Another research article in the International Journal of Clothing Science and Technology delves into a thorough overview of "smart textiles" (Tang, et al., 2005).
The authors insist that the clothing industry can "potentially be revolutionized with the commercialization of the latest 'smart' textiles research," just as certain advanced fibers, yarns and fabrics have been developed for use in the automotive industry, in space travel, civil engineering and the medical field. Tang emphasizes that "smart" in the sense of smart clothing actually means materials that can "sense and respond in a controlled or predicted manner to environmental stimuli" (Tang, p. 109). And those smart materials can be "delivered," Tang goes on, "in mechanical, thermal, chemical, magnetic or other forms" (Tang, p. 109).
This article was published in 2005 but since at that time some $300 worth of intelligent textiles were being marketed annually, experts were predicting the global market for smart / intelligent technologies would grow to $720 million by 2008. With an annual growth rate of 36% these technologies are expected to become a booming industry (Tang, p. 109). Already the technology is being used in Adidas (and other) running shoes; to wit, the Adidas "1" running shoe has sensors, a microprocessor and a motor "to smartly adjust the level of cushioning" during walking and running exercises (p. 109).
Finding the right materials to use in smart clothing (textiles) is a pivotal part of the innovative phase of discovery. For example, "shape memory alloys" (SMAs) are an important part of the future of smart textiles, Tang explains. When they are at lower temperatures, the structure of SMAs is altered and changes into "a martensite phase" during which they can be "easily deformed." And when SMAs are heated up, they turn into an "austenite phase" and the pre-programmed shape is "recovered" because the SMAs "remember" their original shape. These dynamics are clearly very important when developing intelligent clothing garments (p. 110). Another shape memory material, "shape memory polymers" (SMPs), are considered more suitable for the clothing industry, Tang goes on. SMPs have "higher extensibility, superior processability, lower weight and a softer handle -- and because of SMPs' elasticity, the shape memory aspect makes them very appropriate for use in smart clothing.
On page 113 of his scholarly research article Tang explains that "Smart sweaters that can absorb, store and release heat as required in order to keep the wearer at an optimum temperature" are now in the design phase and will shortly be "engineered for commercial purposes." In conclusion, Tang believes that "the basic building blocks are already in place" in this emerging field of smart clothing / smart textiles. As science, engineering and the expert researchers in those fields move their products forward, and "as the gap between designers and scientists narrows, the area of smart clothing" is quite likely to "keep on expanding for the foreseeable future" (Tang, p. 124).
The growth of smart clothing will occur in two "distinct" areas, Tang asserts. One will be "performance-driven smart clothing"; that includes "continuous monitoring smart garments for patient rehabilitation or military" applications (124). The second area involves "fashion-driven smart clothing" that emphasizes the aesthetic appeal (how good it looks and how popular these garments can become). However, before smart garments become household items as commonplace as dress shirts and T-shirts, the industry must give consideration to the aesthetic properties like the "handle, drape and comfort" of the fabric and of the garment. Moreover, the durability and weight -- along with the ability to safely launder the garments -- must be taken into consideration (Tang, p. 125).
And along with those above-mentioned considerations, the cost of smart fabrics and smart clothing per se must be kept within reason for the average consumer. Also, the smart technologies being projected to be important -- like solar cells and flexible sensor-equipped materials -- must be created collaboratively between fashion industry people and scientists. If the next generation of sensible smart clothing items can be cooperatively and collaboratively produced, the industry has nowhere to go but up.
On the subject of sensor technology, Emily Clark's article in www.gizmag.com claims that fabric technology makers Eleksen Group are offering consumers the opportunity to "choose which gadget they want to control via their interactive clothing" (Clark, 2007).
For those garment makers that wish to create clothing that is interactive, the new "eSystem" by Eleksen is an attempt to eliminate "some of the barriers to entering the market" of smart clothing. In other words, Eleksen asserts that the clothing manufacturer "does not need to manage any of the electronic processes" because Eleksen has the technological capability to develop, produce, license the interactive components for clothing -- and will provide after sales customer support as well (Clark).
Earlier versions of technology for clothing tended to be specifically for iPods or cell phones, Clark continues. An example of an smart garment that was launched using mobile phone devices is the Zegna Sport Bluetooth iJacket, which allows the wearer to listen to his or her iPod while simultaneously talking on a cell phone. And judging by the new smart clothing items being launched in the past few years -- notwithstanding the fact that some are seemingly supercilious and not widely in demand by the average consumer -- the marriage of fashion and technology is off to a very good start. Next, the major manufacturers of clothing need to step up and to the research necessary to produce pragmatic and sensible lines of smart clothing; and, importantly, as mentioned earlier in this paper, the practicality of these garments must be balanced with consumer-friendly prices.
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S. Lam Po Tang, & G.K. Stylios. "An Overview of Smart Technologies for Clothing Design and Engineering." (2005). International Journal of Clothing Science and Technology. Vol. 18, No. 2, 108-128.
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Accessed February 10, 2009 from http://www.gizmag.com/go/7886.
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Museum of American Heritage. (2008). Sewing Machines: History of the Sewing Machine.
Accessed February 10, 2010, from http://www.moah.org/exhibits/virtual/sewing.html.
Philadelphia Museum of Art. (2008). Collections Object: Dress.
Stylios, George K. (2005). Research Register: Selkirkshire, UK. International Journal of Clothing Science and Technology, Vol. 17, Issue 6, 57-59.
Tang, S. Lam Po, & Stylios, G.K. (2005). An Overview of Smart Technologies for Clothing