You just can’t move for stories about ‘wearables’ at the moment. It seems every five minutes a company is launching a new smart watch or a fitness and wellbeing tracker that monitors everything from your sleeping patterns to how quickly you can run round the block.
But this is just the beginning of what’s sure to be an e-clothing revolution. In the not-too-distant future people will be able to print their own clothes, even use them to power their electronic devices. Who knows one day clothes may even replace our devices altogether? They could light up with social media alerts and produce holograms to read those updates wherever we choose.
Sensors could read humidity levels and tell the conductive fibres of our customised 3D-printed clothes to release waterproof chemicals so we don’t need an umbrella if it rains while biometric data from our clothing could be sent to doctors if we are ill. Although some of these concepts are still a little way off, here we look at some of the trends in fashion tech, ahead of London Fashion Week, which may well shape our future.
Last year New York designer Michael Schmidt and architect Francis Bitonti combined to produce a 3D-printed dress for burlesque dancer Dita Von Teese. The floor-length nylon gown was made using selective laser sintering (SLS), where material is built up in layers from plastic powder fused together with a laser. The rigid plastic components were fully articulated to create a netted structure that allows for movement while spirals were applied to a computer rendering of Von Teese’s body so the garment fitted her exactly. With the prices of 3D printers falling all the time we confidently predict that within the next 10 years people will be routinely printing out their own tailor-made designs.
While the Twitter dress worn by Nicole Scherzinger (above) at EE’s 4G launch event a couple of years back (http://cutecircuit.com/collections/twitter-dress/) was more of a publicity stunt than anything else, the idea of electronic clothes with messages or colours that can be changed according to your mood certainly isn’t a new one. LED lights and fibre optics have been incorporated into fashion items for a little while. It’s only a matter of time before everyone has clothing like this beautiful gown from Cute Circuit which will literally guarantee you light up any ballroom!
It may seem unlikely in the UK but soon you will be able to charge your smartphone with your clothes! Dutch company Wearable Solar (http://wearablesolar.nl/) has produced a cloth augmented with solar panels which it claims will enable you to charge a smartphone up to 50 per cent if worn in the sun for a full hour. Included among its designs are a solar panel cycling jacket and this unusual looking top. Meanwhile New York based company, Voltaic Systems (www.voltaicsystems.com), already offers a range of solar powered backpacks although none are what you might describe fashion items just yet!
Designer dress been stolen? Or maybe you just can’t remember in which one of your many wardrobes you hung it! New York designer Asher Levine, who has designed for Lady Gaga and will.i.am, is certainly committed to keeping track of his garments. For his Fall/Winter 2013 collection, the designer partnered with Phone Halo, a developer of tracking software, to embed pieces of clothing with Bluetooth-enabled chips. Given that these garments are many more times valuable than an iPhone which already has a tracking device fitted, it seems quite likely we will see more trackable clothing appearing on the market.
5. Air purification necklaces
While all the hype at the moment is around fitness trackers you can wear on the wrist, Electrolux (http://electroluxdesignlab.com/en/submission/oz-1/) is developing a necklace that will clean the air around you. Dubbed the OZ-1, the fashion piece releases a significant amount of oxidant to neutralize harmful gases in the air while the integrated HEPA filter on the left helps to trap dust and particles. It also offer a secondary function of being a cigarette smoke remover able to trap the smell of tar and chemical produce from a burning cigarette. Users can choose to hide the device under their collar to make the device subtler or wear it as necklace to show their fashion sense. Varieties of cover designs are available for different styles so that it can be mixed and matched with any outfit! Electrolux really has thought of everything.
Is it a speaker? Is it a handbag? Well, er, actually it’s both. Nor is this a concept design either like some of these products. Available now from Stellé Audio (www.stelleaudio.com) for £299, this handbag speaker will let you play music wirelessly through any Bluetooth enabled device or connect via a 3.5 stereo input cable (included). The Lithium-ion rechargeable battery provides up to 15 hours of charge and there’s a built in microphone for Speakerphone capabilities – though you may feel a bit stupid talking into your handbag. Is this the future of handbags? Possibly not, but remember no one thought fitting a camera into a smart phone was a bright idea once.
Wearable tracking devices that monitor how much exercise you take, even how much sleep you have, are everywhere. Mostly these are bands that fit on your wrist. However, Sensoria (http://www.sensoriafitness.com/) has taken the technology a little bit further by turning the actual clothing into the computer. For example, its Sports Bra incorporates a built in heart monitor strap so you don’t have to wear one separately. It then connects to the Sensoria app via Bluetooth to give you heart rate information via your smart phone. Also available from Sensoria is a smart sock that comes with built in electrodes in order to monitor the cadence of your run and which part of the foot you land on. Information is then fed via Bluetooth to an app that can suggest running improvements.
The idea of clothes that react to their environment isn’t exactly new. T-Shirts that change colour in the sun have been around for years – check out www.solartees.com. But now some manufacturers are taking things one step further with clothing that responds to sound. Take Rainbow Winters, for example (see www.rainbowwinters.com). It has produced a holographic leather dress (above) made of electro-luminescent panels which light up as volume increases, producing what designer Amy Winters describes as visual music. Will it catch on? We’re not sure, but it certainly looks very interesting indeed.
Want to read more? Here’s our coverage of the recent Apple announcements, including everything you need to know about the iPhone 6, everything you need to know about Apple’s ‘phablet’, the iPhone 6 Plus, and everything you need to know about the Apple Watch.
If you’re looking to see how the Apple Watch compares to its rivals, like the Pebble, check out our smartwatches buying guide, or if you’re sick of Apple completely, here’s our rundown of our 14 favourite dating apps, from Tinder to eHarmony.