Smart textile technology is a term you might not have heard during your time online. Imagine yourself in the great outdoors on a cold, winter afternoon. How cool it would be to communicate directly with your clothing and request them to heat themselves automatically? How about being able to change the elasticity of an uncomfortable bra depending on how much strain you are under? You could even tighten and loosen its straps.
No, that’s not a dystopian scenario; it’s one of the many smart textile applications. In fact, there are dozens of smart textile examples that will certainly make our lives a whole lot easier. Thanks to 2022’s nano-textile revolution, smart fabrics are very real – and their advantages are many.
What is smart fabric technology?
Smart fabrics, electronic textiles, e-textiles. However you decide to call them, this technology allows textiles to sense and respond to changes in their environment. As a matter of fact, the term “smart textiles” dates back to 1989 when the Japanese needed a phrase to describe Silk’s shape memory ability.
Modern smart textile materials are a bit different. Through the use of digital components, fibers are receiving an upgrade. Technology in the form of a battery, an electronic chip, or a sensor, is incorporated into the fabric to add even more value to our comfort and safety.
Usually, through the use of conductive fibers or multilayer 3D printing, smart fabrics are developed to fit into three different categories: passive and active and very smart textiles.
The end goal? Aesthetic or performance enhancement.
What is the purpose of smart textiles?
Aesthetics: Clothing, is, after all, a form of self-expression. With the use of smart fabrics, the wearer can change the look of a garment within seconds. The fabric can light up and change color, offer an array of interactive elements or shift with its environment, and much more.
Performance: Even if aesthetic smart textiles aren’t your cup of tea, performance-enhancing smart fabrics offer a brand new experience. From temperature regulation, decrease or increase in wind resistance, muscle vibration control, or even protection against radiation, the smart textiles uses are many.
What are the different types of smart textiles?
Smart textiles with the capacity of transforming signals are divided into three groups :
- Passive Smart textiles: They only can sense the environment
- Active Smart textiles: They can sense the outside stimuli from the environment and interact accordingly
- Very Smart Textiles: They can sense, interact and adapt their behavior to the circumstances.
Smart textile applications
Shape memory textiles
Materials such as alloys, polymers, gels, and ceramics are capable of remembering the original shape and returning to it no matter how many times they are shaped. The book Advanced Fuctional Materials points out one of the most important benefits of shape memory smart textiles “The important point in these applications is that the material used exhibits the shape memory effect at temperatures close to body temperature.”
This function allows these garments to be used as protective clothing against fire and high temperatures and provides different levels of protection according to temperature.
Chromic materials or chameleon materials use external stimuli for the electron density or molecular structure of the material to change color. These outside factors can be everything from light, heat, pH change, or friction, When the stimuli disappear, the clothing reverts to its previous color.
Perhaps the most well-known smart textile material, they allow thermoregulation.
Circling back to the previous example of the great outdoors to see Smart textile uses in action, let’s examine cotton. It’s ideal for hot environments due to its lightweight and breathable nature. But for cold-weather adventures, your cotton clothing won’t cut.
That’s where smart textile material really shines. Now, you can have one piece of clothing that can respond to both hot and cold temperatures to keep you comfortable. With the amazing ability to transform based on external information, the wearer needs less clothing, which leads to less waste.
Basically, Phase-changing textiles have a cooling effect, heating effect, or thermoregulation effect caused by the absorption or dissipation of heat depending on the ever-changing weather conditions.
Wearable smart electronic textiles
These Very Smart Textiles are designed to make our daily lives a lot healthier, safer, and more comfortable. Wearable smart electronic textiles can change themselves according to external conditions, store data, and use the stored data to share information. They can track temperature changes, moisture levels, and changes in light and then react to these stimuli accordingly.
The uses of these smart textiles include monitoring breathing, heart rate, and body temperature changes for patients with health issues as well as additional information such as speed, distance, time, and calories.
What are some examples of smart textiles?
Smart textile examples are all around us and have been present since the ’00s.
Philips and Levi Strauss introduced their ICD+ jacket that features a remote-controlled mobile phone and an MP3 player. In 2000, this was the first-of-its-kind wearable device that could actually be washed.
Pizza Hut has experimented with limited-edition tech sneakers that can order pizza in 2017. “During the launch, we saw digital sales growth, increased traffic in Pizza Hut searches, and a lift in brand interest,” said a representative.
Under Armour’s Athlete Recovery Sleepwear was developed to absorb heat from the human body as well as release infrared light to increase sleep quality and boost improve muscle recovery.
Even Ralph Lauren has tapped into smart textile materials. The PoloTech t-shirts connect to a smartphone app to record fitness activity and offer new workout recommendations.
Tommy Hilfiger found an innovative way to make customers wear their clothing for even longer. They embedded tech into garments to track product usage and reward the wearer for time spent in them.
Neviano recently developed a UV Protect swimsuit collection packed with a removable medallion-style waterproof sensor that stops the wearer from staying too long in the sun.
It’s safe to say that smart textile materials are the future of the fashion industry. The advantages of smart textiles can better the quality of our daily lives without compromising on style. In fact, the size of the global smart fabrics market was valued at $ 878.9 million in 2018 and is forecast to expand at a CAGR of 30.4% from 2019 to 2025.
From integrating health monitoring technology into clothing to being fun and creative with color-changing fabrics, the possibilities are endless.