colours along its length. Our manufacturer weaves optic fibers into the base fabric of the product, whether it’s a hoodie, a jacket or a vest, which are connected to an LED light module attached to the borders of the fabric. A light battery is used along with the LED to make the clothes luminous in the dark.”

The Inlighten team now includes three full-time staff and a few part-timers who work as ambassadors, showing off the luminous apparel at music festivals and large party events. His e-commerce base   products are purchased primarily through the Inlighten web  site) is currently about 90% U.S.-based and 10% Canadian. Song is keen to encourage other uses of his luminous apparel: “Our clothing has great potential for its health and safety benefits. It’s ideal, for instance, for runners out jogging early in the morning before full-on daylight who need to be visible.”

Song credits Ryerson University’s DMZ (Digital Media Zone) for enabling him to connect with and learn from other entrepreneurs: “I benefited from the opportunity to nurture relationships with like-minded innovators, especially at the incubator stage, who were trying to develop and launch something new. It was an incredibly supportive and learning experience for me, especially as I was fairly new to Toronto.”  In the meantime, Song is determined to help Torontonians get their shine on.

Photo credit Zlatko CetinicImages Made Real