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How Technology Is Changing Fashion

Author:

Caffeine fiend, forager, and science nerd currently in South Florida.

Wearable LEDs light this fashion shoot.

Wearable LEDs light this fashion shoot.

Technology is allowing fashion designers to care about regular people and real problems. Historically speaking, designers spent their entire lives catering exclusively to the fashion needs of the elite- royalty, celebrities, the well-connected, and the ultra-wealthy. The Industrial Revolution democratized most other industries, but until recently, fashionable clothing, expertly designed, perfectly fitted to one's body, customized to reflect personal tastes, beautifully sewn and decorated by nimble hands was a luxury that very few in the world could afford even once in a lifetime.

The quality of clothing available to just anybody improved after the invention of the sewing machine, but standard sizing fit one body type only, the type built like the ideal models of their era or in other words, 10 percent or less of the people who wore the clothing. Regular people with means could buy clothing off the rack and have it altered to fit. Even for a wizard at altering, there were limited choices, only so many fabrics, designs, and colors available. As anyone who has ever tried on clothes in a store knows, it can be devilishly difficult to find anything worth buying, especially when you really need something to wear.

Now we stand on the cusp of fashion democracy. Yes, the ultra-rich will always wear more fashionable clothes than the rest of us, but that's not the point. The point is that now, suddenly everyone will have real choices. Everyone will have access to healthier more ethically sound clothing that functions as intended and helps make all our lives better. Everyone built like a model or not, will have clothes that fit! Read on and discover the technologies that are changing the fashion industry forever and freeing up some time for designers so they can share their talents with the rest of the world.

Miniaturization and Wearable Technology

Not long ago, wearable technology referred to nothing more complicated or capable than an electronic wristwatch. The road, toward increasingly personal computing and smaller miniaturization, now leads us into these early days of truly wearable high-tech. From this point on, the boundary between fashion and technology will get fabulously blurry. Personal technology will become wearable art. Fashion, now more than mere adornment or protection, becomes ever more multi-functional and tailored to fit our daily lives.

It is a testament to how far and how fast technology has come that the entire computing power of the ENIAC computer, which weighed three tons, occupied 1800 square feet, and cost $500,000 in 1946 (about $6.9 million US dollars today,) can now fit onto a disposable chip from a musical greeting card.

Judging by the saddle shoes, this photo of the Eniac computer dates back to the 1950's.

Judging by the saddle shoes, this photo of the Eniac computer dates back to the 1950's.

If this trend continues, in another decade or two, a new smartphone's worth of computing power would occupy a disposable device small enough to fit in a human red blood cell. As our computers get smaller and cheaper, personal electronics become more wearable and far more complex in what feats they can accomplish. Adding connectivity into this equation, we reach toward having limitless computing power from the Cloud available from devices smaller than the fibers in our clothing.

Google Glass helped create a revolution in wearable technology by combining useful gadgetry with ergonomic design.

Google Glass helped create a revolution in wearable technology by combining useful gadgetry with ergonomic design.

In 2014, the worldwide market for wearable technology was just under 3 billion dollars. That number doubled to nearly 6 billion in 2018. Some experts estimate the amount will increase to about 50 billion over the next decade. That may be a conservative estimate. Either way, if you are looking for the next big thing for a long-term investment, then wearable tech might be it; and now might be the time to buy some stock.

Fashion Design and Energy Technologies

The advent of wearable tech is creating the need for portable power production, better personal energy management devices, and new power storage solutions. We are starting to think seriously again about ways our clothing can harness solar, thermal, kinetic, or other forms of energy. Batteries and supercapacitors are shrinking, transforming, and becoming more wearable.

Once we can harness mobile personal power, we can use it to pixelate our clothing with tiny LEDs or LCDs. Soon, changing the appearance of a garment might involve downloading a new app. One preprogrammed "fabric pattern," "texture," and "palette" might be traded for another set from a stored library or the garment could be set to cycle through a personalized light show creating a dramatic evening look.

Take a Look at This Collection From CuteCircuit

Materials are constantly being discovered or re-engineered to improve existing technologies and pioneer new ones. Here are some recent events that may shape the future functions of our clothing and change how we use and power our wearable technologies.

