Glow-in-the-dark dresses worn by celebrities on the red carpet. Gowns that change colour based on social-media commentary worn by supermodels at the Met Gala. This is what comes to mind when conjuring up images of fashion and technology. Fashion is very good at being fun and playful, but there are far more useful applications when it come to using technology in clothing to make our lives easier and more connected. The World Economic Forum forecasts that 10 per cent of the population will be wearing internet-connected clothing by 2020. This isn't a forecast for a distant future, but a scant two years from now.
Packaging giant Avery Dennison and internet of things platform EVRYTHNG are already collaborating with major high-street brands to introduce products with a unique digital identity. The products include everything from clothing and accessories that come with an app for your smartphone, which allows you to locate them when lost or replace them when worn, to garments loaded with product information, such as washing instructions and styling tips.
Some 10 billion products in the apparel, accessories and footwear market are currently being digitally connected through the partnership between Avery Dennison and EVRYTHNG. Each carries a unique data profile, stored on the cloud and embedded at the point of manufacture. The outcome is clothing that is more interactive, informative and personalised.
The development and accessibility of technological advances such as electronic embroidery thread has led to DIY versions of sewing a circuit designed to conduct electricity being readily available. Running shoes instead of wristbands that count calories or give directions for the visually impaired and solar-charged jackets that glow in the dark for night cyclists are already available or currently under development.
Koba Electronic Textile Tailor Shop in Berlin offers bespoke wearable technology made to order. They approach technology with a sense of humour and experimentation. The store is a year-long artistic experiment intended to explore the role of technology in clothing. Founders Hannah Perner-Wilson and Mika Satomi, who both have a background in wearable technology, explore the meaning behind words when displayed on the body through the use of optic-fibre embroidery, as well as enhanced sensory awareness through the "extrasensory listener jacket", which perceives and records physical phenomena that we can't normally detect.
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The Google x Levi's Commuter Jacquard Jacket is perhaps the most current project, with practical and scalable outcomes. Google's platform to connect clothing to devices through copper-wire thread has facilitated the transformation of clothing into interactive surfaces. The Commuter Jacquard Jacket is an outgrowth of this technology, specifically tailored for the comfort, posture, manoeuvrability and visibility of a cyclist. Jacquard technology is woven into the sleeve, connected to a flexible snap in the jacket's cuff and coupled to your mobile device. A smartphone app lets you control text messaging, phone calls, navigation and even music, allowing you to assign different gestures and modes of notification, with text messages read aloud or calls sent directly to voicemail. You can even get directions and route information, all while riding.
One of the earliest and best examples of a fashion designer working with electronics is Hussein Chalayan. Renowned for always pushing the envelope, the British-Cypriot designer has long experimented with the role that technology can play in design. He has created outfits that change shape with the aid of microchips and animatronics, embedded dresses with thousands of LED lights, and partnered with Intel to capture the brainwave activity of models on the catwalk, projecting the models' stress levels onstage.
Perhaps best known for his spring/summer 2007 collection, Chalayan has produced six transformative pieces that show the evolution of fashion across two decades of styling. Garments and accessories unravelled, ravelled, zipped, split, unfolded and blossomed to transform from one era to another, achieved with servo-driven motors, pulleys and wires sewed into the dresses, taking six months to achieve.