With so many new technological advances in so many areas of our lives, the huge advances that have been made in the textile industry should come as no surprise. Though the majority of fabrics have stayed the same since the advent of woven and knitted threads, there are certain few textiles that are changing. In the past decade alone, incredible new experiments and technologies have made it possible to construct fabrics from such various elements as red wine and wood pulp. In addition to using new materials, the textile industry has also come along in leaps and bounds when it comes to smart materials. There are so many exciting new fabrics available, no matter where your interests lie. Here are a few examples of how technology has continued to change fabrics and fashion today and what more we can expect from the industry.
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Eco-Friendly Modern Fabrics
It’s no surprise that the textile industry requires a ton of resources. That, plus the growing public fondness for environmentally-friendly products, has spurred designers and scientists to develop new ways of constructing garments. The concept of recycling goods to make mass-produced clothing and accessories is nothing new but it has been getting a much-needed facelift over the years. Instead of the rough, dull-colored fabrics that are called to mind when you think of “recycled materials”, new recycled fabrics are really an incredible feat. One material that you might not think of when it comes to soft, fluid fabrics is plastic. The same sort used to create water and soft drink bottles is now being used to form a wide range of fabrics in different weights, textures and hands. This fairly new trend, dubbed “eco-chic” harnesses the rising popularity of sustainability in all aspects of life. They’re not only great for the environment, taking advantage of new technologies in the recycled goods sector, but highly durable. These new plastic fabrics last year after year, never losing their shape and always looking fabulous.
Along with the materials used to create eco-friendly fabrics, the process by which they’re shaped and designed have also advanced. Traditional dyeing techniques use a ton of water and electricity, but designers are switching over to digital printing or air-dyeing. These both use vastly less resources, and the results can be stunning. In the search for sustainability, most people don’t want to sacrifice a large, comfortable and fashionable wardrobe. New advances in modern fabrics are making it possible to look great in durable clothing without forgoing a green outlook on life. This is great for the industry’s carbon footprint as a whole and for improving the lives of workers and customers alike.
In our busy lives, comfort in clothing is key, and the rise of athletic leisure types of styles and clothing is a testament to that. Having clothing that doesn’t require lots of work in ironing, washing, air drying or dry cleaning is also important to many of us. Technology in fabrics and textiles have adapted to this as well. Combining man-made and natural fibers like cotton and spandex have proven to be great ways to make clothing comfortable and easy to care for. Brands like Underfit have taken this philosophy to the next level as well. The undershirt company works with their product to make it temperature and moisture controlled, slim and tailored, and perfectly fit through the fabrics they use. New technologies like these also offer odor control since clothing piece like these are usually worn close to the body in all kinds of environments. Their reviews on Trustpilot show their success as a company and a brand come from their use of textile technology and making use of the best parts.
What does it mean to say a fabric is “smart”? Much like your phone or watch, it has extra technology woven into its very core to allow for new, useful capabilities. Rather than clothing being purely utilitarian or fashionable, smart textiles can communicate, grow, and regulate temperature. But it doesn’t stop there! There are two different kinds of smart fabrics. Aesthetic smart materials are the sort that use technology to improve or enhance the appearance of textiles. This can include ones that light up, change color, or even expand and contract due to differences in temperature. Then you have performance-enhancing smart fabrics. These are used mainly by athletes and those who perform rigorous work. They can regulate body temperature, help give the wearer extra control over involuntary muscle vibration, and even decrease wind resistance. This is a hugely growing sector in the textile industry due to its highly functional capabilities.
The purely aesthetic smart fabrics are still mostly relegated to high-fashion runways, due to their expense and limited wear-ability. However, performance-enhancing smart textiles are cropping up everywhere. Many fast-fashion retailers are incorporating temperature-regulating fabrics into their collections. This makes winter clothes extra-warm, while allowing for many styles to be worn all year-round. Companies that specialize in workout gear or athletic wear are also heavily incorporating this tech into their lines. Self-healing fabrics are on the rise. While their use in gear for astronauts, those who work with radioactive materials, and other dangerous jobs is apparent, imagine a raincoat that can fix itself if snagged. These fabrics usually have a sort of resin or epoxy in them, released when the fabric is torn. They expand and solidify when exposed to air, creating a water-tight seal and lengthening the life and usefulness of a garment. While many performance-enhancing smart fabric works on its own – meaning no action is required on the part of the wearer – more aesthetically-motivated smart fabrics require human input. This can range from light-up dresses that are activated via mobile phone apps, to Bluetooth-enabled fabrics that vibrate along with audio.
While still a long way from being mainstream, bio-fabrics are being experimented with all over the globe. We know about natural and synthetic materials, such as cotton and wool or polyester and acrylic. However, some scientists and designers are finding new things to work with. A growing trend is actually growing fabric. With different materials such as cellulose or even soured milk, fabric is grown on a cellular level, in a lab. It’s a costly process that is still in its infancy, but it opens the door for a future of perfectly sustainable clothing. Because it’s made with biological materials, these fabrics are completely biodegradable and fantastic for the environment. They’re also a great conversation piece! Though it may take some time before these are truly available, their technology is seen in new fabrics today and the beginnings of this stage can work to improve fabrics all over the industry.
3-D Printed Fabrics
A decade ago, 3-D printers were huge machines capable of creating things in miniature. Now, they’re easy to build, dropping rapidly in price and can do a whole lot more. There’s even a new movement for 3-D printed food! In the textile and garment industry, 3-D printing is huge. For athletes, a 3-D printed sole for their sneakers can mean enhanced performance and comfort. However, it doesn’t stop at hard elements. Even soft fabrics can be 3-D printed, a new development that many designers are taking to with gusto. While this is becoming more common, it still isn’t exactly affordable for the average person. However, it does mean that as the technology becomes more accessible, it will be possible to create silhouettes and features that would take much longer and far more resources than using a sewing machine or other costly equipment. Hopefully we will get to see how much farther this technology is taken in the next few years.
It’s said that in the past decade, technology has grown more than it had in the preceding century. And when you take a look at the advancements that have been made in the textile industry, you can see that this is not a lie. For designers and scientists, it’s an exciting new field where new discoveries and techniques are being discovered almost every day. From clothing that can help people safely perform dangerous jobs to party clothes that react to music to perfectly sustainable manufacturing practices, fabrics have changed a lot over the last ten years. It’s a sure bet that the next ten will be just as exciting, if not more so. It will be interesting to see where new fabrics take us in the future as well!
By Eileen O’Shanassy