The recent breakthroughs bring together fashion, technology and the textile industry to develop new fabric characteristics with the potential to change the way consumers interact with their apparel and accessories.
A new type of fabrics has ushered in an extraordinary movement in the market: smart fabrics. Built on these sensor-based smart fabrics, the new generation of clothing might be able to redefine the industry of fitness and health.
These so-called “smart fabrics” have the ability –through data tracking and reporting—to interact on their wearer, with the user’s surroundings, or with the environment and with other devices by way of sensors and leading wires. Naturally, this will dramatically increase the number of applications for these new products based on technological fabrics, making them well suited for a wide range of sectors such as health, sports, the military, etc.
Reaching full potential in the market will require overcoming not only technical challenges, but also differences in how these industries approach the development of this type of products, as well as building trust on the customer’s side. For the first time ever, fashion and technology are aligning to attract consumers towards a single experience of comfort, convenience, connectivity and style.
The addition of micro-sensors directly in the material allows these new smart fabrics, for instance, to read body heat and movements of the wearer. This means the consumer is no longer the only one who can determine which garment or accessory is the most comfortable for a sports activity and they may change their mind even during the exercise, because they receive data in real time. These fabrics based on sensors are ideal for understanding the human body and, in the near future, to be able to predict its behavior. While belts and other accessories move in different angles and directions from the movement of the wearer’s body, in this case the fabric is tight to it as if it was a second skin.
Technological fabrics and their characteristics.
One of the most surprising characteristics of smart fabrics is its durability, as well as the fact that integrated sensors are both miniaturized and washable. Considering that miniaturization of sensors is an ongoing process, the technology sector still has ahead a long way of experimentation and development of sensors in different sizes that can withstand long washing cycles. The goal is to miniaturize them to the point where they can be integrated directly in the thread.
Another type of smart fabric has gone one step further to harness static electricity and use it to power mobile devices. This technique has great potential and is already generating interest from leading fashion labels who want to invest in this kind of technology. Given the level of penetration of digital technology in our daily life, consumers are increasingly interested in the functional aspect of clothes, and they are willing to spend more money if garments have additional functional features.
Meanwhile, electricity-conducting fabrics are also being developed. Interconnectable jackets are available in the market. By wearing them, it is possible not only to control body temperature, but also to listen to the integrated music player at the same time. In fact, hats, trousers and shirts with music players are available in the market, but they have had relatively little success as a dominant presence in the world of fashion. Maybe this negative result was due, partially, to poor marketing strategy; but on the other hand, it is due to the fact that these “first generation” products are still too expensive and they do not offer real value to the customer.
The difference with new smart fabrics is that they are actively aimed at a market niche that did not exist until recently. With the rise of social networks and the increasing use of digital platforms, the fusion of fashion and technology is seen as a justified move from the point of investment. Given the fact that consumers are increasingly conscious of their environment and their needs as part of society, fashion becomes not only a means for expressing their individuality, but also for staying connected to the whole. And technology is the glue that holds these two dimensions together. In this regard, smart fabrics provide value to both sides; including the manufacturing of “clothes more wearable than ever” through intelligent design that enables, for instance, the adjustment of basic elements, such as temperature, odor, etc.
There is an increasing number of companies and researchers working extensively on the development of textile materials with optimum functionality: socks that apply moisturizer, garments that absorb odors and control perspiration, fabrics able to protect themselves against stains, etc. The use of optic fibers creates luminous and bright fabrics that will soon be part of our everyday environment. These same fibers can be integrated into the garments of security or emergency personnel.
The technology giant Google, partnering with the creator of jeans, has entered the research and development of smart fabrics that can turn pants and jackets into touch panels and “control levers” for mobile devices. Their smart fabric was recently launched and it is comprised of a Jacquard structure with threads that combine thin and metallic alloys with other natural and synthetic fibers, such as cotton, polyester or silk, resulting in a thread that is strong enough to be woven into any industrial loom. This fabric is conductive and it can be used to create a touch surface in a pair of pants, which allows users to control their phones by sliding their hand along the garment.
It is becoming increasingly evident that garments and accessories in a very near future will be smart and functional. No doubt about it! We will be there to provide for you, with the challenges it presents, from areas such as sourcing and the interaction with companies and providers from sectors different from the textile industry, along with the strict quality controls this type of product demands.
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Article originally posted in me Blog the Modaes.es