Some ideas are born with a light bulb moment; Jeremy Wall’s idea was the result of a life and death moment. The NC State Wilson College of Textiles alumnus (FTM ‘14) was biking across campus one evening during his junior year when he was nearly hit by a car.
“They just didn’t see me,” he said. “I thought, ‘What if I add more lights to my gear? What if they were actually built into my clothing?’”
He set to work on a project that ultimately became Lumenus, a start-up company that pairs LED light arrays with an app to help bicyclists, motorcyclists and pedestrians be easily seen in low light situations. The initial idea was to create smart clothing by integrating lights into garments for runners and cyclists. Wall made it his senior project, and with the help of a $1,000 undergraduate research grant, he produced a prototype, then a five-piece collection for the Threads senior fashion show.
A local company, which made light-up hoodies for events like the Burning Man festival, approached him after the Threads show. They were looking to expand into athletic wear and were impressed with his work, so they offered him a job as their design director. But his new job title didn’t encompass everything he was expected to do.
“I wasn’t just designing the new stuff,” he said. “I was doing pick and pack when a new order came in, I was running Facebook ads, I was doing customer service calls, I was doing supply chain. I was kind of a one-man team…I was doing everything.”
As the son of two entrepreneurs, he already had the mindset to launch his own business. But when he became aware that he was essentially running an entire company by himself, he realized he also had the necessary experience. He took some samples of his work to a trade show, where he met his first investors.
“Luck is where opportunity and preparation coincide,” he said, paraphrasing the Roman philosopher Seneca. “I fell into entrepreneurship a little bit, but embraced it every step of the way, as opposed to being scared of it. I’d seen my parents [succeed] and thought, ‘Why not? I’m young. I don’t have any golden handcuffs to a good job, I don’t have any dependents…This is the time to try it.”
So he packed up and moved to Los Angeles, California to launch Lumenus; however, he ran into some issues with his original plan.
“Lumenus is currently a little different than what it started as,” said Wall. “We realized it was really, really hard to mass-produce smart clothing. [Also] a lot of people’s feedback was, ‘I love this. How can I buy this to put it on my jacket?’ Eventually, we had to listen to the customer feedback…We’ve changed what we’re building to an LED strip that can attach to any jacket, backpack or helmet so you don’t have to buy a smart jacket. You can make your favorite jacket smart.”
The LED strips shine from within their low profile, faceted housing — each one looks like a matte black gem — and they are still paired with a smartphone app.
“It can still do turn signals, brake lights, flash when you go through intersections…all the smarts stayed with it and are now even easier to add to,” he said.
With the help of a narrowed focus and a new investor, Lumenus products should hit the shelves in time for the next holiday season. Wall has two immediate goals: to see the product in-store and to spot it in the wild. However, his ultimate goal is to have a positive impact on society.
“Transportation is changing and we’re in this paradigm shift of how people and goods are moving across the world, with Bird scooters and Lime bikes and Uber and Lyft,” he said. “Over the next 10 years, it’s going to drastically change. Lumenus can be a large player in protecting those that aren’t in vehicles…My high level goal is to make the streets more equitable, make transportation safe for everyone, bring bikes into more of the mainstream.”
Wall is a self-described sneakerhead. He was drawing a pair of shoes in high school chemistry class when representatives from the Wilson College of Textiles came in to give a presentation on everything he could learn at the school. He thought it might be just the place to explore his passion for shoes; he was intrigued enough to attend the one-week Summer Textile Exploration Program and was sold on the idea of a textiles education.
He enrolled in the Fashion and Textile Management program with a concentration in Fashion Development and Product Management. Although he didn’t end up designing shoes, the education he earned and the relationships he grew at the Wilson College of Textiles have been an inspiration in his quest to create products for people on the move.
“Textiles hasn’t limited me; in fact, it’s been a specialty that [not many others] have,” he said. “I don’t think people realize how amazing this campus is…the resources are truly next-level, from the machinery and faculty to the amount of knowledge here.”
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Written by Cameron Walker