A Recent Timeline of Energy Advances Impacting Contemporary Fashion

  • February 2012: Researchers at Wake Forest University announced the development of low-cost organic, thermoelectric fabrics with a multitude of wearable tech applications. Besides using body heat to power electronic devices and flashlights, winter jackets with thermoelectric interior lining can use the temperature difference between body heat and outside the jacket to regulate a constant set temperature or heat up a flexible, sewn-in element to keep the wearer more toasty.
  • June 2013: Dutch designer Pauline Van Dongen presented a coat and a dress designed with solar cells capable of powering wearable tech. The two wool and leather prototypes have modules with solar cells, which can be revealed when the sun shines or folded away and worn invisible and close to the body until needed. The coat incorporates 48 rigid solar cells while the dress has 72 flexible ones. Each garment, if solar cells are exposed to full sun for an hour, can charge a smartphone to fifty percent.
  • March 2014: A research team from Dublin City University in Ireland and the University of Wollongong and the University of Sydney in Australia spun a strong, versatile yarn from graphene-oxide, using a new wet-spinning technique, a relatively simple method that could be scaled up to produce mass quantities. This technique allowed them to produce unlimited lengths, of highly-porous yet dense graphene yarn from liquid crystals, out of very large graphene-oxide sheets.

    This new graphene yarn has unrivaled electrochemical capacitance, as high as 410 F/g. The best capacitance value reported before this was as high as 265 F/g, also from a graphene-based material. Researchers believe that graphene yarn could create clothing that will act as a wearable supercapacitor to store power for any type of devices.

  • July 2017: University of Texas at Austin researchers developed graphene tattoo stickers for cosmetic, fitness, and medical applications. The temporary tattoos can not be felt against the skin but can monitor the body's electrical changes and interact with electronics, supercapacitors, or next-generation prosthetics.

  • February 2019: University of Maryland researchers created a fabric that regulates its insulating properties according to sweating and body heat. When the fabric is cool and dry it holds in heat and releases heat when moist and warm. It is the first fabric suitable both for ice-fishing in Alaska and running a marathon in Florida.

Moving Toward a More Sustainable Fashion Industry

While fashion is constantly changing, until recently, the fashion industry has been rather curiously resistant to change. It is still one of the most polluting, waste-producing, and wasteful industries of all. What does bring about change, and what the industry is most sensitive to, is new technology that comes along to do whatever needs doing more cost-effectively. Increasingly, the industry is adopting new processes and new materials that are as sound for the environment as for the bottom line.

Automation in Fashion

3D Printing in Fashion

When Dutch designer Iris van Herpen presented her collection at Fashion Week 2013 in Paris, the world of couture got its first glimpse of what 3D printing technology could bring to runway fashion. Some of the garments in the collection were entirely seamless. All were made to fit each model like skin. The designs were so complex they were nearly impossible to create using any other technique.



3D printing gives a designer the ability to construct complex geometric, sculptural, and architectural clothing in a single piece. It enables the quick production of sample garments. Rapid prototyping speeds the creation of an entire collection. 3D printing allows for fast model fitting for runway shows and customization to meet the needs and tastes of individual clients.

3D printed stiletto features intricate Eiffel Tower heel detail.

3D printed stiletto features intricate Eiffel Tower heel detail.


By utilizing 3D printing, designers have shorter lead times. They can produce items in small quantities or only upon an order from buyers or a client. 3D printing could revolutionize garment sizing and product development in mass production. It could also allow startup labels to produce small orders to avoid stock that doesn't sell.

Clients will enjoy high levels of customization according to their body shapes and personal preferences. Environmentalists will love its sustainability and the fact that it significantly reduces raw materials waste.

Eco-Friendly Materials in Fashion

Non-organic cotton farmers deploy 25% of the world's insecticide use every year and about 10% of the world's use of pesticides in general. That is a lot of poison that is killing cotton farmers and seeping into our water. According to the World Health Organization, about 20,000 human deaths annually are due to environmental pesticide poisoning. In addition, the US Fish and Wildlife Service estimates that 67 million birds in the US alone die from pesticides annually. Also heavily hit are other key pollinators like butterflies and honey bees.

This farmer grows organic cotton in Kyrgyzstan.

This farmer grows organic cotton in Kyrgyzstan.


