I spent the last week playing with futuristic thoughts on fashion and technology, triggered by the Singularity Summit which took place in NYC this past weekend and I followed live via Twitter. For those new to the concept, “The Singularity represents an “event horizon” in the predictability of human technological development past which present models of the future may cease to give reliable answers, following the creation of strong AI or the enhancement of human intelligence.”
According to Ray Kurzweil, one of the leading inventors of our times, the paradigm shift rate is now doubling every decade, and eventually the pace of technological change will be so rapid, its impact so deep, that human life will be irreversibly transformed. I found it would be interesting to apply the same logic scientists apply to the evolution of technology to the evolution of fashion inventions.
Compared to other industries fashion is still very low-tech, and is mostly relied on the inventions of the past centuries: the sewing machine, artificial dyes, zipper, etc. The only things that have changed during the last years are the shapes of our clothes and the processes in which they are made and sold. I will try to expand on these processes in another post, but this time I would like to focus on various technological inventions which I feel have the potential to create the Singularity moment for the fashion industry, and eventually change the way we consume and wear clothes:
1. Color Changing Clothes – one of the latest inventions in the field of light emitting devices might change the way clothes are designed. Due to the fact that the organic light emitting devices are very thin and flexible, electronic display screens could be easily created on nearly every material, thus, for example, clothing could, for the first time in history, display specific electronic information. There are various ways of using the OLED, like for example change the color of clothes. Imagine what this could potentially mean for the trend forecasting companies who come up with the color palettes every season, designers who choose from those pallets and finally consumers who have a hard time to decide which colors to buy every season.
2. Wired Clothing – this isn’t completely new concept, mostly explored so far by sport apparel companies such as NIKE and Burton, and the health industry for monitoring heart rate, such as Sensatex SmartShirt. There is still a huge future for the “wearable computing” built directly into our clothing. Who knows, maybe in the future our clothes will automatically come with multiple USB outlets, just like our notebooks have today.
3. Body Temperature Balancing Clothes. Our body’s temperature naturally changes throughout the day so why shouldn’t our clothing? Outlast Adaptive Comfort products are storing excess heat as it’s created and releasing it as it’s needed, so you can do whatever you are doing longer. Nano-Tex Coolest Comfort – gives you the freedom to move from hot to cold environments and still feel dry, all day long. Its advanced moisture wicking keeps you cool without changing the way your clothes feel. these inventions may potentially eliminate the need for seasonal clothing.
4. Smart Cleaning – the laundry machines definitely made our lives easier, but still require special installation and access to water, not to mention the ruining of fabrics after multiple washes. The Naturewash by Zhenpeng Li is a true futuristic laundry system. It’s a waterless washer that cleans nano-coated fabric clothes using negative ions. Imagine simply spreading your clothes on the machine surface to get rid of dirt, instead of today’s laundry process.
5. Instantly Dry Clothes – swimwear that dries itself instantly is not a dream anymore, thanks to Sun Dry Swim, which features quick dry nanotechnology enhanced swimwear fabric that sheds water as naturally as skin. It’s only a matter of time until this technology will make it into apparel making the rainy days much less wet, not to mention eliminating the need for driers.
6. Odor Preventing Fabrics - one of the reason for frequent clothes wash is the non-pleasant odors they catch. Japanese company Teijin is known for applying cutting edge technologies to textiles, develops a wide range of solutions, including the anti-bacterial odor preventing functions. Carnation Footcare has launched silver-lined socks it claims keep feet warm and smelling of roses. Pure silver, which coats the outside of the textile fibres, kills bacteria and neutralizes nasty odor-causing elements.
7. Stain Resistant Fabrics – there are plenty of stain removers on the market today, but what if the fabric itself wasn’t even able to catch stains? Nano-Tex, a leading fabric innovation company providing textile enhancements to the apparel market, recently rolled out the market’s best-performing stain repel-and-release treatment. The new solution threatens to eliminate the need for the most innovative stain remover.
8. Wrinkle Resistant Fabrics – who doesn’t like perfectly ironed crisp looking clothes? The process of ironing did improve our clothes appearance, but is tedious and doesn’t produce long lasting effect. A new technique allows the garments to be treated with the anti-wrinkle finish before the garment is dyed. This chemical treatment minimizes wrinkles and gives a smooth appearance to the fabrics. Hopefully, the day we say goodbye to the old heavy irons will be soon over.
9. Shape Changing Clothes - perhaps the “Airplane dress” by Hussein Chalayan looked too futuristic, but the concept itself of shape changing clothes isn’t as far from our reality. Imagine a skirt that could change from A-line to pencil shape in a click of a button. The simplified version of this concept includes convertible garments such as dress that becomes a skirt, coat that becomes a jacket, two-sided garments – the opportunities for innovative multi-functional garments are endless.
10. Detachable Elements - another innovative way to use materials effectively is detachable elements of clothing and accessories. OneSole are an example of shoes with interchangeable tops, which could be attached to the same sole. Similar concept was also recently explored by the Uniform Project, where a black dress is worn with different accessories to create multi functional looks. Although this wasn’t an actual product, it’s only a matter of time until we’ll see a branded version of this concept.
11. Size Adjustable Clothes – a bonus idea, yet to be invented, but has the potential to change the fashion world as it solves the biggest problem in mass clothing manufacturing – the unique shape of each human body. Size adjustable shoes are today’s reality, although haven’t been hugely penetrated in the market. Imagine what size adjustable clothes could do – a fabric that is “learning” the curves of your body and adjusts accordingly, by that eliminating the need of multiple sizes. I wonder if any inventors out there are tackling the issue.
On a last note, these ideas might sounds too futuristic for mass market integration, but with the decreased costs of new technologies they will become standard in apparel industry in the next few years. Pressured by the economy fashion designers and brands are so busy these days thinking about the next season, while in fact they should be thinking about the next decade. If our clothes could be compared to computers, we are still wearing DOS…