Beyond The Smartwatch
For many of us, the moment that comes to mind most vividly when we think of the moment when technology and fashion collided is the first moment we caught a glimpse of the Apple Watch: The advertisement at the Apple announcement event first showed us the curvature of the earth, teasing before pivoting to a view of the watch. More than it ever had before, Apple was launching a gadget as though it was a high-end fashion accessory. Rumors swirled that Apple design chief Jonathan Ives was boasting about the thunderous effect the device would have in Switzerland, the heart of the luxury watch industry. Previous collisions of technology and couture had seemed forced and gimmicky; this, instead, seemed like progress.
Yet the intersections of science and fashion that will make the biggest waves in the fashion industry will be ones that are far subtler than the Apple Watch – or, for that matter, flashy techno-textiles like jackets with LEDs woven into them or new takes on fabrics that change color with temperature. Rather, the most promising advancements in fashion technology are the ones that potentially may effect real social change.
Take the case of Natalia Allen, who graduated from Parsons as Designer of the Year, and went on to devise a robot-led method of production to knit seamless dresses from a single thread, minimizing fabric waste and the energy required for production. Her lightweight, minimalist dresses have gained a cult following among female business travelers; easy to pack, accessorize, and dress either up or down.
“I view technology as a tool,” Allen told eco-fashion blogger Greta Eagan in a May 2014 interview. “When applied intelligently it can help designers to solve problems or unlock creative potential. I think we will continue to see fashion companies adopt new technologies such as 3D printing. The advancements will complement, rather than eliminate, traditional and artisanal practices.”
Or there’s Catalytic Clothing, co-founded by fashion industry veteran Helen Storey, which treats fabric with tiny particles of a substance called titanium dioxide, which scrub pollutants from the air around the wearer and speed up the air purification process.
Allen and Storey come from the fashion side of the business, but many other promising advancements in fashion technology are springing from projects that are about as far from apparel – or even any kind of visual design – as development could get. In 2011, a Harvard University nanotechnology team unveiled SLIPS (that stands for Slippery Liquid-Infused Porous Surfaces), a coating that repels nearly every substance that hits it, initially demonstrating its effectiveness with the likes of refrigeration coils and medical devices. Yet even something as laboratory-born as SLIPS retains a beautiful twist of the natural: Its repellent properties are inspired by the surface design of the pitcher plant, a carnivorous plant that uses slick coating on its leaves as a hydroplane to make its insect prey fall inside.
Several years later the same SLIPS team introduced the possibility of incorporating the technology into apparel textiles, swirling up potentially huge implications for energy and water conservation. What if, one day soon, that crisp white shirt wouldn’t need to be doused in heavy amounts of soap and water the next time an errant splash of pinot noir headed its way?
Compared to that, even the most breathlessly anticipated “smartwatch” or fitness tracker seems like, well, basic gadgetry.
Currently the Vice President at Communications and Content at true[X] media, Caroline McCarthy has been a journalist since the age of 21, covering a smattering of digital media, social networking, marketing, entrepreneurship, and innovation.