Smart Textiles: The Future of Apparel Industry?
For anyone involved in the apparel industry, the biggest motivation and probably the biggest challenge is to predict future trends. Be it the designs or the materials for the next season, or the garments and trends for tomorrow, everything needs to be developed today. The apparel industry has always been a forward-looking one. As lead times for producing clothes reduce, the pressure is even greater to envisage the future as far as possible.
In such a scenario, it is not uncommon to hear people in the industry planning and discussing textiles that will be a major thing in the future. One of the most optimistic buzzes in the past few years has been around Smart Textiles and rightly so. The immense possibilities and varied applications of these new-age apparel are what has everyone excited. If developed in a manner that is being recommended, Smart Textiles can well be the future of the apparel industry.
What are these “wonder” clothes? It is expected of the industry to have a lot of myths and unrealistic expectations when no one really knows what to expect. Here is a basic understanding of what are smart textiles, what applications do they have and how are they being developed?
What are Smart Textiles?
Before getting into the definition of smart textiles, one needs to understand what is meant by wearable tech. Wearable tech is essentially electronic devices that one can wear which interact with other electronic devices, such as a smartphone. A few common examples of this are smartwatches, smart glasses, etc. that are now commonly available. These devices seamlessly integrate and interact with other devices like a smartphone, and help track a number of parameters like heart rate, body temperature, sleep cycles etc.
While wearable tech is common and nearly everyone is familiar with it, smart textiles have been in the process of development for some years. Thus, people in the fashion industry responsible for the development of these textiles are the only ones aware of the challenges involved.
Smart textiles are one step ahead of wearable tech. Instead of embedding the electronic devices into accessories like watches or glasses, the next step is to make these devices part of the garment itself. Thus, the consumer need not carry an additional accessory and can have the features of smart devices on their clothes directly.
Uses of Smart Textiles
Imagine being able to have smart devices directly on the clothes. There are so many uses that can be thought of for smart textiles, which can have numerous advantages. Some of the ways smart textiles can have a huge impact include the following –
- Sportswear – Imagine an athlete being able to wear clothes that can read and relay essential parameters like their heart rate, blood pressure and other vital statistics. This will help the athletes calibrate their performance, in order to optimize without having any side effects on their health.
- Medical Assistance – For patients that have health conditions that need continuous monitoring, can simply track the same with their clothes. No need to restrict movement or carry bulky devices that are needed to monitor different health statistics.
While these are the two most prominent examples of how smart textiles can change the game in the fashion industry, there are a number of other applications that can be designed for them.
Challenges in making Smart Textiles
With so many advantages, it is understandable to be curious about how these smart textiles are made. This is where things start becoming a little challenging. The first attempts to make smart textiles have been in line with how wearable tech is manufactured. Designers and manufacturers have been trying to attach these devices directly to the fabric.
Even though the devices being added to the clothes may be extremely slick and sophisticated, they still pose a number of challenges. Some challenges faced by creators and wearers of smart textiles are practical, like the ones listed below.
- The weight of the devices increases the weight of the garment.
- The wires make it inconvenient to wear and the wearers are also reluctant to wear so many wires on their clothes.
- The devices and their periodic maintenance cause issues in maintaining the garment like during washing or carrying it around.
The challenges being posed by smart textiles are very realistic. Thus, researchers around the world have been working in close collaboration with the apparel industry to find better solutions. It is in this quest, scientists have developed a new material, which is being seen as revolutionary progress in the “smart textiles” world!
Graphene: The Wonder Material
In their constant endeavour to improve the material used for making smart textiles, thereby easing the process and making them accessible to the masses, scientists have come up with new material. This material is being hailed as a wonder material in the industry, by people working on smart textiles.
Graphene, the new wonder material and a favourite of smart textiles manufacturers, has a number of properties and uses. Made from carbon, the material has some of the critical properties required in manufacturing garments – it is light-weight, hypoallergenic and non-toxic. At the same time, it is as strong as steel, making it perfect for the wear and tear of regular wear garments. It is also one of the thinnest materials, which can be thinner than a single strand of human hair.
But that is not the reason for all the hype surrounding Graphene. What makes it even more interesting for use in smart textiles manufacturing is the fact that it has excellent thermal and electrical conductivity. This means that it can be used to make clothes that do not need electronic devices as attachments. Instead, the fabric itself can be used as an electronic device, without harming the wearer. Now imagine the potential of this material!
Possible applications of Graphene
With such amazing properties, it is no wonder the whole industry is excited about the potential of using Graphene in designing smart textiles. Some of the possible applications that are already being worked on by different companies throughout the world are mentioned ahead for reference.
- Sportswear – The material has all the essential characteristics required for making sportswear. It is light, flexible, breathable and thus can be used without hampering the performance of athletes while monitoring their vital parameters and keeping a check on their health condition. Another great property of Graphene is its temperature regulation properties which can mimic the human body. The material can take heat produced from one part of the body and distribute it throughout, with its thermal conductivity property. This property, by itself, can bring out drastic improvement in an athlete’s performance.
- Firefighter uniforms – A very interesting property of Graphene is that it can react with NO2, a gas found in environments with highly toxic gases. This is especially prevalent in the case of fires or in mines. Having smart textiles that can alert the wearer of toxic gases in the environment can be a big help for firefighters and miners.
- Health-wear – On the one hand, Graphene can help design smart textiles that measure different health parameters like heart rate, blood pressure, etc. making it a great material for patients that need to monitor these on a constant basis. On the other hand, the material also possesses great cytotoxicity making it a healthy fabric for all wearers.
If you are interested in the future of the fashion industry and want to be a part of it, you should head to Fashinza. The end-to-end platform for the fashion industry has a huge network of manufacturers and suppliers. You can find someone working with such incredible futuristic technologies and partner with them.