Nanomaterials are the future of textiles and as such, the future of fashion. They will open up a world of new design applications that once established, will change the way we wear clothes.
The current state of things – Fashiontech
At trade shows and small think tanks, we are already seeing the emergence of new applications for technology and fashion. Where the current hype is just related to adding external modules and bits of tech to existing clothes and making them somewhat gadgety or flashy (and sadly still quite often hideous and unwearable), nanomaterials are all about pushing the boundaries of what is possible in fashion design itself. Where Fashiontech is adding batteries, LEDs and sensors to your clothes, nanotechnology will turn them into functional machines that can serve a variety of useful purposes we haven’t even begun to imagine.
A quick introduction to what Nanomaterials are
Nanomaterials are in essence ultrafine particles in the size of 1 to 1000 nanometers (10−9 meter) that have been given special properties by the use of chemistry, engineering, biology and advanced applied physics. This can sometimes mean adding a certain atom, structuring the particle in a certain way that it changes when current is applied to it or by adding engineered bacteria or DNA to it. R&D labs all around the world are currently working on pushing the research and extending the applications of these materials to a new frontier.
How will fashion design change?
Once the control and the efficiency of the large-scale production of nanomaterials improves and becomes scaleable, the influx of it into fashion will be unstoppable. We are already seeing the first signs of this with activewear and sportswear giants like Nike or Adidas being very open to the possibilities of these new trends. Traditionally fashion was always designed to serve the human anatomy to keep people from being exposed to temperatures and weather and later on to fulfill social functions like symbolizing class, taste or tribal membership. The outcome of these efforts reflected usually the creativity (or lack of) by the designer, cultural influences but was mainly dictated by available natural or synthetic fabrics (cotton, hemp, silk etc.) and production methods (hand sewing, embroidery, machines etc.). But once the piece was done, only a skilled tailor could change it if necessary. Nanomaterials will blow these limitations completely away. Imagine clothes that not only serve to protect against the cold but can also serve other functions in regards to your health, entertainment or connectivity. Or how would you like clothes that can change it’s shape, color, and texture by pressing a button or sensor? These new dimensions of design will enable a whole new generation of fashion students to come up with stuff we have never seen before.
Nanomaterials will blow these limitations completely away. Imagine clothes that not only serve to protect against the cold but can also serve other functions in regards to your health, entertainment or connectivity. Or how would you like clothes that can change it’s shape, color, and texture by pressing a button or sensor? These new dimensions of design will enable a whole new generation of fashion students to come up with stuff we have never seen before.
Some potential applications
No everything mentioned here is yet scientifically possible, some of it remains science fiction so far. Some of it is already at the experimental level. But what about 5-1o years into the future? Right now there are dedicated degrees devoted to nanotechnology popping up at universities all around the world and every day 3-4 new patents related to this field are registered worldwide. It is only a matter of time until the following examples become an everyday occurrence:
- Adding super efficient small batteries to clothes to power devices or functions
- Water and stain-resisting fabrics
- Textiles that can change their form if a current is applied to them
- Textiles that can change color or texture if a current is applied to them
- Super efficient small sensors that can monitor everything from outside conditions to bio-signals
- Embedded nanoelectronics and transistors can provide computing and smartphone and wifi-like functions
- Flexible displays and projectors are worked into the clothes
- Materials that are flexible but more durable than kevlar (superheroes anyone?)
- Internal active and passive heating and cooling systems for activewear
- Full function transformation like a bikini that becomes a diving suit for example
- Textiles that administer medication, drugs or hormones to regulate body functions and help in medicine
- Clothes that fight specific cancers and genetic breakdown in your body (yes that is being researched)
This is just a small selection of future applications, once the next generation of Alexander McQueens or Coco Chanels can play with this medium, there is no limit to what we might see in our lifetimes. In times of a dire environmental outlook caused by exploitation of natural resources and the unlimited use of fossil fuels (fueled to a big degree by the textile industry), these new technologies are a beacon of hope in my opinion that could help elevate human culture to the next level.