These New Technologies Will Be Bigger Than Wearables

The future is now. Nanomaterials are here and they are the next big thing to take the fashion industry by storm. Smart materials such as the “talking textile” open the door to design and technology beyond imagination. Having the ability to transform and communicate, consumers can now experience some of the amazing features of these unconventional fabrics.

Nanotechnology provides the ability to create composite fabric using nano-sized fibers or particles. A noticeable difference in the result is minimal, but can increase stiffness, thickness, or weight.

Three new fashion design terms result from composite fabric:

  1. Nanopores are used in shoe inserts to increase cold weather insulation.
  2. Nanoparticles allow fabrics exposed to wet weather to repel water. The rain simply rinses off, taking dust and dirt with it. Silver nanoparticles reduce odor in clothing by killing bacteria.
  3. Nanowhiskers make stain and water resistant lightweight fabric. The water beads up and sheds off.

Talking Textiles is an initiative introduced in 2011 to promote forward thinking smart materials and build the textile industry. Seminars and exhibitions, sponsored by design curator Philip Fimmano and trend forecaster Lidewij Edelkoort, teach consumers and professionals about fabric’s place in today’s culture. The Children’s University of Manchester (UK) has a section that explains the subtle way that textiles talk as they enhance viewers’ imaginations with their history, patterns, and texture.

Engineers at Iowa State University developed a tunable, flexible and stretchable meta-skin that cloaks objects from detection by radar. The name meta-skin comes from metamaterials, which:

  • Manipulates electromagnetic waves.
  • Is made of composites with properties not found in nature.

Tiny liquid-metal devices are placed in rows on the polymer skin. As it moves, the devices are tuned to reduce the reflection of multiple radar frequencies.

Dipping a network of silver nanowire covered cloth in nanowire ink has resulted in self-heating fabrics. Developed by Yi Cui and his colleagues at Stanford University in California, it’s the result of a quest to find an efficient way of staying warm. The wires remain on the cloth, allowing heat from the human body to reflect off the coated textiles and keep the wearer warm. A sweaty feeling is avoided because water escapes from the slightly porous material.

Magnetic fabrics are prototype textiles filled with materials and magnets. Placing them near electromagnetic fields causes the material to react with motion. It is anticipated that apparel made with the cloth could reshape itself to change with fashion trends.

Wearable technology like bio-skin may help people remain more comfortable on hot days. Bio-Skin currently coats the NBF Osaki Building in Tokyo, Japan. The process significantly reduces heat output. It promises a reduction of the urban heat island effect if additional large buildings follow suit.

Just like wearables, smart materials will need to combine fashionable design with functional technology to appeal to the masses. With this kind of useful technology on the horizon, we can see the future is now. What other useful ways can fashion incorporate these innovative textiles?


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Photo: Dezeen