Smart Fabric and the Fashion Landscape
Smartwatches and activity trackers are on wrists everywhere. Virtual and augmented reality headsets give us a new modality of entertainment and learning. By 2020, wearable devices will represent a market worth of $40 billion with over 240 million annual unit shipments. A growing segment of wearables that integrate technology into fabrics in a visually seamless way is opening up a massive creative space for fashion designers in this highly technical market. Smart fabrics are bringing fashion design face-to-face with technology, and the possibilities are unlimited.
With their invisibly embedded technology, smart fabrics make donning wearables as second nature as throwing on a jacket before heading out the door. Invisible sensors and intelligent analytics provide what we’ve come to expect from wearable tech – communication, health data, exercise stats – and perform more advanced functions such as monitoring one’s emotional state, stress level, and ergonomic posture.
Embedded On The Go
Google’s Project Jacquard enables interactive technology to be woven into any textile. The tech giant has announced it’s partnering with Levi’s to create connected, interactive garments that combine the authentic feel and durability of denim with embedded technology that allows the wearer to interact with mobile devices in unprecedented ways. Scheduled for release in 2017, the Levi’s Commuter Trucker Jacket is designed to enable bicycle commuters to wirelessly control mobile devices through gestures and touch.
Jacquard is a conductive fabric technology developed by Google’s Advanced Technology and Projects (ATAP) group. Tiny components and conductive yarns attached to connectors and circuits allow the wearer to seamlessly interact with embedded technology. The fabric wirelessly transmits touch and gesture data to mobile devices, allowing users to control apps, manage calls, and use other smartphone features.
Jacquard yarns and fabrics can be produced using standard equipment already in use in mills around the world, and the fabric looks and feels just like the fabric consumers already wear every day. Fashion designers can use Jacquard in any garment without any knowledge of technology. This level of versatility means there is essentially no limit to who can use Jacquard in their designs, nor to the types of clothing that can be created.
From Physiology To Physicality
The possibilities of the intersection of wearable technology and fashion design don’t stop at wireless interaction with mobile devices. While most wearables detect physiology, BeBop’s smart fabrics sense physicality: presence, movement, weight, shape, force, location, and size. These measures are rendered as 3D maps of pressure, bend, location, rotation, angle, and torsion. The Berkeley, California-based company’s fabric contains embedded sensors, traces, and electronics using their proprietary Monolithic Fabric Sensor Technology. The only known viable fabric with these capabilities, it is also durable, lightweight, thin, washable, and more affordable than other sensor technologies.
BeBop’s main vertical is the automotive market, with applications in autonomous cars, safety, HMI (Human Machine Interfaces), and OCS (Occupant Classification System required for better airbag performance). BeBop’s other active markets are consumer health and IoT (Internet of things). With over a million sensors in daily use and $5 million in funding secured this month, BeBop’s smart fabric sensor technology has potential applications in almost every type of industry.
With a 67% increase in sales in the past year, wearables are one of the biggest emerging technology markets. As technologies become embedded into the very fabric of the clothing we wear, the potential for innovative and inspiring wearable tech apparel is unlimited. Powerful collaborations between fashion designers and product developers, component makers, electrical engineers, investors, medical device developers, textile manufacturers, and others will dramatically change the function of fashion in years to come.