In the last couple of years I’ve seen a lot of companies and brands experiment with smart textiles (also known as e-textiles), implementing new and improved high-tech technology in their designs. This new medium explores the relation between fashion, art and technology. Think electronic textiles that play melodies or a carpet made from conductive thread which picks up frequencies of sound.
Working in the field of Smart Textiles is still very experimental, nevertheless it has a growing community. To my delight, a lot of Dutch designers are picking this new medium up. For example Daan Roosegaarde’s ‘Intimacy 2.0’ is high-tech fashion composed of leather and smart e-foils. In response to the heartbeat of each person, the wearable dresses become more or less transparent. E-foil is such an uncommon material to use in designs, but I feel it gives textile a new sense of poetry.
Daan Roosgaarde’s ‘Intimacy 2.0’
Another example is this biomechanical cocktail dress (picture below) that uses medical technology, customised hardware and human temperament to provide you with a freshly made cocktail.
DareDroid 2.0 cocktail making dress
Challenges and obstacles
As I said before, working smart textiles is still relatively new and in an experimental state. But I’m sure that in the next few years we will see different directions in this field. For me, using smart textiles is a way of making it your own. Instead of the body having to give a purpose to a design, the design gives a purpose to the body.
It truly brings me joy to see even the slightest bit of technology being implemented in a design. Luckily I’m not the only one with that thought, even the big shot designers (to my delight) have used it in their catwalk shows, such as Rodarte, Jimmy Choo and none other than Karl Lagerfeld, with their Illuminating heels.
But what are the challenges for a designer working with technology? Well the biggest one are the bugs and short circuiting. I think a lot of designers are kind of afraid of the complexity that technology can bring. I can understand why they’re a little hesitant (specially when it’s hand crafted) but it has something magical about it. Another thing is money of course. These projects tend to cost a lot, but platforms like Mediamatic and V2_Labs (in the Netherlands) help young designers, with building small circuits and learning about micro controllers.
V2 Labs recently held a small gathering, inviting nine fashion masters from Artez to discuss the fact ‘ Is wearable tech just bad fashion?’. The results were very fascinating. As a showpiece, implementing technology is a great new way of showcasing your talent. However in daily life, it can get complicated due to the fact that it has to be functional in everyday life. Who wants to wear a dress with all the wires dangling out? But for every problem, there’s a solution. The only true obstacle I can think of is how you can clean the clothing piece. For example, you’re wearing a beautiful dress with solar panels to charge your devices with. A normal dress you can just throw it in the washing machines or bring it to the cleaners, but you can’t throw solar panels in the washing machines. It would just mess it up and maybe even destroy your washing machine.
Where are we now?…
Even though the high-end designers are still a little hesitant, young designers are eager to experiment and collaborate, which is by the way one of the perks of working with technology. As soon a different disciplines force their powers, people will see what the power of designing truly is. This new way of creating requires a more sophisticated approach to design that understands social interactions, speaks the language of engineers, and examines potential experiences within a human-interface context.