The future of Smart Garments
■Attention gathering smart-garments,
which are not gadgets
Case 1) Google x Levi’s “Project Jacquard”
Google’s next-generation technology development team, ATAP, has developed “Project Jacquard” （https://atap.google.com/jacquard/）, digitalized textile with unique sensor functions, created under the concept of “new technology which changes any piece of clothing into a touch screen. The first collaboration using this Project Jacquard was “Levi’s Commuter”, a denim jacket for cyclists developed in cooperation with the Jeans maker, Levi Strauss & Co.
“Levi’s Commuter” is a next-generation tracker jacket which makes remote control of devices such as a smart-phone possible from over the denim. It was initially scheduled to go on the market in the spring, but actual sales started on September 27, 2017, at Fred Segal in L.A., Kinfold in Brooklyn, and Concepts in Boston. As a general fashion ware, this became the first full-scale entry example of smart-wear. Can be machine washed and dried at home. Here, a smart garment, which is not a gadget, particular about fit and design, was born. Price is $350 (approx. 39,000 JPY).
Case 2) Nadi X
“Nadi X”, a smart-yoga line created under the concept of “improvement of daily life quality, through fusion of design and technology”, was developed by “Wearable X” (https://www.wearablex.com/), a fashion-tech company born in Sidney, Australia in 2013, now based in N.Y.
At yoga studios, usually the teacher goes around checking each student’s pose, but this Nadi X allows the person wearing the yoga pants to adjust their poses themselves, through instructions from sensors. First the user downloads the mobile application for Nadi X and connects the application to the yoga pants. A total of 5 vibration sensors are implanted in the hips, knees, ankles of the yoga pants, and when the yoga pose leans a bit, a light finger-tap-like vibration tells the user in which direction they need to adjust their pose. The sensors and vibration implanted in the yoga pants is operated by a light-weight clip-on type battery ($132), which is attached above the left knee.
The creator of Nadi X is also fashion designers, so they were thoroughly particular about design, which is one of the problems for wearable technology, and polished it up into a stylish design. Yoga pants are sold at $299.
■Development of smart textiles
In 2013, under the concept of inducing the return of production to N.Y., Pratt Institute, a private university whose campus is located in Brooklyn, N.Y. State, established the “Brooklyn Fashion Design Accelerator” (BF+DA), a N.Y. based design start-up business incubator program, providing studio space and manufacturing function to 30 perspective designers (http://bkaccelerator.com/). Furthermore, as a part of this program, a project called TEK-TILES （http://bkaccelerator.com/tek-tiles/） was recently launched. BF+DA procured 500 thousand dollars (approx. 55 million yen) from Mr. Eric L. Adams, borough president of Brooklyn, whom is known as an advocate of new enterprising spirits which contribute to both the atmosphere and society. The project thereby gained the back-up from the borough of Brooklyn.
Chiefly, this project summons designers and/or researcher groups of various universities, specializing in production development, apparel, textile design and/or interactive technology, to grope for new production methods of smart-garments and functional materials. In the TEK-TILES project, they chiefly develop new knit swatches called “TEK-TILES”, which is made by binding and activating 30 conductive yarns, each with unique characteristics and function, with Nano-fibers or filaments. The manufacturability, functionality and intent of the knit swatches are screened, and along with its life-span, its impact to the atmosphere is assessed. The development team not only gropes for new materials, but also probes into atmospheric and ethical impacts which may occur due to integrating technology into textile as the first in sustainable materials born from technology.
The other day, a panel discussion regarding progress in the TEK-TILES project along with talks on smart-garments and functional fabrics, “This is Not a Sweater: Smart Garments & Functional Fabrics” was held. Hosted by Ms. Deb Johnson, Executive Director of Brooklyn Fashion + Design Accelerator, welcoming as guest speakers, Ms. Olivia Burca, Garment Engineer of “Wearable Experiments” （https://www.wearablex.com/）, the active yoga-wear brand incorporating technology, Mr. Chris Kasabach, Executive Director and Board Member of the Watson Foundation （https://watson.foundation/）, pioneer in connected healthcare and wearable computing (meaning computer-like functions which can be used in a wearable state such as clothing or watches, rather than in the form of smart-phones or notebook PCs, etc.), Ms. Yuchen Zhang, fashion-tech designer, research member of TEK-TILES, and founder of the fashion technology design service company, “Wearable Media” （https://www.wearablemedia.studio/）, this panel discussion spoke on “how to create smart-garments or functional fabrics”.
In N.Y. City, this BF + DA TEK-TILES program is being called a true pioneer program. By connecting product developers with resources, corporations have been able to remarkably shorten time and costs between creating a product concept up to when the product is introduced into the market. This new fabric not only holds extremely vast potentials and redefines functionalities of apparel, but it will also guide our daily life to be more healthy, safe and productive. Furthermore, from an economic growth point of view, it is predicted that such new tech fabrics will be a large factor in creating new jobs or new markets.