Similar to how The Simpsons predicted the outcome of the presidential elections in America this year, the movie Back to the Future Part II predicted the future of smart fabrics. Do you remember the scene where Marty McFly puts on auto-lacing Nike sneakers? According to the movie, those sneakers were supposed to be widespread in 2015. In 2016, just a year later, the new self-lacing Nike Mag sneakers were finally out. There are more examples besides auto-lacing sneakers when it comes to the topic of smart fabrics.
When Hussein Chalayan, a British/Turkish designer, introduced the Airborne video dress made with 15000 LEDs embedded beneath the fabric in 2007, it was clear that more discoveries awaited us in the sphere of fashion. This industry is renewed from the inconspicuous introduction of technology on the podium, making clothing more interactive. As the artists try to develop other functions for fabrics, they discover possibilities for effective collaboration between science and fashion. If twenty years ago people did not think about the possibilities of making video calls, wearing socks that identify a person’s health conditions sounds realistic now.
Smart fabrics or e-textiles are fabrics made with the use of technologies. For instance, clothing with embedded digital components, such as light or battery, is considered smart fabrics. If basic coverage is the primary purpose of traditional fabrics, the e-textile has multiple functions. Smart fabrics can be divided into aesthetic and performance-enhancing categories. Aesthetics are those that can change colors, react to sound, vibration, and heat, while performance-enhancing textiles are used to make athletic and military clothes. These textiles can improve athletic performance by regulating body temperature and protecting from radiation and other environmental hazards.
One of the primary examples of a smart fabric is the Levi’s® Commuter™ Trucker Jacket with Jacquard™ by Google, which was launched in late September. The idea behind the simple-looking shirt is its ability to control iPhone calls, text messages, and music via gestures with the help of sensors woven into the cuffs of the sleeves. UK-based brand CuteCircuit has introduced a hug-shirt which simulates the feeling of a hug with sensors that transmit the strength, warmth, and the feeling of touch to the wearer. For all those lonely people out there, this clothing is for you!
The brand has been producing smart fabrics for almost 14 years. They have a long list of clothing besides the shirt that transmits the feeling of a hug. The TshirtOS is the world’s first piece of clothing that can share Facebook and Twitter posts, songs, and pictures on the fabric. This sounds very useful. If all these seem a game to you and you think that they are only created for the sake of entertainment, then performance-enhancing textiles might surprise you even more.
The Broadsword® Spine® is a cloth worn by soldiers. It has a power supply and electronic network built inside the clothing. The use of conductive fabrics instead of cables and wires solves the problem of carrying heavy batteries and other military devices by soldiers. This is another innovative and useful “technology” that not only entertains people but helps them overcome temperature changes, improving their performance in certain sports.
All these sound very interesting, and such fabrics, in fact, will entirely replace traditional textiles in the near future. But how do you know how effective they are if the price tags on these clothes are heftier than what most people can afford? The Levi’s® Commuter™ Trucker Jacket costs nearly 150$ (shipping not included), TshirtOS around $3000, and only 89 pairs of Nike Mags were played through the lottery and auctioned in different countries. Someone paid $104,267 for a pair of Nike Mag sneakers (that’s what I call spending money wisely). Let us hope that while experimenting with possible breakthroughs in fashion and technology, designers and scientists will also start being considerate of the consumers’ financial capabilities.
Tatevik Avetisyan – from the Third Issue