Q&A: Cap_able’s Rachele Didero on fashion against facial recognition

The Milanese fashion tech startup has patented a wearable technology that shields from biometric surveillance

Introducing a clothing line which aims to prevent unwanted facial recognition, and protects privacy and security. The company behind the idea and production are Cap_able, an Italian fashion-tech startup that offers innovative design products combining high-tech and ethics, in order to “open the debate on issues that are part of our present and will shape our future.”

In this piece MediaCat Magazine’s Content Editor, Andrea Buzzi, chats to the founder and CEO about biometrics, the needs of non-binary people, diversity, acceptance, and the hopeful future of AI.

How it began…

The project was born in 2019 in New York, where the Founder and current CEO, Rachele Didero, was enrolled in an exchange program at the Fashion Institute of Technology. Inspired by a discussion with a UC Berkeley engineer on privacy and human rights, Rachele developed the idea of combining fashion and computer science.

Cap_able co-founders, Rachele Didero and Federica Busani

The fabric was patented with Milan Polytechnic, where Rachele was carrying out a research doctorate. During a training program on entrepreneurship offered by the CRT Foundation in Turin, Italy, Rachele met Federica Busani, current Co-Founder of Cap_able, and together they decide to transform the project into a start-up.

Numerous organizations around the world have reported that facial recognition technology is often inaccurate, discriminatory and denies human rights. FRT cameras are increasingly present in most cities around the world; however, studies have reported that there will never be enough data to eliminate the biases of this technology and the associated risk of false identification.

“The biggest problem with this technology is the lack of awareness people have of it. People should be able to give their explicit consent to the processing of their data, but this is clearly unrealistic considering that this should happen every time they enter public spaces where facial recognition surveillance is used.”

Cap_able’s first project is the Manifesto Collection: knitted garments that protect the wearer’s biometric data, without the need to cover the face

The technological innovation behind this project lies in creating a system capable of transposing images (called adversarial patches) onto a knitted fabric that can deceive people detectors in real-time. Basically, by wearing a garment in which an adversarial image is woven, one can protect the biometric data of their face, which either will not be detectable or will be associated with an incorrect category such as ‘animal rather than ‘person’.

Until now, the adversarial patches have only been printed. The method that Cap_able has patented allows the incorporation of the algorithm into the texture, to ensure a perfect fit of the garments without losing their effectiveness, and blending with the volumes of the body.

This fabric has been tested with YOLO, the most common and fastest real-time object detection system. People who wear Cap_able’s garments are not recognized as such by the software, which instead identifies dogs, zebras, or giraffes within the fabric.

The Manifesto Collection is a knitted fashion capsule collection made with cotton yarns of 100% super soft Egyptian cotton quality by Filmar, a company that adheres to the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI); they are free of dangerous chemicals and 100% Made in Italy.  

What’s the target of your brand and how do you empower it?

Cap_able is aimed at a cultural and technological avant-garde that sets itself as an example and leader in raising awareness on the importance of one’s rights. People wearing Cap_able are looking for a means of expressing themselves, their identity, and shared values within a reference community.

Choosing what to wear is the first communication we perform every day. A choice that can be the vehicle of our values; we make this communicative awareness possible and give those who wear such colourful and distinctive garments the opportunity to communicate a precise message, to be ‘super visible’ to other people but, at the same time, to be invisible to the eyes of the AI.

To amplify our message, we are considering partnerships.  

‘Cap_able wants to raise awareness and open a debate on under-represented issues of our present that will shape our future, such as the importance of privacy protection, the daily needs of non-binary people, the silent humiliation that often comes with infertility.’ What are your future moves around this path?

To date, research on privacy absorbs us a lot, but this leads us to confront ourselves daily with realities with similar points but of a different nature. What you mention, therefore, remains our great goal, which we try to achieve by having a curious and sensitive attitude that makes us consider starting points for our future designs and projects. In general, many fields need more attention, and projects that combine functionality and ethics deserve to be explored and developed.

What’s been your highlight so far as a business leader and a founder of a fashion brand? What goals have your project reached yet?

This journey has been incredible. My greatest pride is seeing how we inspire people by discussing these issues. It’s nice to feel that we are working on an all-around project, the coherence of our actions, and our message. It excites us.

Apparently, AI is potentially going to be a great part of our lives and the creative industry. Does this concern you? How will you and Cap-able face it?

We’re not against technological advancement or AI, on the contrary. Our mission is to raise awareness of the improper use of technology; when this is part of an area that affects citizens’ rights. We are the first to use the technology and are very curious to see (and use) it in new ways.

Since ‘Hope and Kindness’ is the theme of the month, what about predictions and future goals?

In the future, we would like to continue doing what we are doing, what we like and are passionate about. We are lucky to have a project we believe in and dedicate one hundred per cent to. We hope to inspire, continue to stimulate the need to communicate, get excited, and be part of a change. We want to stimulate critical sense, diversity, and acceptance, moving away from passivity and automatism.

Featured image: the Manifesto Collection / Cap_able

Andrea Buzzi, Former Content & Social Media Editor at MediaCat Magazine

Andrea’s experience includes digital publishing, marketing, comms, media relations and editorial, working for companies such as Italian Publishers Association, Gruppo Mondadori and Condé Nast in Italy. She joined MediaCat Magazine at the start of 2023 after her second (and hopefully her last) move to London. In September 2023 she moved on to work for a fashion magazine.

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