Now that reflective clothing is starting to look less like traffic cop gear and more like Tron, it's becoming more common to see brightly lit cyclists and runners at night. But the average pedestrian still doesn’t walk around in safety gear in the dark. We tend to assume we’re much more visible than we actually are, and many of the options out there don’t really blend in with non-athletic clothes. But this subtle light, the Vega Edge, is different.
The leather-embedded light is designed to look good enough to wear all day, so if you end up walking at night you'll already have it on. Using strong magnets, it clips on wherever you want to wear it—on a collar or jacket lapel, on a bag, or on a shirt. When it’s turned off, it looks like a simple accessory, or part of your clothes, rather than a safety gadget.
Of course, it can also be used for biking, and that was actually why it was first developed. "As a commuter cyclist in Toronto, biking to work every day, I kept having problems with my bicycle lights," says Angella Mackey, a Sweden-based designer who developed the lights along with wearable tech experts at Toronto’s Social Body Lab. "Sometimes I forgot them at home, they would get stolen from my bicycle, and they were difficult to fiddle with in the cold weather. As a fashion designer, I also didn’t really like how they looked."
The designers wanted to avoid some of the common challenges of wearing lights. "It can be distracting to have a conversation with someone while their body is lit up—it’s almost like their clothes become a separate life form," Mackey says. "Our design philosophy was to keep things subtle and simple, also ensuring that the product had a real-world function—to keep you safer. What we’ve created is something that acts like a chameleon. It stands out when you want it to (lights on), and blends seamlessly with your clothes when it’s turned off."
The Edge, recently funded on Kickstarter, is the latest of Vega's designs to turn light into a fashion object—the first was an illuminated coat, followed by a glowing neck warmer and jacket. Mackey plans to offer more jackets and coats soon.
While the lights might not be as bright as some bike accessories, Mackey says that after a year of testing, she's confident that they help make cyclists and pedestrians safer. Still, glowing accessories are not a panacea: One study found that cyclists wearing reflective clothing were actually more likely to get into crashes at night, presumably because they started taking more risks."Any bike light is only effective when combined with safe, defensive cycling habits," Mackey says.