When reports and studies estimate that the smart and interactive textile market size will exceed US $ 16 billion by 2030, it’s a clear indication that the future of fashion is ‘smart’.
The fashion industry has always been at the forefront of innovation and experimentation with new materials and technologies. Be it the growth drivers like US $ 4.10 billion chromic segment projected by 2030; implementation of advanced technologies; increased demand for miniature, flexible and rechargeable power supply or growing trend of sustainability, the future of smart textiles is looking brighter than ever before.
Ajay Sangwan, Co-founder of Nyokas Technologies suggested, “The fashion industry is experiencing a revolution as technology collides with clothing, resulting in a wave of smart wearable devices. Increased competition has forced companies to innovate and provide more value to customers. This is driven by a preference for sophisticated gadgets, the popularity of wearable fitness and medical devices and the explosive growth of the Internet of Things. Companies that can adapt and provide the most value to their customers will be the winners in this new landscape.” Nyokas Technologies is a Coimbatore-based e-textile company which specialises in offering consumer safety smart wearables for civilian and defence.
Growth drivers of the smart and interactive textile segment creating ripples
Smart wearables not only provide garments with enhanced aesthetics, strong interaction capabilities with the environment and external devices but also meet the growing urge of customers for implementation of cutting-edge technological innovation in textiles. Nowadays, technology has led to the production of garments that can monitor vital information such as heart rate, perspiration, blood pressure and temperature. Such smart garments can collect and transmit data related to the wearer’s health, fitness and activity levels.
“By leveraging these technologies, Sensoria Health is helping to transform the way healthcare is delivered, providing clinicians with real-time data that can be used to make informed decisions about patient care,” said Davide Vigano, Co-founder and CEO at Sensoria Health Inc, during discussion with Team Apparel Resources.
Sensoria Inc.’s smart compression socks and wearable X’s yoga pants are examples of wearable technology designed to provide real-time feedback to improve performance and prevent injuries during physical activity.
The Sensoria Inc. smart compression socks use pressure sensors embedded in the fabric to measure various parameters related to running form and technique, such as foot landing, cadence and stride length. This data is then transmitted to a companion app that provides real-time feedback to the user on their running form and suggests improvements to help prevent injury and optimise performance. Similarly, Wearable X’s yoga pants contain sensors that monitor body posture during yoga practice, providing feedback on alignment, balance and other aspects of the user’s form. This data can help users improve their technique, prevent injury and achieve better results from their yoga practice.
Both of these examples demonstrate how wearable technology can be used to enhance the user’s experience during physical activity by providing real-time feedback and guidance on their form and technique. By leveraging advanced sensors and data analysis techniques, these wearables can help users optimise their performance and achieve their fitness goals more effectively.
Miniature, flexible and rechargeable power supply solutions
Moving a step ahead in the quest for advanced technological exploration, the development of miniature, flexible and rechargeable power supply solutions has enabled wearable electronics to function without the need for bulky batteries, leading to comfortable and health-focused user experiences. Recently, researchers at the University of California have developed fibre batteries that can power smart clothing. The rechargeable zinc ion batteries with relatively high energy densities of 91 watt-hours per litre can fabricate the batteries as fibres, just one millimetre in diameter, which proves roughly as elastic as human skin, capable of stretching 230 per cent without breaking. Besides, it is a low-cost initiative at US $ 0.64 per 15 centimetres and also lightweight weighing only 1.26 grams per 15 centimetres.
Active smart textile material are also in high demand
Be it Uniqlo’s Heattech technology which is designed to keep the wearer warm in cooler temperature with its specially-designed hollow-fibres that capture the air and prevent heat from escaping the body or AIRsim, the cooling technology which uses the company’s advanced fibre called CUPRO that makes fabric breathable by absorbing moisture, both are examples of active smart textiles which are commercial success across the globe. Right now, the growing trend necessitates the development of smart textiles which are both functional as well as eco-friendly. Customers seek garments which are moisture-wicking, scratch resistant and UV resistant etc., for a better functional clothing.
“Manufacturers also have to encounter incompatibility issues between the material and electronic devices. Additionally, the absence of standards and regulations for the market is anticipated to impede market growth as it makes it challenging for major players to scale up and commercialise new and incremental technologies,” says the report.
