Fashioning Materials For The Future

<p>What happens when science meets the runway?</p>

The intersection of fashion and technology may seem like an unlikely one, but as Creators like Moritz Waldenmeyer, Vega Wang, and Jum Nakao have show us, the fashion designer/technology geek hybrid is far more common than one might expect. Science and technology are undeniably having a profound effect on the fashion industry, and nowhere is this more apparent than when examining some of the new materials coming out of world-renowned science labs like MIT. These new fabrics look and sound like something straight out of science fiction, and while they may not be hitting the runways just yet, it’s fascinating to speculate what the possibilities of these new technologies might be and how designers intend to utilize them.

“Imagine if we could grow clothing…” opines the website for UK-based fashion research project, BioCouture. An initiative led by UK-based designer Suzanne Lee, BioCouture is attempting to “harness nature” by using laboratory-grown bacterial-cellulose to produce clothing. The project aims to address the vast ecological and sustainability issues faced by the fashion world — a notoriously wasteful industry — by creating a radically new approach to fabric and the manufacturing process. According to the project’s website, BioCouture’s “ultimate goal is to literally grow a dress in a vat of liquid.”

The “vat of liquid” essentially consists of sweetened green tea, yeast and bacteria (correct us if we’re wrong, but is this chick making clothes out of Kombucha?). This concoction then sprouts fibers that eventually band together to create the cellulose film Lee uses to mold into dresses and blouses.

We’re not exactly sure how we feel about wearing some of these creations just yet. The fabric looks weirdly skin-like and appears too translucent and stiff for actual wear. Still, the concept is certainly an intriguing one. What if you could simply grow yourself a dress? We’d love to have a whole crop of new duds for every season.

Water Soluble Wedding Dress

Researchers at Sheffield Hallam University in the UK have designed a wedding gown that dissolves in water. Fashion and engineering students at the university banded together to develop a wedding dress that transforms into five different fashions, each transformation triggered by dissolving away a portion of the original dress. The fabric is created out of polyvinyl alcohol, a biodegradable substance that is used in laundry bags and washing detergents, enabling it to dissipate into water without harming the environment.

Jane Blohm, a lecturer on the fashion design course at Sheffield Hallam, said: “The project is a union between art and technology which explores the possibilities of using alternative materials for our clothing. The wedding gown is perhaps one of the most iconic and symbolic garments in humanity’s wardrobe and represents the challenges of ‘throwaway fashion’.”

The project is definitely inspiring, we just hope the bride doesn’t get caught in a torrential downpour on her wedding day.

Acoustic Fabrics

For the past decade, MIT’s Research Lab of Electronics has been working to develop fabrics that can interact with their environment. Yoel Fink, associate professor of materials science and principal investigator at the lab, and his team have succeeded in producing fibers that can detect and produce sound, and these fibers, theoretically, can be woven together to produce acoustic fabrics.

The possibilities of such technology are as of yet, not fully defined, and in truth, the technology itself is still in the experimental stage and not completely stable or ready for wear. The fibers are difficult to work with and, although they do produce audible sounds, are still very fragile and their sonic vibrations are quite faint. Still, Fink and his team have laid down the groundwork, and following the publication of their research in August, it’s possible that development along this front could increase exponentially.

So, the question remains, what would acoustic fabrics be used for? “Applications could include clothes that are themselves sensitive microphones, for capturing speech or monitoring bodily functions, and tiny filaments that could measure blood flow in capillaries or pressure in the brain.”

Although these materials are still a long way off from being available as garments in your local department store, they are, in some respects, indicators of the future of fashion. Scientists and fashion designers alike are innovating new materials out of a desire to address pressing societal needs — such as a quest for more ecological and sustainable fabrics — and it’s creations like these that will define the fabric of our future.