Smart Textiles In Fashion: What They Are, Types & Exciting Examples

Textiles are a crucial part of our lives, and there has never been a greater desire for intelligent materials such as textiles that can be seamlessly mixed with technology.

There is a lot of buzz about intelligent fabrics and their promise, but there is also a misunderstanding about what these materials do. This article will answer some frequently asked questions concerning smart textiles and their applications in fashion and provide an overview of current market offerings.

I’ll explain what smart textiles are, why they’re vital for our future, and show you some examples of brands already using innovative fabrics in their products. So let’s get started!

What is a smart textile?

Smart textiles, also known as electronic textiles (e-textiles), include electronic components and perform some functions. Smart fabrics are intelligent systems that can observe or communicate ambient circumstances and detect and process the wearer’s state. They use electrical, thermal, mechanical, chemical, magnetic, and other inputs and outputs.

The term “smart material” was coined for the first time in 1989 in Japan. The first textile material to be labeled as a smart textile was silk thread with a memory effect. The discovery of shape-memory materials in the 1960s and intelligent polymeric gels in the 1970s, on the other hand, was widely regarded as the birth of actual smart materials. Intelligent materials in textiles were not launched in the market until the late 1990s. Today, smart fabrics are way more complex, sometimes labeled as wearable computers.

The electrical materials used in intelligent garments should not interfere with the comfort of conventional textile material clothing. It is understood that smart fabrics are simple computer systems with five fundamental functions: sensors, data processing, actuators, storage, and communication. However, the integration of digital components must be consistent with clothing functions such as comfort, durability, resistance, etc.

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Smart or intelligent textiles are created in collaboration with various research disciplines such as nanotechnology, materials science, garment design, electronics, and computer engineering.

Globally, the market for smart textiles is expanding and has a lot of promise. 

The market proportion of e-textiles consumption compared to traditional fabrics is growing in developing nations. The worldwide smart fabrics market will grow from $943 million in 2015 to $5369 million by 2022. Because of the multiple applications in different sectors, the global innovative fabrics market is prospering and proliferating.

What are the types of smart textiles?

There are several categories for smart textiles in the literature. But one of the most widely accepted is the classification based on the aesthetic and performance functions of the garments.

Aesthetic smart textiles

Because of its capacity to light up and change color, intelligent aesthetic fabrics are used in the fashion industry. Light-emitting clothing and bright gowns are typical and commercial applications for aesthetic, smart textiles.

Performance smart textiles

Smart textiles are categorized into three types based on their performance: passive, active, and ultra smart.

Passive fabrics

Passive intelligent textiles are the initial generation of smart textiles that detect external circumstances, such as UV-protective clothing, conductive fibers, and so on. Because they are merely sensors, passive smart textiles can only perceive their surroundings.

Passive smart fabrics sometimes called the “first generation” of intelligent textiles, have functionality beyond standard ones. However, it should be noted that passive materials do not typically adapt due to the information they feel. In other words, when environmental circumstances change, the cloth remains the same.

A cooling cloth, for example, may assist in controlling body temperature but does not actively produce coolness. Because of the structure of the fabric, it simply aids in the faster evaporation of liquid. The same is valid for clothing and other items that include UV protection, anti-microbial, and anti-static features.

Active fabrics

Active smart textiles adapt and modify their functioning in reaction to changes in the external environment or human input, such as motion or weather. These fabrics can alter their shape, store and control heat, and perform other functions.

While passive textiles depend on their structure, active fabrics rely on electricity to support actuators and sensors. These actuators and sensors enable the intelligent material to detect touch and temperature and analyze and interpret a wide range of environmental data.

Ultra smart fabrics

Ultra smart fabrics perceive, react, and adapt to environmental situations the same way as active smart textiles do, but they go a step further. Ultra smart textiles are materials that detect, respond, monitor, and adapt to stimuli or environmental conditions such as thermal, mechanical, chemical, magnetic, or other sources. 

An ultra-smart textile is made up of a unit that functions similarly to a brain, with cognition, reasoning, and activation capabilities.

How are smart textiles used in fashion?

We can find smart textiles in the fashion industry, mainly to provide the garments with an enhanced aesthetic, improved performance, and interaction capabilities with the environment and external devices.

Aesthetic

Aesthetic smart fabrics may light up and change color, feature an interactive aspect, or alter in response to their surroundings. Fashion designers have already embraced the new technology, designing whole collections made of intelligent fabrics. Textile uses for photochromic, thermochromic, electrochromic, and solvatochromic materials may be found in fashion and decoration.

For example, the company CuteCircuit develops all kinds of garments to allow self-expression. An example of this is The Mirror Handbag, which is constructed of ultralightweight aerospace aluminum and laser-etched acrylic mirror, which allows the light from the white LEDs to shine through and produce spectacular animations as display messages and Tweets.