Few examples across the industry empowering the growth for future
Smart textiles are revolutionising the fashion industry, offering new ways to improve fabrics that were once unimaginable. From monitoring health to enhancing comfort, these advanced fabrics are changing the way we interact with clothing.
Size inclusivity and adaptive clothing: Smart textiles offer solutions to size inclusivity in the fashion industry in several ways. One example is through the use of shape-memory fabrics that adjust to fit different body types. These fabrics change their shape and size depending on the wearer’s body, offering a customised fit for all body types. This technology helps eliminate the need for separate sizes or styles for different body types, as the fabric adapts to fit the wearer’s unique shape.
Tommy Hilfiger has developed a range of adaptive clothing that caters to individuals with disabilities, including clothing with magnetic closures and adjustable hems.
Tracking Infant Development: Researchers at the University of Helsinki have developed a smart jumpsuit to track infants’ movements, enabling accurate and continuous monitoring of their development. By recording spontaneous and voluntary movements, the jumpsuit offers insights comparable to those obtained through video recordings by health professionals.
Temperature-regulating fabrics: Many clothing companies, including Columbia Sportswear and The North Face, are using smart textiles to regulate body temperature, keeping the wearer warm or cool depending on the environment. These fabrics use materials like phase-change materials (PCMs) or thermochromic dyes to respond to changes in temperature. Uniqlo’s new set of apparel under the active smart categories is one such example.
Conductive fabrics: There are smart textiles that use conductive fabrics embedded with sensors which monitor various physiological data points, such as heart rate or breathing rate. They are also used to power wearable technology devices like smart watches or fitness trackers.
Light-up fabrics: Smart textiles incorporate LED lights into the fabric, creating a light-up effect that is used for fashion purposes or for visibility during night-time activities like running or cycling.
Broadcast Wearables is one such company using these fabrics.
Self-cleaning fabrics: Some smart textiles, like those developed by Silic, are designed to be hydrophobic, meaning they repel water and other liquids. This helps to prevent stains and makes the clothing easier to clean. TURMS from BigPhi Technologies is one such example.
UV-protective fabrics: Smart textiles that are designed to protect against UV rays are becoming increasingly popular, especially for outdoor and sports clothing. These fabrics use materials like titanium dioxide or zinc oxide to block harmful UV rays from reaching the skin. Smart Swimsuit by Neviano is one such example.
Energy-harvesting fabrics: There are smart textiles that are designed with energy-harvesting capabilities, allowing them to generate and store energy from external sources like sunlight or body heat. These help in creating clothing with built-in charging capabilities for portable devices like smartphones. Materials used for such smart textiles include a screen-printable low-temperature composite lead zirconate titanate polymer film and poly (vinylidene fluoride) polymer fibres, both of which have been shown to harvest mechanical energy from textiles.
Sound-absorbing fabrics: Also known as acoustic fabrics, these enable the development of smart textiles with sound-absorbing properties, making them useful for creating clothing that helps to block noise pollution. This is particularly useful for people who work or live in a noisy environment. Boom Company has tried its hands on this concept.
For instance, Yoel Fink, a material scientist and electrical engineer at MIT says, “The next computing environment is going to be fabric.”
The new sensor consists of a fibre that is piezoelectric—that is, capable of converting vibrations to electricity and vice versa. This acoustic fibre is embedded within a fabric consisting of relatively soft cotton yarn. When the researchers stitched the acoustic fibre to a shirt’s inner lining, they found it could accurately detect a healthy volunteer’s heartbeat, as well as subtle variations in its sounds. This suggests it could find use in non-invasive monitoring of vital signs, including fetal heartbeats.
Is mass adoption of smart textiles and clothing still a far-fetched dream?
Despite many such promising developments, smart textiles have been unable to achieve real commercial breakthrough. The complex, manual steps involved in the designing of smart textiles many a time make it extremely difficult to be included in regular industrial manufacturing practices. The global fashion market too is quite large, cost-competitive and unpredictable to handle the specialised nuances of intelligent smart textile innovation.
