Evolution of Clothing Technology

If I learned one thing from The Jetsons, it was that rings are the trend of the future. That and that global warming was going to make the surface of the earth uninhabitable and force us to live in the sky. Don’t get me started on that…

I’m not going to pretend that I can predict the future of fashion, but I do have a couple ideas of what types of tech might be included.
Before I take the deep dive into the future, I want to point out a couple of futuristic clothes that are available today.

At first, the idea of what would become Smart Garments was introduced to complement our portable electronic devices. At first, this simply meant the addition of more pockets. At that time, we began to see coats and backpacks that had designated pockets for our pagers, our CD players, and several other pockets for whatever you might need. The trend reminds me of a magician’s coat with many hidden pockets. This is still an influence in many of the clothes that we buy today, although the pockets are now smaller and usually limited to a couple useless pockets as opposed to twenty of them. I’m not sure what actual tech was the first to be introduced, you can now buy clothing that has flexible solar panels that can charge your handheld electronics. Built in lights are available for those who go out at night. And for those really annoying among us, there are coats and backpacks with speakers built in.
Project Jacquard is a fabric created by Google that uses conductive threads that are touch and gesture sensitive. Earlier this year Levi’s released their Commuter Trucker Jacket, this was the first product released using Project Jacquard. The jacket can be paired with a phone or mp3 player because of a built-in Bluetooth chip in the jacket. Touching the jacket or moving your arms in specific ways you will send commands to a Bluetooth enabled device. The commands come preprogrammed for quick easy use out of the box, but can be changed for simplification or to add more diversity. Sliding your finger up or down your arm could change the volume of your music. Circular motions can fast forward or rewind. Those are only a few basic commands that you can program.

Nanotex is a company that developed a system of coating individual threads. The coating is one-hundredth of a nanometer thick, that’s about three to five atoms thick. This process was initially created to make fabrics more water and stain resistant. With further study and development, they now have fabrics that are virtually anti-wrinkle and capable of managing moisture and odor. Nanotex initially created for athletic clothes, they have now branched out and their products can be found in military gear, feminine hygiene items, and even making screen covers for Microsoft Surface tablets.

Combining the coating system from Nanotex and the conductive threads from Google, it’s not hard to see many possibilities for what could be created. As technology advances, I predict our clothing actually replacing the need for handheld electronic devices. Processors will continue to get smaller and eventually woven into our fabric. A few different companies are already working on making fabrics that can change their color and patterns with electronic signals. Imagine having one shirt that can have any color you can imagine or any pattern or picture on it. It’s only a matter of time.
Because Zuke wants to continually prove that he is better than us, he will continue to wear large and clunky watches. But for the rest of us, we will literally have a clock built into our sleeve. We will be walking antennas with a mic built in the collar of our shirt. Instead of a speaker, we might place an adhesive bit of fabric on our skin behind our ear. Instead of sending sounds, it would send vibrations that our eardrums which would then send them to our brain. There would be no sound, but we would “hear” it just the same.

There are many clothing companies that claim their fabric have the capability to move moisture away from our bodies, to a point, they do. But what if the clothes worked like a conveyor belt that physically took the moisture away? That is something that is possible. Not only that but it could also move air into areas that need to be cooled.
When it comes to working out, moving moisture away and air in isn’t the only things that our future clothes could do for us. Sensors already exist that can scan for known molecules. Scanning our sweat can tell us a lot about how healthy we are at that moment. It could measure the amount of water and salt in our sweat. It could measure and analyze the lipids (fats) and proteins as well. It could keep a running tab of our health. When visiting a doctor, we would no longer have to fill out the page of patient information. We would upload information collected from our clothes and a few other devices directly to our patient charts.

We could also see the introduction of self-cleaning clothes. I already mentioned clothes that could potentially move water away from the body, but what if it could also do that to contaminants. Sweat, ketchup, and wine would be actively moved off of the clothes. This wouldn’t only affect our clothes, but potentially us as well. Dirt, oil, and sweat could be removed from our bodies just be being in contact with the fabric. Imagine how much water we would save if we could wear our clothes dozens of times before it needed a cleaning. We potentially wouldn’t need to shower or bath any more than three or four times a year, maybe not even at all. The amount of water that would be saved would be amazing.

In the future, we would no longer have to go to a clothing store to buy clothes. I know that in a way this is already the case, but I’m not talking about ordering clothes from an online store.
To earn her fashion degree, designer Danit Peleg designed and 3D printed five complete outfits, including shoes. Each dress took three hundred hours to print. All five outfits took two thousand hours in total. In a TED talk given in 2016 by Peleg, the same dresses would now only take about fifty hours each because of the advancements in 3D printing.

In this same TED talk, Peleg talked about how the price of the printers would soon be affordable for almost everyone and sold on the shelf next to the washer and dryers. At that time, the printers might be fast enough to print an outfit in minutes instead of hours.
Instead of shopping for clothing, we would shop for programs. The programs would be the blueprints for the 3D printers to create our clothes. Peleg mentions that she and a few other designers are experimenting with different filaments that would give the feel of polyester or leather once printed. We could even soon see filaments that have the feel of cotton.

Another thing that Peleg was excited about was the possibility of these filaments being created specifically to be recycled. She talked about printing a shirt, wearing it for a couple hours, and when she wanted a change, she would put the shirt back into the printer, which would convert the shirt back into filaments to print another article of clothing.
If Peleg’s vision of printing clothing became a reality, we would no longer buy clothes that didn’t fit us because each piece of clothing would be printed to our exact measurements. And if we gained weight or lost weight, we could recycle our clothes and get new ones that fit us properly. We would no longer have a closet full of clothing that we wore a couple times and then forgot about.
Because 3D printers can’t weave threads, our clothing would change slightly. I imagine at first clothes will be printed to resemble and look like the clothes we wear today. Currently, our clothes are weaved in panels and then stitched together to make the final article. But printed clothing wouldn’t need to be stitched. Instead, it would be one continuous article. This will open a wide range of different possibilities for future fashions.

Buying programs to print will blow open an industry for indie fashion designers to make a name for themselves. Most of the clothes that we will print will not be a brand name. Rather they may come from a high school teen who placed their design on the market for a dollar. Or the retired man who wanted his shoes to fit and feel different and wanted to share his creation for free. There will be fashion trends, but I don’t expect those trends to last as long as they do now.

Printing clothes would change more than just how we bought and wore our clothes. The impact on the environment would also be great. Currently, there are very few clothes that can be recycled. The ability to reuse the materials several times would reduce the amount of space needed to grow cotton. It would reduce the amount of petroleum and other chemicals that would be used to for creating the various different types of synthetic clothing. Less energy would be used shipping materials for clothing because less would be needed.

However, we still have far to go before 3D printers are cheap or effective enough to print our clothing in our home.

I’d like to see Schmidty be an early adopter of some 3D printed clothes, especially in their current form. Maybe we could start a Kickstarter for this… Who’s in?

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