north county times

"Wired Wear: La Costa designer's creations not just a flash in the pants"

January 9, 2005

by Gary Warth

[text of article]

Janet Hansen can light up a room by walking in. Then again, it could just be the bra. "I think I'm the only person doing custom lighted clothing available to the public," Hansen said, her chest flashing in two illuminated colorful pinwheels.

Hansen is owner of Enlighted Designs, Inc., a business she started in 2000 and runs from her La Costa home. Her clients range from wholesome Ice Capades skaters to Las Vegas strippers and include musicians, go-go dancers, ravers and others just looking for a way to stand out.

"I had inquires about making halos for a church choir," she said about another potential customer.

Hansen's creations are not silly flashing messages on baseball caps or glowing red reindeer noses on Christmas sweaters, although such novelty clothes probably are her closest competition.

They're creative, artistic, fun and sometimes risque, with LEDs and electro-luminescent wires lighting tuxedo shirts, hats, jackets, halter tops, bras and shoes. Hansen, 36, has been profiled on television's "Ripley's Believe it Not," the Spanish-language show "Control," and Playboy Radio on XM radio. Her work can be seen in an upcoming documentary, "Flyerman."

"I sold about 100 bow ties last year," she said about one of her most popular products. "Lately, I mostly make bras and decorated suit jackets."

Orders come from repeat customers, word of mouth and visits to her Web site, www.Enlighted.com. The one-woman operation sometimes gets backed up four to six weeks when trying to meet demands.

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to understand how to make the glowing clothes, but it doesn't hurt, either. Before starting her own business, Hansen worked in aerospace and holds a Ph.D. from UC San Diego.

"I thought of going into medical school," the Mt. Carmel High School graduate said. "But I liked the interdisciplinary aspect of bioengineering."

Her 10 years in college also included time at Harvey Mudd College in Los Angeles, where she earned a bachelor of science degree in general engineering and a master's degree and PhD. in biomechanical engineering from UCSD.

In 1996, she was hired as a dynamics analysis at Structural Dynamic Research Corp. in Del Mar.

"I broke every rule in the interview," she said. "When they hired me, one of the interview questions was, 'What would you like to do in five years? And I said, 'Run my own company.'"

Sure enough, Hansen left about 4 1/2 years later to start her own company, but not in the field anyone, even she, had ever imagined.

"It was interesting to learn about aerospace engineering after burning out on biotech, but it was never my passion," she said about the decision to change careers.

Hansen had sewn since childhood and always had a creative side, which she expressed with colorful geometric paintings she created while working as an aerospace engineer. A close look at one abstract painting on a wall reveals it actually is a picture of the inner workings of a brightly colored satellite rocket.

Early in 1998, Hansen was asked by a costume-designer friend to help create an entry for a wearable-technology fashion show sponsored by the California Institute of the Arts.
"I pulled some all-nighters and gave up all my weekends," she said. The end result was two silver Spandex body suits, illuminated to resemble the human nervous system.
"I thought, 'This is it. This is what I've been looking for.'"

Some of the show's entries were just proposals that would cost thousands of dollars to create, while others used technology that audience members couldn't appreciate from their seats. Hansen's flashy outfits, however, were real crowd-pleasers.

Even more encouraging, Hansen was the only person in the show who designed both the costume and the technology. The marriage of design and engineering seemed promising for the budding entrepreneur.

"It started very gradually," she said about her move into the design field. "Over the next six months to a year, I started making prototypes and started going to trade shows."
The Cal Arts fashion show was videotaped and shown on Canadian television, where Mark Vistorino happened to see it.

Vistorino makes his living handing out fliers and, in a quest for his own stardom, bills himself as "Flyerman." After tracking down Hansen, he asked her to create a tuxedo jacket with his name in lights. The $1,500 jacket became her first sale, and it someday will be seen in a documentary about Vistorino called "Flyerman," an official selection of the Toronto International Film Festival.

Hansen started wearing her flashy clothes in clubs, where she found more potential customers.

"It attracts people who want to ask technical questions," she said. "That's either a good or bad thing, depending on my mood."

If she happens to be out with a male friend while wearing one of her pieces, Hansen said people have assumed he made it for her. Even after she says she made the piece herself, people then have asked if somebody did the technical work for her.

Hansen in fact does it all herself, and has even patented a way of making tuxedo buttons flash with small light bulbs.

The strip of flashing shirt buttons sells for $50. Halter tops are $65 and bras start at $120, with pricing based on $10 a bulb or electro-luminescent wire.

Most outfits are powered with 9-volt batteries that are hidden in the garment. She said she has to use a little more care in securing batteries and lighting for the costume she made for Vision Cirque, an acrobatic troupe from Orlando, Fla.

Hansen said she had some guilt about earning a Ph.D. and then making such a drastic career change, but she is feeling more fulfilled and is receiving something she never would have seen as an engineer.

"I never imagined I'd have the type of job where I'd get fan mail," she said.

Visit www.enlighted.com to see more of Janet Hansen's flashing clothes.

Article also available online here: http://nctimes.com/articles/2005/01/09/special_reports/life_times/19_13_011_8_05.txt


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