Smart Fabrics: How Are Smart Textiles Made?

These days, everything is smart. We have smartphones, smartwatches, smarthouses, and so much more. But what if our clothes were smart? Smart textiles are fabrics that were created with technology that would provide added utility to the wearer. For example, a jacket that controls your phone or a shirt that monitors your heart rate. The possibilities are endless with this new technology.

The History Of Smart Textiles

It is impossible to talk about smart textiles without talking about electronic textiles. Electronic textiles are fabrics that have some digital or electronic components in them. The difference between smart textiles and electronic fabrics is that smart textiles actually have to have a use to them- it has to benefit the person wearing it in some way. Meanwhile, electronic fabrics only have to have a digital component, and do not have to benefit the user in any way.

Electronic textiles have been around for longer than you would think. By the end of the 19th century, designers started to combine electronics with fashion. For example, there was an evening gown adorned with small electronic light bulbs.

This technology continued to develop into the LED t-shirts we know and love today. But the start of smart textiles didn’t happen until the mid-1990s when a group of researchers from MIT wanted to create wearable computers.

Their research led to the development of the Lilypad Arduino, which was one of the first tiny washable computers that could be attached to clothes and power projects. In the beginning, devices like this were also just used to light up clothes. But soon the world of smart textiles began to grow.

Buy now: Smart Textiles 

One of the most notable fashion designs that use smart fashion is Project Jacquard. Project Jacquard is a collaboration between Google and Levi to make a smart jean jacket. The jacket is mostly made out of regular jean material- however, the sleeves are made out of smart textiles.

The smart textiles on the sleeves acts as a touch-sensitive remote control for phones. This novel idea doesn’t really seem necessary, most people would rather just use their phones. However, it is an important innovation within the smart fabric industry, and begins to scratch the surface on what the technology can do. 

Another product that is available for purchase now and utilizes smart textiles is CuteCircuit’s Hug shirt. The hug shirt is a shirt that recreates the sensation of a human hug. So, if you are far away from someone, you can use an app to send a hug to someone who is wearing a hug shirt. The smart textiles within the shirt will squeeze you as good as any friend would. This product seems increasingly relevant in the time of the pandemic and social distancing. 

But how is something like this possible?

The Technology Behind Smart Textiles

Smart textile fabric can be made from materials ranging from traditional cotton, polyester, and nylon, to advanced Kevlar with integrated functionalities. What is important is that the fabric has electrical conductivity- that way the technology can be powered but the clothes are also washable. 

One way to make a smart textile is by weaving electrically conductive yarn into a fabric to create a textile that can be used as a “Wearable Motherboard”. It can connect multiple sensors on the body, and is especially useful for health monitoring. 

There is much research going into smart fabrics, and in the future designers hope to make smart fabrics that can monitor vital signs, fatigue, hazardous materials and much more. It seems eventually, even our clothes will be smart. 

Be sure to check out the fashinnovation blog for more exciting reads!

By Isabella LaPlant

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