Fashioning the future

A woman with dramatic red eye shadow poses in a futuristic type garment with dark blue and red material and high, pointed shoulders.

Fashioning the future

Tomorrow’s clothing could be designed using computerized fabrics that make a bold statement while tracking our health
December 17, 2015
A woman poses in two different futuristic-style tunics. Both designs have  swirling grey, blue and brown-coloured patterns and large, pointed shoulders.

Models demonstrate two examples of interactive electronic clothing
developed as part of the Karma Chameleon project conducted at
Concordia University’s XS Labs. The animated garments are
constructed out of composite fibres that harness kinetic energy from
the wearer’s body and use it to change colour and shape in response
to movement.

Photo credit: Ronald Borshan © 2012

Picture a future in which your clothing acts like a wearable computer, one that allows you to make a statement by changing colour — and might also alert you to relax if your breathing or heart rate signals stress. While Concordia University researcher Joanna Berzowska warns that many of her research projects on wearable technology may not be commercialized for 15 to 20 years, some are already in the here and now. Her focus? Developing better methods to weave electronic fibres into clothing. “Weaving becomes a sort of programming,” explains the chair of Concordia’s department of design and computation arts. “By choosing which functional fibres to use, you actually program the function of the fabric.”

Down the road, her research at Concordia is set to lead to all manner of “smart garments.” Practical applications might include hospital gowns that record vital signs; military clothing that harnesses a soldier’s body heat for energy, turning it into power to charge his equipment; and clothes that can actively warm or cool the wearer. Berzowska is also a follower of fashion so is working to ensure that this future clothing combines technology with design. “Fashion is about letting us express our individuality — we’re looking at colour and shape-shifting and at interactive clothing that might be used for theatre performances.” 

Already, Berzowska’s academic research has led to an interesting collaboration with Montréal start-up OMsignal, which markets biosensing clothing, to design clothing that tracks various biosignatures through textile-based sensors. The data flow to your iPhone, giving you feedback on activity and stress levels. “There’s a whole research movement called the Quantified Self,” notes Berzowska, “that refers to our fascination with tracking ourselves — our calories, heartbeat, how many steps we take each day.” Looks as if one shirt may soon replace the heart monitors, pedometers and all manner of gadgets we currently attach to ourselves to monitor our well-being.

Main image photo credit: Ronald Borshan

Originally posted: December 2013