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Hill Vet Fashions New Career

Former Senate aide now all wrapped up in wearable tech

Former Senate staffer Kenya Wiley (middle right, black on black ensemble) poses with fashion designer Mimi Plange (center) at the Fashion Law Institute's 6th Annual Symposium at Fordham Law School on April 22, 2016. (Fashion Law Institute)
Former Senate staffer Kenya Wiley (middle right, black on black ensemble) poses with fashion designer Mimi Plange (center) at the Fashion Law Institute's 6th Annual Symposium at Fordham Law School on April 22, 2016. (Fashion Law Institute)

By day, former Senate aide Kenya Wiley occupied herself with the gravely important business of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

During off hours, she nurtured her true passion: studying the evolution of style.

“I would go up to New York for Fashion Week,” the onetime committee counsel and senior policy adviser said of her acute attention to what the rest of the world was wearing.   

Her focus, however, was not on red carpet apparel or haute couture. Wiley, the CEO and founder of the Fashion Innovation Alliance , had her eye on the meshing of fashion and technology (think smart watches).  

“Technology is spurring a fashion revolution, and our stakeholders across the fashion tech spectrum — from startups to corporations, from investors to advocates, from academics to students — will all play a significant role in shaping the future of fashion tech,” she said in a press release announcing the inaugural Fashion + Tech Showcase 2016.  

The event, scheduled for 6 to 8 p.m. on June 15 at the Reserve Officers Association building at 1 Constitution Ave. NE, is designed to weave together the host of policy issues Wiley has been monitoring for years: cybersecurity, end-to-end encryption, immigration/H-1B visas, patent reform, and privacy.  

Wiley started down this path not with advocacy in mind, but as an entrepreneur.   

When not busy trying to shepherd the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act through Congress — the bill finally cleared the Senate in late 2015, three years after she decamped from the Capitol — Wiley would pour her efforts into a modest jewelry design business she’d started. Off-hours were spent putting to use all the knowledge about metalsmithing, pearl knotting and beadwork she’d amassed.  

“I was able to do that and express my passion for fashion in the evening,” was how Wiley depicted her extracurricular activities.  

Along the way, she became friendly with fashion professionals who were intrigued by her proximity to policymaking.  

“What started out as occasional emails to the fashion community turned into a blog,” she said.  

In late January 2011, she began weaving together both worlds under the guise of Fashion Cloture , a personal soapbox “fusing fashion and politics.”  

“Staying connected with Washington is not about an occasional meeting or call with members of Congress and Hill staffers,” she wrote in her debut post . “It is about staying connected and engaged throughout the year.”  

Wiley said the Senate Ethics Committee initially asked her to blog anonymously and precluded her from discussing sensitive, work-related issues. E-commerce and customs/trade deals, for instance, were verboten.  

Even with the restrictions, she had plenty to talk about, delving into threads ranging from tax incentives for domestic manufacturers to the polarizing Stop Online Piracy Act. Over time, the list grew (end-to-end encryption and privacy concerns crept in there) but so too did Wiley’s desire for new challenges.  

After five years on the Hill, she moved over to the Motion Picture Association of America. She spent two years there, but found she was only dealing with fashion issues tangentially.  

In May 2014, she again switched gears and decided to rededicate herself to shining a light on the future of fashion.  

Elemoon's programmable bracelets track activity and coordinate with different ensembles. (Screenshot)
Elemoon’s programmable bracelets track activity and coordinate with different ensembles. (Screenshot)

First up: figuring out where D.C. fit in the fashionverse.  

“I would say that it’s more of the technology startups that are looking at fashion versus fashion looking to integrate tech in D.C.,” she said of the local landscape. That still puts the District well ahead of most of the country.  

“Outside of New York and Silicon Valley, a lot of people aren’t familiar with the term ‘fashion-tech,’” Wiley said.  

The upcoming Fashion + Tech Showcase aims to change that by thrusting local innovators — including BLEN (creators of the feedback-seeking MySwag app) and Yopine (does instapolling of style trends) — into the limelight.  

Featured exhibitors at Fashion + Tech Showcase 2016

  • Elemoon: manufacturer of a customizable activity tracker. “You can program the bracelet to change colors, based on what you’re wearing, or you can have a certain message,” Wiley noted.
  • Madison Maxey: research fellow with the Brooklyn Fashion + Design Accelerator, renowned for experimenting with wearable technology.
  • Moonlab: designer behind the biometric data-gathering SoftSpot system.
  • Noble Biomaterials: pioneering outfit that works to marry technology to brand names.

“It’s a way to get everyone involved in tech and to engage about it, too,” Wiley said of the invite-only event.  

In addition to a contingent expected to make its way down from New York for the show, Wiley expects the audience to include venture capitalists, attorneys, lawmakers, administration aides, and, of course, Hill staffers.  

“It’s the staffers that really push the legislation forward,” she said, tipping her hat to those that help draft legislative language, track amendments and changes made in committee, take Congressional Budget Office scoring under consideration, and generally handle the particulars of lawmaking.  

Wiley said the goal is to bring together staff involved with Homeland Security, and the Senate Judiciary, Senate Finance and the House Ways and Means committees at the event. Washington Democratic Rep. Suzan DelBene, co-founder of the Internet of Things Caucus, a congressional group interested in tech policy, is scheduled to speak.  

Wiley intends to lead a small group of the most motivated attendees to the Capitol on June 16th for an advocacy day.  

A follow-up event is already in the works for later this fall — though Wiley said she’s not entirely sure whether the post-election gathering is best suited for D.C. or New York.  

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