Smart Fashion is Changing the Function of Clothing

When actress Claire Danes swept the scene at the 2016 Met Gala, luminous in a sheer glow-in-the-dark couture gown designed by Zac Posen, smart fashion lovers from Los Angeles to Ankara lost their collective minds. The sky blue fiber optic confection signaled to the world that wearable technology could be exquisite.

Designers and engineers around the globe are creating textiles and technology that will move fashion into a functional realm beyond special effects and fitness tracking. These imaginative concepts strain the seams of what’s possible: smart fashion and accessories with purpose, cheek, and beauty.

Who: Ezra + Tuba and Intel
Where: Istanbul
What:  The Butterfly Dress and Smart Clutch

The designer team of sisters Ezra Çetin and Tuba Çetin combine whimsy and luxury in their intelligent dress trimmed with 40 magical butterflies. Thanks to an embedded proximity sensor, the butterflies “sense” the approach of another person.

As the distance closes between the person wearing the dress and the observer, the butterfly wings progress from a flutter to an excited flap. Programmable sensors can trigger the butterflies to fly off the dress or they can be released remotely from a mobile device with a Wi-Fi connection.

The 3D printed smart fashion item features a seven-inch LCD screen that displays dynamic color images. An Android app controls the matching colors and patterns. As for function, the purse contains several charging ports.

Who: Shiftwear
Where: NYC
What: User programmable sneakers

Shiftwear bounced into reality on the heels of a 2015 Indiegogo campaign that raised nearly $1 million to launch its customizable sneaker line. Inspired by the passion of hot kicks devotees, each sneaker can be programmed with the wearer’s favorite videos and images via smartphone. A quick tap on the app changes the display, and users can create playlists that rotate via a programmable timer.

Shiftwear’s mission is to “Empower anyone to be an artist and express themselves with technology.” Six styles with a wide selection of colors are available for purchase; the company expects shipments to begin at the end of this year. Shiftwear is currently taking advance orders on its website at an affordable (by custom shoe standards) $500 per pair.

Who: DYNE Menswear
Where: NYC
What: Luxury streetwear

MIT Design Lab fellow Christopher Bevans occupies a heralded place in menswear design. Not only has he collaborated on clothing designs for Prince, Jay-Z, Pharrell Williams, and Kanye West, the former design director of Nike’s urban apparel line debuted his own line of sleek and functional streetwear at this year’s New York Fashion Week (NYFW).

“Created for the liminal world and the demands of modern life,” each piece in Bevans’ Dyne brand features embedded near-field communication technology (NFC), the technology behind popular mobile payment services like Apple Pay.

Today, pressing a smartphone against an NFC patch embedded in the sleeve connects the wearer to Dyne’s style line, and where to buy pieces. As for tomorrow, you may not have to reach for your wallet to provide ID or pay for your meal—Dyne pieces may do it for you.

Who: The MIT Media Lab and Microsoft Research
Where: Cambridge, MA
What: DuoSkin epidural electronics

Speaking of Bevans, his models at this years’ NYFW sported metallic DuoSkin “tattoos” to accent his connected athleisure wear.  Currently in development at the MIT Media Lab, DuoSkin is a fabrication process that enables anyone to make functional devices that can be worn directly on their skin. Currently, DuoSkin has three on-skin interfaces: touch input (think a trackpad or music controller), displaying output (making a design change color with body heat), and communication.

Much like the metallic temporary tattoos that inspired its development, DuoSkin looks like jewelry. Body-friendly gold leaf makes the smart fashion technology affordable and rugged enough for everyday wear.

Who: Natalia Allen
Where: NYC
What: Robot-made seamless clothing

Now this is what the world needs: a clothing manufacturing process that doesn’t pollute the environment, subject garment workers to inhumane working conditions, and that yields a little black dress that can pop right out of your carry-on without a wrinkle.

Allen, who has collaborated on sustainable fashion with Calvin Klein and DKNY committed herself to changing working conditions and environmental impact through conscious manufacturing. Each piece in her eponymous line is made from a single strand of responsibly sourced yarn which is “sewn” by robots. The process saves fuel and textile waste, and the result is a swoon-worthy line of completely seamless, ridiculously comfortable womenswear.

Who: Snap, Inc.
Where: LA
What: Bluetooth video sunglasses

From the minds that gave us Snapchat come Spectacles, a bright and funky sunglasses collection that lets you record videos with a touch. The glasses capture 10 seconds of video at a time for a total of 30 seconds. The device is managed through the Snapchat mobile app; recordings can be automatically uploaded to Snapchat and viewed in HD.

Who: Machina
Where: SF/Mexico City
What: Immersive VR jacket

Talk about an out-of-body experience! That’s what Machina’s groundbreaking OBE apparel stylishly delivers: a sensor-laden jacket that lets the body control avatars in virtual reality gaming to provide a fully immersive experience.

Haptic feedbacks allow the user to “feel” the actions of the game, and the system is compatible with popular headsets, including Oculus Rift. OBE’s aerodynamically smooth looks are dark and dapper, and the light-yet-sturdy waterproof fabric makes the line easy to wear in any weather. Bonus cool points: the company’s logos are designed to disappear with wear.

Who: WiseWear
Where: San Antonio
What: Panic button interface

With just three taps on these eye-catching Bluetooth-enabled bracelets, you can send a distress call to your emergency contacts with an automatic text message and GPS pin of your location. Billed as “smart jewelry that keeps you safe, healthy, and connected,” WiseWear’s bangles also feature a fitness tracker and smartphone notification interface. Thoughtful, classic contemporary design makes these cuffs virtually indistinguishable from traditional jewelry. Make no mistake, this isn’t your nana’s activity tracker.

Who: WearableX
Where: NYC and Sydney
What: Digital yoga apparel

With the NadiX pant from WearableX, yoga enthusiasts can monitor their form and performance without the aid of a teacher. The brainchild of Australian designers Billie Whitehouse and Ben Moir, the NadiX line grew out of their 2013 venture, Fundawear, which used a smartphone app to transfer tactile sensations from one partner to another, no matter the distance.

With NadiX, embedded panels in the hips, knees and ankles monitor body movement. Haptic vibrations gently alert when the body is out of alignment with the pose. Not only do they sync to iOS or Android smartphones, the leggings are also hand-washable! NadiX is available in sizes XS – L, with shipping scheduled for early Fall 2017.

 Who: Google and Levi’s
Where: Silicon Valley
What: Interactive denim smart jacket

No review of high-tech fashions would be complete without a nod to Project Jacquard, a smart fashion collaboration between Google and iconic jeans designer Levi’s. According to the website, “Project Jacquard makes it possible to weave touch and gesture interactivity into any textile using standard, industrial looms. Everyday objects such as clothes and furniture can be transformed into interactive surfaces.”

A blend of conductive yarns and inconspicuous component design results in denim that looks and feels like a favorite pair of classic Levi’s and behaves like a mobile office. Created for urban bike riders, the unisex Commuter™ trucker jacket allows riders to safely connect to maps, music, and other services as they ride. Available in late 2017, the jacket is priced affordably at around $350.