Similar is the case when it comes to India where the use of smart clothing and textiles, which integrate technology into traditional fabrics, has not yet become mainstream owing to the aforementioned reasons. Firstly, the high cost of production and development makes it a luxury rather than a mainstream product. Indian consumers, who prioritise affordability over functionality, are still price-sensitive.
The same has also been highlighted by a report of Global Market Insights Inc., which indicates that the higher manufacturing cost of smart fabric than conventional fabric owing to the requirement for high-end products is likely to hinder market growth before it goes back to an upward trajectory.
“As per the detailed reports from Global Market Insights Inc., the chromic segment is expected to exceed US $ 4.10 billion by the end of 2030. It’s worth noting here that chromic material-based smart textiles refer to materials that change their colour reversibly according to external environmental conditions.
Additionally, the limited awareness and education about smart textiles among Indian consumers and manufacturers hinder their adoption. Furthermore, Indian brands encounter challenges related to the scarcity of skilled labour and resources needed for smart textile development which adds fuel to the fire.
Lastly, the absence of regulatory frameworks and standards for smart textiles in India presents an additional obstacle to the adoption of these technologies. However, there is a growing interest in the use of smart textiles for healthcare, fitness and fashion segment. With increasing awareness and education and more competitive production costs, Indian brands may eventually adopt these technologies in the future.
It therefore seems compelling solutions are the way to crack the demand-supply.
Davide Vigano said, “Healthcare and sports and fitness enthusiasts are adopting smart garment technology now. Mass adoption is slow but we need compelling solutions. To me the definition of compelling is: if you are driving to work, will you turn around your car and go get it?”
Smart Textiles: Challenges are many but the future remains bright
All said and done, the challenges towards the mass adoption of smart textiles in both India and across the world are manifold. First, there is the challenge of cost as smart clothing and textiles are still relatively expensive to produce and thus consumers are hesitant to invest in them. Secondly, there is the challenge of style and functionality. Smart clothing and textiles are still in their early stages of development, so they often do not work as well as traditional clothing.
Another significant barrier is the lack of robustness in many smart clothing and textile products. Due to their delicate nature, smart garments can often be easily damaged or broken, which limits their usefulness in everyday life. Additionally, due to the lack of standards, compatibility issues between different products are common, which leads to frustration for users.
Founder of FanPlay IoT, Mohan Kumar stated, “There is a mindset change for sure and Government is also extending support like for instance, Ministry of Textile Incubator has selected FanPlay and asked us to foray into Defence, Industrial IoT etc. Even though funding has reached to researchers and intuitions, I am hopeful the start-ups into technical textile and smart clothing won’t be left behind. The transformation is happening and the upcoming years are quite bright for the country too.”
Consumer Perception and Acceptance
While there is growing interest in these technologies, many consumers are still unaware of their existence or how they work. Others may be hesitant to try them out due to concerns about privacy, comfort or style. To increase consumer awareness and acceptance of smart clothing and textiles, it is important to educate them about the benefits of these technologies.
There are a number of regulations that need to be addressed in order to make smart clothing products more widely available. The first is the issue of safety. Smart clothing and textiles often include sensors and other electronic components that could pose a safety hazard if they are malfunctioned. There are also concerns about whether the data collected by these devices would be properly protected and not used for nefarious purposes.
The integration of electronic components into textiles can lead to a higher volume of electronic waste when the textiles are disposed of. Proper disposal and recycling of this waste can be challenging, especially in India where there is a lack of proper infrastructure for electronic waste management.
|Hexoskin: Smart shirts that monitor heart rate, breathing and other vital signs during exercise
Sensoria Inc: Smart compression socks that use pressure sensors to provide feedback on running form and technique
Vuzix Corporation: Smart glasses that use augmented reality technology to provide real-time information and data displays
Ulta Tech International Inc: Self-cleaning textiles that use photocatalysts to break down dirt and grime
Power Textile Limited: Energy-harvesting textiles that generate electricity from sources like solar or kinetic energy
DuPont de Nemours, Inc. (DuPont Advanced Materials): Conductive textiles that be used to create flexible, wearable circuits
Outlast Technologies LLC: Temperature-regulating textiles that use phase-change materials to store and release heat