Clothes provide us with warmth, coverage and protection from the elements. They also allow us to express our feelings and embrace our own styles, helping us fit in with or stand out from the world around us.
These days, though, clothes are capable of much more than that. From solar-powered charging jackets to health monitoring performance tops, modern designers and clothing brands are redefining the functionality of clothing. Read on see what these brands have in store — and what it means for the future of apparel.
Pioneered by award-winning “material alchemist” Lauren Bowker, The Unseen creates accessories that change colors based on environmental factors. Bowker’s line includes everyday items like backpacks, phone cases, scarves and more. The accessories change color when exposed to heat, light, pressure, wind and body temperature. They also transform when night turns to day and adopt new identities with each changing season.
Pauline van Dongen
While her home office is in the Netherlands, this emerging fashion designer is gaining global attention. Pauline van Dongen’s solar windbreaker incorporates integrated solar panels that harness their own energy. It collects enough energy to charge a cell phone or GPS device. The jackets were designed with nature reserve guides in mind, enabling them to use their phones and GPS devices even while they’re off the grid for ten hours or more.
Nanotex is a textile retailer that provides innovative fabrics to apparel lines. Their line of products ranges from odor control fabrics for professional clothing to athletic fabric that wicks away moisture and keeps the wearer cool. Nanotex also creates fabrics that resist stains, spills and water from the outdoor elements. These advanced fabrics make use of a hydrophobic layer, which allows liquids to bead up and roll off of materials rather than soaking in.
Gensole leverages human foot scans to create customized 3D-printed shoe insoles. These insoles were designed by Steve Wood of Gyrobot, who’s an expert at creating flexible and malleable 3D printed materials. The shoe insoles are designed on a computer, then printed with varying material densities. This allows the shoe to support certain areas of the foot, like the arch, while reducing painful pressure in others. The insoles can also be printed with perforated holes to support airflow.
Auria creates fashionable, eco-friendly bathing suits made from recycled fishing nets, old carpets and other types of nylon waste. Since being founded, Auria has rescued thousands of tons of nylon waste from countries including the USA, Egypt, Greece, Pakistan, Norway and Turkey. Auria also collects waste directly from the ocean itself. Once collected, the waste is shipped to Slovenia where it’s transformed into an innovative yarn called ECONYL. Materials made from this yarn are 100 percent regenerated and recyclable.
This clothing line focuses on combining technology and clothing design to create movement-focused apparel pieces. One of the most popular Wearable X designs is its football fan shirt. The jersey helps fans embody the spirit and energy of a game by transmitting live sports data directly from the field to the electronics within the material. This means that everything on the field — from touchdowns and fumbles to turnovers and interceptions — are felt through haptic vibrations.
Modern Meadow creates high-quality leather goods that rely on biology and materials science to create durable, cruelty-free collagen. In the same way that oil and petroleum led materials innovations in the last century, Modern Meadow believes that biofabrication will define the future of technology. Its leather production processes are extremely low impact and can be scaled infinitely, making it a viable alternative to animal and oil-based materials.
Spiber harnesses spider silk to create sustainable, outdoor apparel. Tougher than steel (by 340 times), spider silk demonstrates how natural proteins can be used to create dynamic and powerful materials that don’t harm the earth. Spiber says fabrics made from proteins are extremely dynamic and customizable, and can be mixed with other natural proteins to mass produce new fabrics. The company recently launched a collaboration with The North Face, helping them market their protein-based materials on a large scale to everyday consumers.
This brand’s outdoor apparel was designed for the age of personal technology. ScotteVest creates versatile jackets with a multitude of pockets. These pockets include space for life’s gadgets, including cell phones and headphones, cameras, chargers, sunglasses and wallets. Freeing women from purses and men from trying to fit everything into traditional pockets that were too few and small, these vests and jackets make it easy to enjoy outdoor adventures without having to worry about where one’s valuables are kept.
BioLogic is a project from MIT Media Lab’s Tangible Media Group. Essentially, BioLogic harnesses the power of natural behaviors and organic movements to create smart apparel that changes form. Specifically, BioLogic uses a bacteria that responds to atmospheric moisture. When the bacteria is woven into textiles for apparel, the clothing itself expands and contracts based on the amount of humidity it’s exposed to. Since the bacteria’s cells expand when there’s more moisture in the air, BioLogic’s clothing becomes more breathable when worn by someone who’s working up a sweat.
OMSignal designs clothing that bridges the gap between the clothing and the person who wears it. So far, they’ve been focused on creating clothing that monitors and sensors the body, giving cues and information to the wearer. One product that accomplishes this task is a sports bra called the OMbra. It’s the first bra that combines data on heart rate and breathing to give women a more accurate read of their body’s athletic performance. These reads come from small embedded biosensors that capture information in real-time, using bluetooth to stream that data to your iPhone.
Hexoskin is a brand that makes smart athletic shirts that capture precise data about the wearer’s heart rate and breathing rate. They also obtain information regarding an activity’s intensity, steps taken per day, peak acceleration and sleep positions. These smart shirts have over 14 hours of battery life and easily connect to an iPhone, an iPad or android phone via bluetooth. Hexoskin offers a variety of clothing options for fitness, including short and long sleeve tops for both men and women.
Athos is another performance-based apparel brand, yet it’s focused specifically on the movement of muscles. Athos also differs from other smart sportswear brands because their technology is great for helping injured athletes recover and get back on the field faster. Athos’ layers extract extensive heart rate and muscle data and sends it directly to an app, where the information can be viewed by players and coaches.
Cityzen Sciences works with apparel brands to create connected fabrics that harness and evaluate large quantities of data. The smart wearable creator has worked with companies to create clothing like a smart bra that monitors posture and performance, and a rugby shirt that evaluates both the physical and physiological state of players on the field. Cityzen technology can be adapted to any fabric, across sectors.
Owlet is another health tracker, but this one is designed specifically for infants. These smart wearables, including socks and onesies for babies, provide new parents with peace of mind about how their little ones are doing. Data is sent directly to an app that includes historical heart rate, oxygen levels and sleep trends, making it easy to compare and contrast new information.