From radical new materials to embedded sensors that track medical conditions, e-textiles have become a medium for better living. Today’s fabrics redefine high-performance with easy care, durability for everyday living, and microprocessors.
Self-cleaning fabrics one of the most welcome improvements. While they don’t actually launder themselves, through the magic of technology they do repel water and dirt with such a high level of efficacy that they seem to self-clean. This is accomplished with nano particles that allow manufacturers to embed hydrophobic and anti-bacterial treatments to keep the surface free of dirt and oil.
Another area of high-tech fabric getting attention is recycled materials, especially recycled plastics. Brands are coming up with ways to make plastic bottles into shoes, athletic wear, and winter jackets. Alizée, a Canadian company, makes winter jackets from bottles salvaged from landfills and the ocean. They expect to have recycled over 200,000 bottles into clothing by 2021! That’s a great example of the recyclability of plastic. This appeals to the idea of a circular supply chain with recyclables processed into new garments.
Clothing and shoes can now be made with a 3-D printer and have the potential to use recycled plastic. Due to the nature of the process, nothing is wasted. For now, the printing process is more suited to semi-rigid garments but in the future there will be more refinement to create imaginative and humanistic clothing.
As sensors become cheaper and more connected through Bluetooth they will be embedded into more everyday things. For example, “electric yoga pants” not only has the power to capture the imagination but they are also an actual product. Manufacturers embed small, vibrating motors that help the practitioner hold a pose correctly.
There is also clothing designed to control devices, such as your phone, by using gestures on the surface. Want to answer your phone or start a playlist? Just use a gesture on your sleeve to begin. There are also a variety of socks, vests, and sports bras that will monitor your vital signs during a workout or hexoskin for medical monitoring.
Colour-changing fabrics are an exciting extension of electrified clothing. Special wires woven into the material react to small electrical inputs by changing colour. The effect is a textile that can be programmed to change colour on the weft and the weave using an app. Want to a plaid sofa? No problem! Use the app to change the upholstery pattern. Another setting controls the hue to enhance mood or alertness.
The home of the future will include smart textiles that communicate with us and our devices. Imagine coming home to furniture that doesn’t get dirty and has the ability to change colours and patterns. It might be 3-D printed in your living room by the maker with small adjustments, so it fits just right in its intended spot. The upholstery may be created to your specifications from ocean plastic or any other raw material you want. And, if you fall asleep after supper, it might vibrate gently after a few minutes to wake you up. It seems we are limited only by our imaginations on how to use connected, higher performance fabrics.
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