Hayden Cox is no stranger to taking on left-of-centre side projects. Cox, the 36-year-old lifelong surfer who revolutionised his industry’s design and manufacturing practices through his patented carbon frame technology, has partnered with giants of tech like Google and luxury brands like IWC Schaffhausen. It’s one part of a continued effort to broaden the horizons of his company, Haydenshapes, which retails in over 70 countries and employs staff across three continents.

In addition to taking on a number of projects that have recently seen Cox expand the parameters of a personal design practice removed from his namesake line of surfboards, fifteen months ago, Cox became a father. Shortly thereafter, Cox was approached by the bank, Westpac, to become the first Australian designer to lend their point of view to a series of five wearable tech accessories that enable users to, as Cox puts it, “wear your money.” Each product in the resulting Centsitive Objects collection houses a chip no larger than a sim card with the same tap-and-go capabilities as your run-of-the-mill bank card. “From a design point of view, I approached it from the potential criticisms that people would have about payment wearables,” says Cox, who also took cues from how the average Australian would likely go about their day. Asked what he considers those potential criticisms to be, and Cox responds, “I think one of the biggest challenges [is] showing people that it’s [not only] functional and stylish, but also easy to adopt.”

Discrepancies between what constitutes the lifestyle of an everyday Australian resulted in some diverse design concepts. Five functional product categories make up the Centsitive Objects range: a Slimline Keeper is able to be added to a watch or fitness band; a brooch-like Incognito Pin is accompanied by four interchangeable toppers; a Nostalgia Pin takes cues from an ‘anti-fashion’ punk ethos; and an internal-facing iron or sew on Patch One object offers a more discrete option. Perhaps most versatile amongst them is a band and keychain made from Econyl, a fabric woven from recycled fishing net and imported from Italy, which can be separated or worn together during moments of physical activity.

A 2014 installation created in collaboration with Alexander Wang featured five marble print surfboards created by Haydenshapes for stores in New York and Tokyo

Where style was concerned, Cox viewed each through the lens of his personal design aesthetic, which is perhaps best summarised through noting that Cox has, in the past, also collaborated with both Alexander Wang and Audi. The resulting objects have been rendered in three “minimalistic colour block tones and [with] very simple clean lies” in black, a ‘blush mineral’ and a ‘stone’ grey, all of which are intended to blend seamlessly into as many wardrobes as possible. For those for whom that isn’t an option, other pieces can be worn invisibly, concealed beneath clothing to effectively transform any amenable textile into a piece of wearable tech. “That style was definitely a huge consideration,” says Cox, who designed those more discrete Centsitive Objects in such a way that “people won’t necessarily know that that product” would have those capabilities.

Much of what was involved in the process was derived as much from Cox’s personal life – “I wear a hell of a lot of black!” – as his professional one. When it comes to style as much as function, Cox’s eponymous line of custom surfboards has carved out a name for itself on the back of its revolutionary approach to materials and manufacturing. In many ways, Cox, who is self-taught, takes a hands-on approach to form and materiality when it comes to refining his final design concepts. “I’ve always learned in that same way”, he says. The designer began experimenting with his own processes when he was only 15-years-old; twenty-one years later, Cox says he continues to learn through working directly with raw materials as the primary means of evolving both those principles and his company alike. The Centsitive Objects project was no different: Cox prototyped the silicon moulds for each object, cutting and sewing each in his workshop until a full range was ready to be 3D-printed for further sampling. Though his earliest samples were rather crude, his preference is to take a hands-on approach from the beginning. “It gives you a much better understanding of how you’re going to manufacture the product at the end of the day,” says Cox, reflecting on his deep dive approach to design across the board.

Building products that have a longer lifespan without compromising on performance has become key to Cox’s design ethos. The designer now supervises a team of over 30 from their manufacturing headquarters in Mona Vale, on Sydney’s northern beaches, and says that the opportunity to diversify his experience with projects like this helps further refine his offering across the board as a designer of expanding scope.

Recently, Haydenshapes started repurposing fibreglass offcuts to fashion full fibreglass fins that do not sacrifice on performance for their being forged from waste; in the Centsitive Objects collection, the designer also opted for water-based glues and sustainable fabrics like Econyl to reduce the long-term impact of their making. “The choice of materials that I chose to design and build our FutureFlex technology” – a parabolic carbon fibre frame that maximizes speed and drive while minimizing twist – “gives the board two to three times the lifespan of a traditional surfboard,” says Cox. It’s not much in the greater scheme of conservation efforts, he concedes, but it forms part of an overarching desire to make a difference by any means possible.

Tile and cover image: Supplied