– By Mark MacDonald –
In 1967, a designer named Diana Dew created light-up mini-dresses and pants powered by a rechargeable battery pack. Sold at the price of $150 (equivalent of $1,075 today) and featured in Time magazine, the style didn’t exactly catch on but the stage was set for what is now a new wave of innovative design. A host of products are now emerging that are changing the way we see and use clothing. Here are some of the more dynamic concepts shaping the world of tech wear.
- Smart Clothing
Many innovative designs focus on the functionality of using electronics in clothing. Products such as the miCoach from Adidas use technology developed by companies like Textronics to monitor your movements and fitness, while manufacturing companies like Interactive Wear provide systems that can heat your body or charge your mobile device, and are designed to be incorporated easily into garments. Developments from innovators like Denmark’s Ohmatex or Finland’s Clothing+ are opening the doors to products like socks that can monitor edema or T-shirts that can sense a person’s heartbeat. Brand names like Under Armor, Adidas and Victoria’s Secret are making moves to invest in this technology, sensing the demand will grow. Heat Wear technology, developed by Fibretronic, was used in the athletic wear of Great Britain’s London Olympics team, and the patented technology is soon to enter the world of mainstream fashion.
- High-Tech Fibers
Research and innovation in the world of nanotechnology has given rise to the development of ways to add gold and silver particles to fibers at a microscopic level. An example of such is the work of The Crypton Companies. Having purchased Nano-tex in 2014, Crypton is partnering with brand names like Calvin Klein and Macy’s to promote their Wrinkle Defense and Stain Release technologies. NanoHorizons, a company founded by a group of scientists from Penn State University, manufactures advanced nano-scale silver additives that help enhance fibers, increasing protection against bacteria, fungus, mold or material deterioration. The industry is still in its infancy, but the potential for high-tech fibers being incorporated into the clothing of the future is certainly high.
- Clothing that Changes Color
Decades after Diana Dew’s light-up wear, clothing that changes color or generates light is being designed and manufactured with demand expected to grow in the future. Luminous fiber-optic T-shirts are finding their way into promotional wear for companies like Absolut vodka, and designs like Lux Labs’ Fiber Optic blazers are now available online for less than $200. LED jackets from LED Clothing Studio take the idea to the next level, with products like the Bono Lazer Jacket or Tron Legacy LED Jacket available for purchase.
With companies like Limor Fried’s AdaFruit re-defining the electronics manufacturing industry, designers across the globe are now finding greater access to the materials they need to construct interactive clothing. The LilyPad, designed by Leah Buechley, has revolutionized the world of interactive textiles by providing a way for material to both sense information about the environment and engage with it. A small computer known as the LilyPad Arduino can be stitched with conductive thread to connect to LED lights, speakers and the like. Online retailers like SparkFun Electronics make technologies like the LilyPad accessible to designers across the world. Marissa Ranalli, a textile student, taught herself how to make electronic circuits and uses online resources like SparkFun and Robotshop to purchase the materials needed to craft her own techwear, found at www.drawingconclusions.net. For Marissa, “The most important part is that the electronics and the textiles are blended in completely, essentially hiding the technology in the material and ensuring it is both usable and comfortable.” From heated clothing or shirts that change color, the resources are now available for designers to have access to materials they need for their latest innovations.
Whether it’s smartwear, nano-tech fibers or luminous clothing, the synergy of technology and fashion is opening doors of all kinds, leading to an exciting future full of innovation and dynamic design. Perhaps self-tying shoelaces aren’t that far away …