THE FUTURE OF
BY PETRA HANSON
It took a deep dive into the tech world to glean my fresh perspective on the future of fashion. Before that, I'd been a life-long knitwear designer for major apparel firms. I'd gotten close enough to witness the truth — that the industry was in its' demise; it was wasteful, damaging to the environment and exploited everyone in its' food chain from New York to China.
After my exit and several years immersed in digital design for tech start-ups, I've come around with an unexpected desire to return to knitwear — Only this time, as a self-proclaimed tech-stylist, I am spinning my yarn in a new direction: Wearable technology is the future — and it's about to get AWESOME!
If wearables make you think of clunky FIT BITs and techno-shaman dudes all wired-up for Burningman — think again.
LINKING THE PAST
Take off that LED nonsense — Smart textiles have arrived.
Imagine a stretchable, sewable digital screen. Imagine owning a snappy wardrobe that could also:
alter your body temperature
prompt you when you're running late
correct your posture
unlock your bike
play your favorite song
change color to match your bag
power your phone with the sun
detect an irregular heartbeat
Conductive fiber, threads that change color, and solar panels that masquerade as crystals have granted wearable tech a greater space in the landscape.
"If you can weave the sensor into the textile, as a material you're moving away from the electronics," Google's Ivan Poupyrev told Wired last year. "You're making the basic materials of the world around us interactive."
Thomas Edison used carbonized sewing thread to create the first light bulb. But will fashion designers get the memo?
Some already have. Ready-to-wearable collections are being sewn as I type. Here's the breakdown for the most innovative smart textiles in development:
1. THE THREAD OF THE STORY
Spinning conductive yarn means electricity can be knit or woven safely into stitchable, washable fabric. What looks like a normal sweater, might also store your passwords, or unlock your car, and start it — Remember, you can't lose your keys if you're wearing them. It's up to the inventors to invent, and the stylists to style. Necessity will birth the next generation of wearables. As a tech stylist, I want to make them tasteful too.
Introducing Wearable knits — smart fabrics that stretch. Knitting machines are like 3D printers that use yarn instead of ink. I've been tinkering with hand-operated home-style models, as well as the factory-sized monsters that require a team to program, since my student days at FIT. Large or small, they all work in the same way; they loop yarn around needles to form an infinity of beautiful patterns and structures. I've added some examples of my hand machine knits to show how smart fibers, may be stitched into structures that enhance their purpose.
Here's an idea for how a cardigan might be powered by conductive thread:
PLAITED RIB CARDIGAN
This is double sided, knit fabric. The outside facing yarn is conductive fiber, and the inside yarn is a contrast-colored, soft merino wool. Even the fringe has a function — it unlocks your car AND heats up when the temperature drops. Leave extra layers home.
2. COLOR CODE
Smart fibers designed for aesthetic power will change color in real time. The technology, called EBB , is being developed with Googles' Project Jacquard. Soon it won't matter if your shirt doesn't complement your shoes. Electric charges will change the hue in the time it takes for your Lyft to arrive.
Tweaking fabric colors in real time, like they're Photoshop is a fashionista's dream. As of now, the prototypes change color very gradually. But that is likely to evolve into faster, more detailed pattern changes which will potentially be extraordinary. The sky is the limit, but limits will be crucial. It could get annoying if everyone in the crowd shows up wearing glowing neon that belongs in Time Square.
Here's one of my ideas for color changing yarn:
Ottoman stripes for added texture and opacity. Go bright with colors that change on the fly.
Same sweater + Unlimited color combos = A giant leap for mankind.
3. SOLAR STUDDED.
For designers who aren't ready for turbo-charged fabrics, there are new 'smart elements'. Apply them to the surface of any fabric — for wearable bling. Beads that draw energy from the sun will charge your electronics on the go. Swarovsky Shine, by the famous crystal family dynasty, is the first solar powered jewel ever to add an extra 20 minutes to your battery life.
Diamonds are forever, but batteries are not. Smart jewels have joined forces. A crystal can be any size or shape. Solar sequins anyone?
My take on wearable bling:
Because charging your electronics with a sequin and crystal trimmed cardigan is just cool!
COOL. BUT IS IT SUSTAINABLE?
How will this play out when wearables are thrown away?
Solutions are out there. First, if your clothing changes color & body temperature, you are already limiting the need for seasonal wardrobes.
Second, what if wearables are made to be broken down and recycled?
My vision for tomorrow looks like a scene from the Jetsons: Take your old clothes to the local apparel conversion store. While-u-wait, your old cast-offs are transformed — and Presto! You leave with a custom-knit Jacket and matching bag. The idea of creating insta-wearables from old clothing is no longer and unthinkable; it is the disruption that will save the currently unsustainable business model of the fashion industry.
© 2017 original knitwearables created by Petra Hanson