Fashion and technology don’t immediately sound like things that mesh together. Clothing is a basic staple of civilization that has been around for thousands of years, and it’s often seen as something simple and basic.
The fashion industry has put its commercial stamp on this necessity, pushing innovation in styles, patterns and textures that drive consumer demand. But even that creative flair is often just something that is perceived as being organic – at least from the outside looking in.
While there is a more direct daily, interactive influence of technology in areas such as casino live gaming, smartphone apps and cars, that people can easily grasp, it’s perhaps not so visible in fashion. But it is another sector in which it is heavily interwoven – more so than many people may think.
Technology is used by designers to help get creative designs out of their heads and into production. It’s not so common in the modern age that a design will be sketched on paper, and if it is, it’s not likely to remain there where it can easily be destroyed by a cup of spilled coffee.
Tablets and computers, loaded with specialized design software, have taken over. Sketches, swatches of colors, snapshots of fabrics and catching a moment of inspiration out on the street can all be quickly organized and utilized, thanks to technology.
Even beyond playing with sketches and colors, things go further. Marketing, presentations, portfolios, collaborations, virtual meetings, websites that need to be constantly updated and all that brand-building social media need to be managed – the list of technology in fashion is endless.
It’s common for anyone in the industry now to be comfortable with design software and at least basic computer operations.
Fashion tech attempts to defy the traditional by using technology to disrupt the norm. Its core principle is to veer away from what is seen as traditional standardization of clothing design. While that sounds radical, it’s not. It’s a natural advancement of using technology for betterment.
3D printing has become a big part of this, making custom-fit, designed pieces that are as limitless as the creator’s creativity. It could also be the integration of technology into what is being worn.
Wearables like smartwatches to track steps and heart rates and to remind wearers to drink water have become all the rage. But similar technology has appeared in fashion jewelry like bracelets and rings, giving a more stylish approach.
Clothes that can change color and be illuminated have been developed. Back in 2019, Google paired up with Levi to make a smart jacket that could not only answer your phone calls but also take pictures. The innovative Project Jacquard turned fabric into a touch-sensitive remote control for the wearer’s phone.
Sportswear at the cutting edge
Sportswear is one of the biggest areas of the fashion industry where technology has a more visible role. Moisture-wicking properties, antimicrobial clothing, compression wear and heat-trapping fabrics as selling points are just the tip of the iceberg here.
Not only are the people who are most likely to buy sportswear looking for that self-confidence boost of looking good on their run or at the gym but they also want a performance edge.
Pulling on a tech shirt that is specifically designed to give them something in return, such as regulating heat, is something that will be lapped up. Taking this to more advanced levels, sensors in socks, shirts and running shoes, connected to a smartphone by Bluetooth, can report everything from ECG levels to foot strikes.
While all of the above are some extreme examples of fashion tech, most of the movement happens behind the scenes with the design, manufacturing and selling of products.
Another fascinating aspect of how technology has been interwoven with the fashion industry is the buying aspect. Leading technology advances have led to some exciting developments in this area.
Just pointing a phone’s camera at a particular garment that someone is wearing can lead to an automatic search online of where that item can be purchased. Technology is making it easier for consumers to get exactly what they want.
Other developments in smartphone fashion-based technology have led to being able to try clothes on virtually. With augmented reality putting garments on your body, consumers are given the chance to try before they buy, but again with access directly to purchasing options.
As with many industries, fashion also has to deal with a lot of waste and the pushback from that. For example, there is a mountain of clothes piled up in the Atacama Desert in Chile that is so large it can be seen from space.
It is a sad sight and not a good look for the textile world, but it is also something that can be used as a positive. It can be a springboard for the fashion industry to be more conscious about the materials that are being used.
Man-made fibers like spandex, nylon and polyester come from petroleum and can sit around for hundreds of years, unlike natural fibers such as wool and cotton that will break down. The man-made fibers can’t go to landfills because they are not biodegradable, so combating this is crucial in the fight against clothing pollution.
A drive towards developing the technology that can break down man-made fibers is a big area of current research. The waste aspect, in an increasingly environmentally-conscious world, is something that has inspired new labels to take a different approach, thanks to technology.
Other labels are just incorporating more sustainable, environmentally-friendly textiles from the outset, to try and hit a zero-carbon footprint. Other companies reuse clothes for insulation panels and even push new recycling methods that can machine or chemically recycle fabrics to be used again.
Perhaps most important of all is the material innovation that technology can drive forward in the fashion industry. Material innovation is looking for next-gen fibers that can be cleanly sourced and are sustainable.
There is a lot of room for innovation in this particular area, and the push for sustainability wouldn’t be happening without technology. From helping brands more accurately manage inventories to reduce waste, to holding virtual 3D fashion runway shows, the fashion industry is already on the road to the future.
Scalable sustainability is the way. Fashion tech, to that end, should be more than just a trend or the latest buzzword that slides quickly out of fashion.