Performance enhancement

With an emphasis on function above fashion, performance-enhancing innovative fabrics provide the user a one-of-a-kind experience based on their intended application. This includes regulating body temperature, lowering wind and water resistance, protecting against radiation, and monitoring bodily functions, such as heart rate or muscle exertion.

To provide sun-protective qualities, passive materials such as optical brighteners and UV absorbers are added to fibers. When combined with other technological components, these materials may successfully prevent skin damage and other associated problems caused by sun exposure.

A nickel-titanium alloy, used in protective gear against fire and high temperatures and gives variable degrees of protection depending on temperature, is an example of a shape memory alloy used in textiles.

Several firms are working on smart clothing and accessories that monitor and collect data depending on athlete movements. For example, ReTiSense created a smart insole for runners to wear in their shoes. The smart insole may assist runners in improving their form and avoiding injuries.

And businesses like WearableX and Athos have paved the way for high-performance sports apparel that provides athletes with added utility.

Interaction

E-textiles may also be utilized to make the most of external devices; Google’s Jacquard is a prime example of this. Jacquard is a Google-created wearable technology that has been incorporated into clothes and accessories.

Google and Levi’s partnered to create a smart jacket. The capacitive touch grid that serves as the jacket’s user interface is woven right into the fabric and can be used to answer calls, play music, snap photographs, and receive directions with a single motion. And e-textiles don’t simply make gadgets simpler to operate; they also save battery power.

Smart textiles examples in products today

Nadi X yoga pants – Wearable X

Wearable X debuted its first direct-to-consumer product, Nadi X, a line of activated yoga clothes, in May 2017.

Yoga may be practiced on your terms with the Nadi X experience. Its proprietary technology, which includes integrated sensors and haptic feedback (vibration), assists you in improving your yoga practice. Nadi X is great for before and after workouts at home or on the move.

HugShirt – CuteCircuit

CuteCircuit created the world’s first haptic communications wearable in 2002, and Time Magazine named it one of the Best Inventions of the Year in 2006. 

The HugShirt enables you to deliver hugs over long distances. Sensors record the contact’s strength, length, and position, and actuators reproduce the sense of touch and the emotion of the hug to your loved ones.

SoundShirt – CuteCircuit

CuteCircuit released the breakthrough SoundShirt in 2016. This garment uses integrated haptics to enable a deaf person to sense music. The SoundShirt PRO is similar to a HugShirt, except it has more haptic actuators and can be used for music, hugs, gaming, and access to live performances at venues with a QPRO system. Because of the added haptic actuation modules, the SoundShirt delivers more immersive augmented and virtual reality experiences.

Mercury Intelligent heated jacket – Ministry of supply

Mercury dials in your perfect temperature in real-time, thanks to sophisticated lightweight heating components and revolutionary stretch insulation. 

An intelligent thermostat responds to your body and surroundings by managing three lightweight, flexible carbon fiber heating components. Mercury is designed to protect you from repelling wind, snow, water, and odors–whatever your travels throw at you.

Women’s leggings – Athos

The Athos’s Core snaps into your Athos garments to gather and analyze data from the garment’s sensors before sending it through Bluetooth to your mobile app.

Monitor the activity of the primary lower-body muscular groups: inner quadrant, outer quadrant, hamstrings, and glutes. Real-time biometric monitoring of muscle activity, heart rate, calorie expenditure, and active time vs. rest time is available. The sensors integrated into the garment scan biosignals and send them directly to your smartphone app, revealing which muscles are firing and working hard.

Smart socks – Sensoria

Sensoria provides a comprehensive line of smart clothes for a variety of activities. Smart socks, mainly, can detect cadence, foot landing, and impact forces.

Sensoria’s socks include patented 100 percent textile sensors. They are coupled with a Bluetooth detachable core that improves precision in step counting, speed, calories, altitude, and distance monitoring. Sensoria may assist runners in identifying injury-prone running techniques (heel striking, ball striking, and so on) and then uses a mobile app to train the runner in real-time through auditory cues.

Smart Shirts – Hexoskin

Textile sensors incorporated in comfortable clothes for accurate and continuous cardiac, respiratory, and activity monitoring comprise the Hexoskin Smart Garments. With the leading Hexoskin Connected Health Platform, Hexoskin users can see, report, and analyze their data.

Hexoskin provides information on your health status, sleep, and personal daily activities. Hexoskin Smart Shirts are also utilized in cardiac, respiratory, activity, stress, cognitive, and sleep research and projects.

Commuter X Jacquard by Google – Levi’s

Google teamed with Levi’s to produce and release the Levi’s Commuter X Jacquard By Google, a Bluetooth-enabled jacket.

It is engineered for mobility, city-optimized. It’s the updated version of the original Trucker Jacket, incorporating careful design features for active users in the city. This ground-breaking garment combines 150 years of Levi’s denim creativity and Google engineering, with conductive Jacquard thread woven in. You can control music, screen phone calls, and obtain directions with a touch of the cuff.