Organic cotton, which requires no chemical fertilizer, pesticide, or herbicide to produce, is ideal for kids and anyone with allergies or sensitive skin and is also great for the environment. India currently produces over fifty percent of all organically grown cotton. Unfortunately, organically grown cotton accounts for only about 1% of all cotton grown on the planet. The fashion industry is helping to change that.

Ten years ago, organic cotton clothing was still a niche market. Now huge companies like Nike and Walmart include organic cotton products in their signature lines. Organic cotton has become so popular in the fashion industry that there is often not enough to satisfy the huge demand.

Fashion industry leaders now showcase other sustainable fabrics like hemp and bamboo-based textiles on runways across the world and are actively developing new alternatives to petroleum, animal-based textiles, toxic dyes, and otherwise ethically problematic or environmentally unsound materials.

More Fashionable Materials

  • QMilch: German designer and former microbiology student Anke Domaske uses waste milk to make the new fabric produced from fibers of casein. Qmilch ( the name combines the German words for quality and milk) is silky, odorless, affordable, and washable. Qmilch uses half a gallon of water to make 2 pounds of fabric. In comparison, making 2 pounds of cotton fabric requires about 3000 gallons of water.

  • Lab-Grown Bio-Fabric: London based designer Suzanne Lee grows leather-like textiles out of kombucha. As kombucha ferments, it naturally produces microbial cellulose. Lee is working with biologists and various microorganisms. However, all the textiles produced so far to one degree or another water-soluble, which might be ideal for creating truly disposable trendy clothing and accessories that will never take up any space in landfills despite becoming outgrown and out of style.


  • Thermal Fabric Recycled from Coffee Grounds: California based performance wear company Virus pioneered a proprietary process by which old coffee grounds are turned into coffee charcoal, a natural eco-friendly fiber. The coffee charcoal fabric is moisture-wicking and heat-retaining, two properties that make it perfect for a base layer for athletes, travelers, winter sports enthusiasts, and those who dwell in colder climates.

  • "Bionic Denim" Made from Recycled Plastic Ocean Waste: Musician Pharrell Williams announced at NY Fashion Week that he is partnering with designer denim label G-Star RAW to incorporate recycled plastic waste collected from the ocean into jeans as part of the core of each strand of denim thread.
Apple watchband made from Piñatex designed by Feramez Durmus for Mezando. [public domain]

Apple watchband made from Piñatex designed by Feramez Durmus for Mezando. [public domain]

  • Piñatex, a Natural Vegan Leather-alternative Created from Pineapple Leaves: Piñatex products could one day utilize the 13 million tons of waste created annually in pineapple production while providing a natural replacement for both animal-sourced leather and petroleum-based synthetic vegan substitutes.

Looking Forward in Fashion

Imagine this. Since you were ten, you have known of your severe allergy to wasps. A couple of years ago a skiing accident paralyzed you from the waist down. Today you are wearing a 3D printed smart biomechanical exoskeleton on your legs over your sustainable, high performance, LCD equipped smart fitness wear, currently displaying your racing number and official ribbon color, in order to participate in a charity run in your local park.


You are halfway through your run when a wasp stings you behind your left knee. Though you don't feel the sting, your body reacts. Sensors in your fitness wear notice. Your clothing informs you of what happened.


At the same time, your clothing summons an ambulance, reporting your identity, medical history, nature of your emergency, current condition, and your exact GPS location. A patch on your thigh injects you with an emergency dose of epinephrine to treat for anaphylaxis. Your clothing informs the team of paramedics on the way that you received this injection. When they arrive, your clothing wirelessly uplinks with their equipment, allowing the EMTs to monitor your vitals on route to the hospital.


While this scenario might seem far-fetched, like something from a futuristic movie, all the technology needed to make it happen already exists. It takes time to incorporate our current capabilities into working prototypes, and even longer to make them available to the public. One day soon, the above event might seem as expected, if not as commonplace, as watching someone purchase lunch with an iPhone, which a few years ago would have seemed like science fiction as well.

© 2014 Besarien

Comments

Besarien (author) from South Florida on September 13, 2019:

Hello Devika! Thanks for your kind words! I appreciate that you took the time to let me know what you think.

Devika Primic on September 12, 2019:

An amazing change in fashion from years before to the present and you shared an informative and interesting hub.

