With smart clothing, fashion and technology are moving from overlapping to intertwined
Words: Craig Wilson | Images: Supplied
Buying “smart clothing” used to mean a t-shirt with a Velcro strip and a detachable, programmable, LCD panel with dodgy battery life procured from Cyberdog in London’s Camden Town (and set to display words that’d make your gran blush). Today, everything from socks and undies to bras and hats is getting the smart treatment, new materials and manufacturing processes like 3D printing are pushing the boundaries of what’s possible with textiles and designs, and sci-fi sartorial classics are coming to glorious, self-lacing life.
Smart sports bras
Sports watches are great, but what if you could get tracking of key metrics from something you’re already wearing when you’re working out? That’s the idea motivating the two big names in smart sports bras, OMsignal and Supa.
The OMbra ($170) is primarily intended for runners and tracks both heart rate and breathing using embedded biosensors. An accompanying app lets you add GPS tracking and spits out custom training suggestions based on your performance.
Supa’s Powered Sports Bra ($180), meanwhile, has an integrated heart rate monitor and uses a removable, puck-like Supa Reactor for more detailed data tracking. Like the OMbra, there’s an app for Android and iOS to help you turn all that information into useful insights.
Under Armour recovery sleepwear
Good sleep is important for all of us, but it’s particularly important for athletes because it’s when the body gets to undo the damage inflicted on it by intensive training. We suspect that’s even more true for those being pushed to their limits while shrink-wrapped in Athos smart wear.
Under Armour’s taken this idea of nocturnal recovery a step further by creating a range of Recovery Sleepwear with a special lining that turns your body heat into infrared energy and reflects it back at your aching muscles.
Much of the focus of smart garb makers is on sportswear. Which isn’t surprising given how much money there is in sport for R&D. Athos’s products might be overkill for the casual pavement pounder, but their ability to collect data for distinct muscle groups is a godsend for professional athletes, and the people paid to help guide them to peak performance.
Embedded sensors deliver real-time biometric tracking to your smartphone, so you can see which muscles are working and how hard, measure heart rate and help with recovery planning. Like most other smart clothing, Athos relies on a combination of built-in sensors and a removable bit that does that data tracking and transmission.
Nike HyperAdapt 1.0
We may not have the hoverboards the Back to the Future film franchise prognosticated, but at least we’ve got the self-lacing sneakers. Though Nike made extremely limited edition moonboot-like self-lacers resembling those Michael J Fox donned, it’s the more readily available HyperAdapt 1.0s that now house the “adaptive lacing” tech in something consumers can actually buy. Well, assuming those consumers are in the US and are happy to pay $720 (around R9 400).
Slip your foot into the HyperAdapt 1.0 and a sensor in the sole tightens the laces until its hugging your foot like a pair of cycling shorts hug a middle-aged posterior. Two exterior buttons tighten or loosen them, but in future versions Nike expects the fit to dynamically and automatically adapt to what you’re doing. Hence the 1.0 bit. This is just the start.
Print your #OOTD
Clothing designer Danit Peleg printed an entire collection of clothes using 3D printers. The biggest challenge with 3D printing clothing tends to be the materials – most filaments used for 3D printing are forms of plastic, and not the sorts of things you’d want to wear. But Peleg’s designs hint at what might soon be possible.
In addition to the ensembles she printed, Peleg also printed the accompanying footwear, and big name shoe companies are already using 3D printing techniques to create seamless soles and uppers. A custom fit with self-lacing smarts and colours that change depending on how hot your tootsies get? It’s in the post.
Google thinks we can do a whole lot more with clothes than make them do themselves up. With Project Jacquard its planning to turn textiles into interactive surfaces by using conductive threads that can still be woven using traditional looms.
The first commercial iteration of this tech is Levi’s Commuter Trucker Jacket for bike commuters, due to launch before the end of 2017 at around $350 (R4 600), which includes touch- and gesture-sensitive areas on its sleeves that’ll let you answer calls, control your music app or even get directions from a mapping app.
A removable smart tag houses LEDs for visual feedback and the other electronics that shouldn’t go in the washing machine, but the rest of the jacket can go in with your gym gear without any problems. Ride on!
New materials, techniques and consumer expectations suggest the future of fashion will be a heavily customisable one where specialist kit can do specialist things, some of which we didn’t even know we wanted or needed. But it’s also going to mean more ridiculous hats, fascinators and accessories. Why? Because fashion may love functionality, but it loves frivolity almost as much.