City: San Francisco, California

Passion: Fashion Technology


Twitter: @switchGirl

Alison is my dream kind of a woman. I met her at an over-the-top Silicon Valley function two years ago and she stood out to me as this incredibly friendly, charismatic and warm lady who would soon become the person I call when I feel like I'm losing my drive. As I got to know Alison, she turned out to be one of the most humble people you'll ever meet. It was only after googling her that I found out she lives her passion, for fashion technology, in every possible way: she writes about it (author of Switch Craft), teaches it (professor at Parsons), studies it (Singularity University alum) and most importantly, designs and creates it as the founder of Agent of Presence.


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On Passion


“I found my passion when I first started playing with fabrics and making things as a little kid. This, mixed with a love of dance and architecture, made my world about visceral and emotional experiences. I wanted to have them and I wanted to create them for others.”



“I studied interior architecture and painting, then delved into web and print design, but I still found myself wanting more. I landed at Parson’s Design and Technology Master’s program, took a class in fashion technology and was sold: finally, a class that dealt with the body, experience, touch, play, fabrics, expression and communication. ”


On Mastery


“My skills were developed by digging into an idea and trying to make it happen. When you look at it as an experience, the stress and the learning of a new skill still exist, but the purpose to continue doesn’t fade.”


On Transition


“After I found out what I wanted to do, I applied to Parson’s and got in. I started by taking classes in physical computing and fashion technology. This story is a bit more tragic in reality. I was married at the time and my husband decided not to move to New York with me. I remember riding the train into the big city to spend my first night alone. The train ride was movie-like and sad: I knew I had made a life-changing decision. But instead of depressing me, it empowered me more.”



“I kept learning and growing in school with the help of my classmates and teachers. When I left, I worked on some electronic installation projects and ended up being a teacher myself. I taught at Parson’s for four and a half years while starting”


On Failure


“First of all, I fail all the time. I failed mostly in planning out my dream to make sure it happened and I would often spend more money and time than I had trying to create something.”



“You can’t get past failure - something will fail, someone will be unhappy, some material will not show up on time. The question is: How dangerous is the failure? My true concern is ensuring that my team is happy and healthy so we can continue to do what we love and earn a living. Also, I tend to get pretty competitive if I feel the world is trying to hold me or my company back - it fuels my fire not to quit and keep going.”


On Fear


“Fear is something that sometimes guides me, sometimes inspires me to move past it, and sometimes overwhelms me. I either face it, overcome it, or I’ll recognize it’s human and get over it. Everyone has it - to deny that is to deny being human.”



“My biggest fears are not having children and the possibility of wasting my life doing something other people don’t see as valuable. I also believe in my soul that my skills and approach to the world are meant to be experienced and expressed, I am here to help others and make the world a more beautiful place. To find out that wasn’t true would be terrible - however, that fear seems very illogical to me so it’s easily sidestepped; it only pops up every once in awhile.”


On Money


“I wish it wasn’t so, but yes, there were many times when I was running out of money. I gave up a fairly wealthy husband who paid for my life as I taught. I went out on my own, could not afford an apartment in New York so I even had to spend some nights in my car - it was a difficult time. I’ve been through a few more tough times like that, but never as bad as having to sleep in a car.”


On Self-Love


“Self-love is respecting yourself and your time. Sometimes it’s as easy as saying “hey, I look good in this” and other times it requires more work like going on a run at 8:00 pm after a long day of hustling when you’re hungry and all you want to do is crash.”



“Self-care is something I aspire to but I am bad at. Living your passion can be fulfilling and adventurous but not necessarily always happy.”


On Inspiration


“I love the big names like Alexander McQueen and Chanel; I selfishly dream of having that kind of impact on the world. They both fundamentally changed fashion and some people don’t even realize it, which makes it all the better.”



“However, that isn’t what keeps me going on a daily basis. I am also inspired by unknown artists and people who find a way to enjoy life while living their passion. My partner is Italian and he’s somehow able to make time for friends and relax - that inspires me. I think the world needs more of that.”


On Support


“I have a couple of mentors, but my longest and best is Marty. We met back in school when I was doing battery research for fashion tech. He says he’s my biggest fan and he has been honest and helpful for the past 11 years. We don’t see each other often but are always in touch.”



“As for support, I don’t know where to start! My start-up colleagues are amazing, my friends support me with kind words and dinners and always seem to be cheering me on. I feel that they truly love me and what I do - that feels amazing. My mother loaned me money when I was down and out. My boyfriend is super grounded and positive which works well with my drama and passion. I honestly could not be where I am now without any of them.”


Advice to the Community


“Whatever your passion is, you need to find a way to do it - even if that means doing it while you have a traditional job for security. Take small steps. Do one thing every week, and tell yourself that you are good at it. If you suck, find out why - and change it. Tell yourself you’re doing well even when you feel like shit. If you aren’t the type of person that deals with uncertainty well and you want to live out your passion, I suggest taking a class or getting therapy to learn to deal with it. This is solvable. You’ll never know who you really are until you find your passion and go for it. It’s worth it just for the ride.”
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