Besarien (author) from South Florida on August 02, 2019:

Yes, the fashion industry definitely needs to clean up its act. Currently it is one of the biggest polluters worldwide. Hopefully better manufacturing practices can cut wastes and costs while better serving the needs of the everyone not just the thinnest of celebrities.

Denise McGill from Fresno CA on August 02, 2019:

It is amazing how far we have come and how far we could go with clothing. I think if we could clean up the environment at the same time it would definitely be a win-win. Thanks for the information.

Blessings,

Denise

Besarien (author) from South Florida on January 17, 2016:

I'm so happy you got something positive from my hub, MsDora! I love reading about new technology as well as fashion. Project Runway is one of my favorite shows. I also enjoy making my own clothes. This hub was inevitable!

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on January 17, 2016:

Besarien, I learned so much from your article. You certainly take us into the future with all these possibilities. Seeing helps us believe; there's no way I would imagine some of these outfits. Thank you.

Mary Hyatt from Florida on May 04, 2015:

I have been reading more and more about 3D printing, and that just amazes me. Of course I would have never believed all the technology we have today if I'd read about that years ago.

As long as these new "inventions" do good for humankind, I'll all for it. I'm not too interested in using 3D printing for fashion, but more so in the medical field.

C E Clark from North Texas on May 04, 2015:

Working on resolving the issue of the disappearing social buttons. Practicing on your hub, hope you don't mind. Was able to pin this article to Awesome HubPages using my phone, but had to use my lap top to share here with followers. Also voted up and awesome!

C E Clark from North Texas on May 04, 2015:

Well madam, I have read all of your articles and so all I can do is tell you how excellent and well written they are again, starting over with this one. The improvements to HubPages that I'm told occurred earlier today removed all social sharing buttons from my own articles and everyone else's -- at least they aren't accessible to me, if in fact they still exist, so I can't share this article with anyone as I would like to do. Looking forward to your next hub!

C E Clark from North Texas on April 21, 2015:

Exceptionally well written article! I learned a lot about this subject and I think there are a lot of useful and interesting ideas for fashion discussed here. Wonder if these things will be affordable for everyone . . .

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on April 21, 2015:

I wish you wrote more often. You are a good writer and I love to see good writing, no matter what the topic is. :)

Al Wordlaw from Chicago on April 19, 2015:

Besarien, you are really on top of things. You're like a scientist, have a gorgeous ear for music plus spiritually gifted with wisdom. This one is voted up!

Suzanne Day from Melbourne, Victoria, Australia on April 19, 2015:

Well now, I'm all for an outfit that looks great and can change depending on pressing the right button, but is it durable? Why the hell is the world creating millions of garments that get thrown away after a year or two? I'd really like to see an end to a capitalist system and more focus on loving the planet, increasing durability and producing amazing things for humankind. Voted useful!

Jackie Lynnley from the beautiful south on April 08, 2015:

I enjoyed this and really liked the cutecircut video. No brave enough for the dresses but love those slacks and boots!

^+

Deborah Carr from Orange County, California on April 07, 2015:

It is amazing how much technology has become part of every aspect of our lives, even fashion!

Yoleen Lucas from Big Island of Hawaii on April 06, 2015:

I enjoy wearing fiber optics and holographic glasses myself!

Besarien (author) from South Florida on March 30, 2015:

Hello Nell Rose! Other than beating my head against a hub I've been trying to write, everything is great. Funny how some just write themselves. I think the more dire the subject matter the harder it is for me to concentrate on it. Yet I'm too stubborn to give up. I figure if I just get something done every day... Hope all is well on your side of the Atlantic as well! Wishing many blessings find you and yours.

Nell Rose from England on March 30, 2015:

Came back for another read, and wow still! lol! hope everythings okay with you, voted up and shared, nell

poetryman6969 on February 01, 2015:

I love the idea of having cool technology laden fashion. I like the idea of clothes that can absorb orders or resist spills. I also like the idea of clothes that glow or change color depending on environmental conditions or even the mood or health of the wearer.

I don't really care for fashion that has people with their unmentionables exposed. I am all for nudists, nude beaches and even naked vacations, but I really don't like someone masquerading nudity as fashion. The emperor is not wearing any clothes gosh darn it!

Abhinav Garg from Bangalore on December 16, 2014:

I agree on the fact that use of organic cotton by fashion industry can change the world for better. Loved the way you presented the article.

