The fashion world seems largely insulated from the world of tech. While refinements happen quietly behind the scenes every day, for many brands clothing is made from the same cotton, wool, and cashmere it’s always been made from. But a revolution is slowly building in fashion, as technology works up new fabrics, new ways of using them, and new ways for your clothes to protect you, monitor your health, and power your gadgets. The era of “smart clothes” is beginning — and it’s going to change everything.
At the most basic level, smart clothes are made of textiles with circuits and sensors woven into the very fabric. For example, Google’s Project Jacquard worked closely with Levi’s to create a “smart” version of their classic trucker jacket. Just plug in your phone, connect a discreet control module at the sleeve, and you can listen to music, get directions, or take calls without having to open up your phone. Or, for the yogis out there, there’s the Nadi X pant, a set of yoga pants that gently vibrate to guide you into the right yoga position. But that’s just the beginning; these are the flip-phones of smart clothes, with the iPhone still on the way.
Mixing tech and what we wear isn’t a new idea. Back in the 1880s, you could hire models from the Electric Girl Lighting Company to come to your fashionable ball wearing their best electric dresses, and the industrial revolution led to better, more durable, lighter textiles. Even making smart clothes, in of itself, isn’t hard; there are kits available if you want to try it yourself.
But there’s more to the future of style than just being able to take calls with your phone in your pocket, or having a fun button on your hat. Because our clothes are against our skin, doctors are experimenting with textiles that have built-in sensors that will alert them to subtle changes in the body.
Right now, medicine is built, more or less, on “self-reporting.” A doctor doesn’t see you until you’re sick enough to think of scheduling an appointment. But that’s all changing. With new technology and sensors that lets us track our own health and gives doctors a more complete look at our bodies over time, from what we eat to how we move, we can spot health problems before they become life-threatening, and smart clothes are a key part of these efforts.
Instead of having a Fitbit sitting on your wrist every day, your shirts, your pants, your shoes can keep track of just how active you are and what’s changing in your body, meaning you’ll be healthier and make better choices than you might expect.
Of course, it’s not all health; there are other ways smart fabrics can just make life a little easier. MIT is experimenting with inert pockets of microorganisms woven into clothes that can open vents in your clothing when they detect sweat, letting you cool off on a hot day. Or how about a jacket that recharges your phone? Researchers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst are building a jacket that creates electricity from friction and the movement of our bodies to boost dead batteries.
There are even jackets with built-in WiFi antennas to ensure you never lose signal, whether you need it to call for help or just finally figure out who sings that pop song you heard on the way to your hike. And if you want more clothes with your smart clothes, there is now a brand that lets you buy items off the internet. Just pull the garments on and they’ll take your measurements, making buying clothes sight unseen a snap.
The main question, of course, is how long these changes will take to be on the rack instead of stuck in the lab. Part of the reason clothing has remained “dumb” is cost; for consumers, the cost is so high that innovation only makes sense for high-end items they’ll be worn for decades. But the cost of technology always, always goes down, and it’s only a matter of time before even the humblest clothes you buy will do more than just make you look good.
from Real Stories – UPROXX http://uproxx.com/style/future-of-fabric/