What if wearable tech were truly wearable?

By Lianne Toussaint

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“Smart clothes are hot,” stated the Een Vandaag news item last October. According to the television programme, a revolution is taking place in the fashion industry. However, as Anneke Smelik noted in a previous post on this blog, wearable technology is not something that many of us are actually wearing. The question is: why would we?

Currently on show at the Boijmans van Beuningen museum in Rotterdam is the exhibition ‘The Future of Fashion is Now’ (until January 18, 2015), which includes several designs that can be described as wearable technology: the famous laser-beam hat by Hussein Chalayan, the cell phone charging ‘Solar Dress’ by Pauline van Dongen and sound-activated clothing by Ying Gao. These projects are displayed in the museum for a reason: they are visually stunning, technically complex, highly artistic and all raise question as to what fashion is and could be. Yet, although fascinating in its own right, this is not the kind of fashion that you and me would be able to buy and wear. The one-off pieces are but prototypes of a future yet to come and designed to be looked at, rather than worn. Recent developments, however, indicate that wearable tech is on the verge of a breakthrough in a more mundane context as well.

Last December, the collaborative project ‘Zorgzame Bedrijfskleding’ (‘Careful Corporate Clothing’) was presented during a health care conference in Rotterdam. The projected resulted in a collection of sustainable and supportive garments for nurses, including some designs with a posture sensor, gas sensor and antibacterial coating. The posture sensor helps healthcare employees – who often perform physically heavy work – to be more aware of how they use their bodies and prevent any overburden, while the gas sensor can warn them of any harmful gases. Another inspiring example is the ‘Mesopic / Light Jacket’ that Pauline van Dongen developed in collaboration with Philips Research. The jacket contains several LED ribbons that increase the wearer’s visibility and safety in a dark environment. The light strips have been integrated in such a subtle way, that the jacket has a desirable and fashionable look during the day, as well as an aesthetically pleasing functionality during night-time.

Projects like ‘Zorgzame Bedrijfskleding’ and ‘Mesopic’ indicate that the field of wearable technology is rapidly maturing. These examples imagine a time at which technology and fashion have will truly have become one: a time at which clothing will protect, support and care for us, in addition to being a form of expression and adornment. Yet, even if technology will help fashion to become a form of intimate caretaking rather than conspicuous consumption, the key to a proper revolution in the fashion industry is the wearer. Ultimately, if our future clothes will actively nurture, support and soothe us, how shall we treat them in return?

– Image licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution: LED Dress by Hussein Chalayan in collaboration with Swarovski, Autumn/Winter 2007, http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:LED_dress_by_Hussein_Chalayan.jpg

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