Besarien (author) from South Florida on December 16, 2014:

Hi Mel! Thanks for commenting! You are seeing where all of this is going. I agree with you. I don't even like to carry my phone all the time. There are futurists who think that wearable will mean surgically embeddable- not that it already doesn't already with cochlear implants and pacemakers- and even electively replaceable within the decade. I can't quite imagine giving up a body part that works for tech that works better-but a lot of currently popular body mods are far beyond my own personal tastes. Each to his or her own. It will raise a lot of ethical questions, like how does a surgeon "do no harm" and lop off a perfectly good body part- or is this something that some kid working in a mall will perform?? With ever answer there are only more questions.

Mel Carriere from San Diego California on December 14, 2014:

This is remarkable and useful stuff, but frightening at the same time. Our bodies will literally become computers and we will never be separated from our electronic leashes. Great hub!

Healthnews12 on December 09, 2014:

This is great article for fashion in technology

Nell Rose from England on December 07, 2014:

Hiya, just came by to say thanks again for reading my hubs, and look forward to reading yours, let me know when you publish again, okay?

Besarien (author) from South Florida on December 05, 2014:

Hi Frank Atanacio! Thanks for stopping by! Fashion is a pretty frivolous arena for new tech I admit but really that was half the fun of this hub for me. I love the spectacle of fashion even though I don't wear it personally. I make most of my own clothes when I do need to replace what I already have and go for boring and basic rather than Christmas tree lights. Many one day I'll be doing it with a 3D printing instead of a sewing machine though! Thanks again for commenting!

Hi colorfulone! I think you have the right idea- the LEDs are perfect for performers on stage. I do have an aunty who loves festive holiday and occasion wear who probably wouldn't think twice about lighting herself up. So happy you enjoyed reading it. Thank you for taking time to comment!

Besarien (author) from South Florida on December 05, 2014:

Hi Nell Rose! Thanks for the comment! 3D printing just blows my mind- endless possibilities and with the "sister technology of 3D scanning anything seems within grasp. I heard about a little boy in Hawaii you got an "Iron Man" themed hand prosthetic from a charity that does free 3D limb replacement. He will get updates as he grows. Amazing!

Susie Lehto from Minnesota on December 05, 2014:

It is amazing to see what technology is being used in fashion now. I can see singers on stage wearing these to boost a performance. Amazing hub!

Frank Atanacio from Shelton on December 03, 2014:

it is interesting reading hubs like this one.. I agree tech is changing everything..not just fashion... :)

Nell Rose from England on December 03, 2014:

Wow! what fascinating reading! those LCD dresses were amazing, but the tech behind the 3D printing is fantastic! great hub, and I love this sort of thing! voted up and shared, nell

Besarien (author) from South Florida on December 02, 2014:

I agree with every word you said, bradmasterOCeal! Just because we can wear something certainly doesn't mean we should. Fashion even at its most relevant and most socially in tune can still be pretty silly. I can't help admire the creativity and craftsmanship that goes into a runway look though, even one that no one will ever wear aside from the poor model. I can admire the art and still not want to hang it on my proverbial wall.

One aspect of 3d printing that excites me is that ready to wear- what we all will be wearing on the street, can now be customized to order at little cost. We wont have to wear a size that doesn't quite fit or a color we don't love or a badly placed pocket or sleeves too long or short, or buttons that won't stay closed or suffer any other indignity related to clothing because we can have ourselves scanned, and all algorithms adjusted to buy exactly what we want instead of what someone is trying to sell us. Our clothing will be truly our own. Theoretically at least! Thanks for commenting!

Brad on December 02, 2014:

This was a very interesting and illuminating hub.

Unfortunately, I don't think computer chips is flattering wearable fashion. Some of the current fashion today looks light it is lit up, and some are even gross.

Smartphones are already distracting, annoying and dangerous when walking and driving. Now, add to that a light show coming from a moving vehicle.

It might be beneficial in a crosswalk at night.

Prepare to strip down to your birthday suit when going to checkin at the airport.

The same fire that warms us, also can burn the house down.

Thanks

Besarien (author) from South Florida on December 02, 2014:

Hi billybuc! Sorry fashion isn't your thing. Thanks for reading it anyway!

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on December 02, 2014:

The fact that I just read an article on fashion should tell you that I respect you. :) Good research, my friend.