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Alumni Profiles - Ryan Genz

Though it looks like a regular hoodie, the Hug Shirt uses sensors to replicate the sensation of touch, warmth and emotion — sent via Bluetooth technology from a distant loved one. The shirt was named one of Time magazine’s 2006 Best Inventions.

Though it looks like a regular hoodie, the Hug Shirt uses sensors to replicate the sensation of touch, warmth and emotion — sent via Bluetooth technology from a distant loved one. The shirt was named one of Time magazine’s 2006 Best Inventions.

Though the technological foundation for CuteCircuit was laid at Ivrea, that up-all-night work ethic and tenacity has its roots at UMaine, Genz says.

He recalls a class when Michael Lewis, a painter and art professor, gave students a tour of his studio. Lewis told them that even when he doesn’t feel like painting, even if he’s feeling uninspired, he finds it important to come to the studio daily. That message resonated with Genz, who adopted that philosophy at CuteCircuit.

Some of the first “wearable art” pieces Genz made were done at UMaine. He drew a series of images on T-shirts for a performance piece in Lewis’ sequential drawing class. For another class, he created a cocoon that could envelop the wearer.

“When I was at UMaine, I remember this feeling of intense inspiration and possibility, like we could do absolutely stunning things if only there were enough time and materials,” Genz says. “And in the end, that got channeled into various successes and failures.”

Genz also worked at ASAP Media Services, a new media laboratory on campus. At ASAP, students work in teams to create websites and other products for paying clients. When Genz arrived on campus in the early 1990s, technology was evolving so rapidly that everything was new to the students. The Internet was in its infancy, people still made phone calls on landlines and few people used e-mail.

“I had the opportunity to experiment and fail and to not do things the ‘right’ way, but maybe do things a better way,” he says. “It was a new approach to learning to me and it worked. And today, I encourage people to do that in my studio.”

The spirit of pushing technology, of taking risks and of challenging the status quo still informs everything Genz does. It has led to hoodies that hug and gowns that glow. It has led to T-shirts that twinkle and dresses that double as mobile phones. It has allowed Genz to innovate. To redefine. To shine — whether in the studio, in a gallery or on the red carpet.

“Mentally, I still go back to that state, of being in Maine, or UMaine, and it is still inspiring,” Genz says. “I can’t even put my finger on what it is or where it came from, but it has never failed to make me think in new ways and produce more focused or startling ideas.”


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