Fast (forward) Fashion - Design

Continuing our series on some of the latest technological breakthroughs that are poised to impact the fashion industry, this post focuses on some remarkable advances in the Design of textiles and garments. Some of the amazing things that are currently being developed are nothing short of mind-bending and could have just as easily been pulled out of a sci-fi film.

bio-engineered textile development in the lab

image source: Bolt Threads

Bio-engineered fabrications

If early indicators are accurate, some of the most cutting edge fashion that will be developed in the next ten years will be grown in a lab as opposed to traditional fibers sprouting in a field or from the pelt of an animal. Bolt Threads out of Emeryville, CA has been spending the last several years perfecting a synthetic spider silk to rival the traditional version spun by silkworms with the additional benefits and tensile strength of actual spider's silk. What's more, they have the confidence of one of fashion's leaders in the sustainable realm, none other than Stella McCartney has collaborated with them on some standout pieces in her recent collection.

Modern Meadows has been hard at work creating an organic and animal-free leather that is not only inherently more humane, but also boasts less material waste and a much smaller environmental footprint. Designers and bio-engineers like Natsai Audrey are putting bacteria to work to create alternatives to dyeing and printing that are much more environmentally sustainable. Researchers at MIT have developed bioLogic, a technology using moisture-reactive bacteria to create self ventilating clothing which responds when the wearer's body temperature rises and they perspire.

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Designer Tina Gorjanc has raised some compelling ethical questions about privacy and propriety with her new project Pure Human. The project uses DNA extracted from human donors and grows synthetic human skin to be used in creating various projects and even products. This raises some serious issues about what this technology should be used for and what an individual's rights might be concerning the use of their genetic materials. The designer has said that this moral dilemma is actually at the heart of the project itself; she wants these difficult questions to be confronted because the technology is being developed far more rapidly than legislation around it.

Connected garments

The strides made in the realm of smart textiles is pushing the boundaries of what we have come to expect from clothing. More than just a covering to protect us from the elements, or to express our personal style, pretty soon the term “performance clothing” may come to cover a lot more features than we would have even been able to conceive of twenty years ago.

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Textiles have been wired for connectivity to our personal devices and some smart clothing items are engineered to do everything from record our vitals to express our emotions and anticipate our needs. Design house Unseen exercises their special brand of alchemy in creating reactive garments to both environmental cues and the wearer's biological ones. Studios such as Cute Circuit and Ying Gao have developed garments that react when provoked and also display thoughts, ideas, and emotions. These and other amazing pieces from talented creative teams have been displayed recently at popular art museum and university exhibits over the past several years such as TechStyle and Coded Couture, and the exhibit currently under way at MoMA’s exhibit “Is Fashion Modern?".

Strides in 3-D printing

There are compelling predictions that eventually we will be downloading the schematics to the latest fashions and printing them at home This could really mean substantial benefit for the environment - imagine the positive impact of less product shipment worldwide. Also the convenience of having the product you want within hours of purchase is certainly appealing.

Design-wise, there are some amazing things happening with 3-D printing in regards to fashion. For the longest time apparel construction has basically meant taking a relatively 2-dimensional material, fabric, and constructing it to wrap around, shelter, and move with a dynamic 3-dimensional object, the human body. 3-D technology is creating a shift in the starting point since we can begin building the garment as a structure in a different way.

Companies such as Nervous System just outside Boston, MA, have been leaders in pushing the parameters of what is capable with 3-D printing. Some of their designs have been featured in the 2016 TechStyle exhibit at the MFA (mentioned above), and they have been involved in several collaborations including running shoes with New Balance.

3-D manufacturing technology does not only entail resin material; companies such as Ministry of Supply have already begun selling their 3-D Knit product to consumers. The machine, made by Japanese firm Shima Seiki, produces very little waste - the wastage from one blazer can fit into a coffee mug! Also, because blazers can be made to order there is no waste of excess inventory languishing on the shelves.

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Cutting edge designers like Noa Raviv and Iris Van Herpen have been taking the runways by storm with their futuristic creations that are marvels of technology while being breathtakingly beautiful and thought-provoking. At this point, designs by creative houses like Raviv, Van Herpen, and legendary collaborative threeASFOUR still feel very conceptual, but at some point in the not too distant future, this technology will be embraced by more main stream designer