Research Proposal: Fashion and Technology

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Fashion and Technology

What kind of technology-driven fashion will your grandchildren's grandchildren be walking around wearing? Will your family's future offspring of the female persuasion be wearing spray-on dresses featuring unlimited style color coordinating options in the year 2030? Will her best friends have cellphone bracelets and will their boyfriends sport fashionable eyewear that also serve as live video monitors with access to every live sports and news television transmission on the planet -- featuring instant audio translation services available for up to 66 languages? These projected advances may seem more science fiction than reality based, but be assured, seemingly outlandish concepts today may soon be as real and normal as the sun peeking up over the eastern landscape. This paper will review and critique the most recent forward-looking fashion innovations -- including several "wearable technologies" and "smart clothing" concepts. The paper also will offer analysis vis-a-vis the technologic realism of and the economic practicality of the projects currently on the drawing boards -- and in the creative minds -- of fashion engineers and designers.

History of Fashion and Clothing Innovation

The textile industry throughout history has attempted to develop a close relationship with science, albeit that relationship has been discreet in many instances. While humans had been sewing for as long as 20,000 years ago (archaeologists have found bone needles, apparently used to sew together skins and furs, dating back that far), the very first prototype sewing machine wasn't invented until Thomas Saint

did that in 1790 (www.moah.org). Saint's invention helped launch the textile and fashion industry into an era of tremendous growth and production. And moreover, this technological advancement built a fire under the designers and fashion entrepreneurs and created up a multitude of new ideas in their heads. The industry has experienced the possibility of not only seamless and mass production, but of great progress in the clothing to be marketed on a global scale.

Meantime, in 1934, Italian fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli entered into a collaborative arrangement with French textile manufacturer, Colcombet, to design and produce a "glass cape" using Rodophane material.

Two years later Schiaparelli presented her innovative collection -- which used prints featuring thermometers as a way of reflecting the enthusiastic emotions of the public due to the arrival of the radio and the telegraph. Schiaparelli teamed up with avant guard artist Salvador Dali to shock the fashion world with surrealistic designs that included a "Lobster Dress" made of silk organza and horsehair (Philadelphia Museum of Art). Dali was said to be irritated when Schiaparelli would not allow him to "spread real mayonnaise on the finished gown" (www.philamuseum.org).

When nylon was invented in 1938 it was first used for bristles in toothbrushes but soon enough nylon was used in the production of fabrics (including its widely accepted use as women's hosiery) and was lauded for its toughness and resistance to tears and shrinkage. In the 1960s and 1970s, fashion designers like Paco Rabanne, Andres Courreges, Pierre Cardin and Rudi Girnreich utilized nylon and polyester fabrics to great advantage financially and culturally. There was an element of glamour in their work that transcended typical clothing design.

Tomorrow -- the Future Blending of Fashion and Technology

Among the most popular consumer concepts / phrases in the early 21st Century are "green" "sustainability," and "eco-friendly." We live in tumultuous times indeed. Scientists tell us the glaciers are melting, the seas are rising, hurricanes and other natural world storms are becoming more violent and myriad animal species are endangered due to rising temperatures around the globe. But what about the human species? Will technology be personalized enough so that the clothing we wear will help us interact with our colleagues and/or help us achieve a sustainable relationship with the natural world? The challenge for designers is enormous as the years pass by and new generations become more and more dependent on technology. The marketplace for consumer purchases is no longer local or regional -- it is global. Will the fashion industry take a page out of the digital technology revolution and come up with ideas that make sense and are cost-friendly?

Will there be an iPod-like innovation in the offing for Chakra, or Gucci? Will Chanel produce a practical coat that adjusts its outer fabric accordingly when the build in relative humidity indicator shows precipitation is in the offing? Will fashion industry innovators begin producing garments that are realistic for low-income families during the continuing economic downturn? And will the top fashion moguls begin to understand that the old catwalk strategy -- featuring stunningly thin, unbelievably gorgeous women with legs that work like stilts is a dinosaur? Who will inform the world's most wealthy and famous designers that ninety-nine point nine percent of the world's population neither cares nor embraces the high-toned clothing that Lady GaGa, Rihanna, and other sexy female icons are wearing?

Certainly there are no simple answers to those questions. It has been proven over and over again that fashion and technology can combine innovative energies to produce good things for consumers. It seems that those innovative energies have somehow been put on the back burner, or perhaps ignored. But fashion may in time be turned on its head and corporate profits just might take a back seat to putting clothing in stores that the average consumer can wear and use -- and that actually offer usable and practical innovative components. This society certainly needs to pull back on its obsessive consumption, and fashion industry innovators can become part of the solution rather than continuing to be part of the problem.

New Ideas in Fashion Technology

When we talk about fashion technology we're not just alluding to weird or geeky inventions that will make the fashion pages today and disappear tomorrow. To wit, the Web site Double Agent features an "all-in-one jacket" called "mp3blue."

As one might imagine, this jacket contains a built-in mp3 player along with a hands-free Bluetooth mobile phone. The Double Agent site explains that this jacket protects the consumer from "having to worry about that stuff falling out of your pockets" (www.doubleagent.com). The German clothing company Rosner teamed with Infineon Technologies to design this jacket for the digital technology freak, obviously. The average person certainly doesn't need an mp3 player built into a jacket.

Meanwhile the jacket features a textile keyboard on the left sleeve, which works seamlessly thanks to "electrically conductive fabric sewn into the lining." The mp3 player has 128 MB of memory and a rechargeable battery that works up to eight hours, according to Double Agent. The collar of the jacket provides the headphones and a microphone, so when the person wearing the jacket makes a phone call, "music automatically shuts off." And the jacket comes with a "removable hood" so when that important phone call comes in (while the wearer is out on the golf course, for example) the hood can be pulled up to provide privacy. Price for this fashion technology piece? A nifty $725.

Then there is the "Show Off T-Shirt" with a built-in "sounds sensitive graphic equalizer panel" (www.bimbambanana.com).

Made from 100% cotton, the front of the shirt lights up to the beat of the music, made lively by the presence of the equalizer. Of course a battery pack is tucked "discretely into a pocket inside the shirt," and it is "great for concerts or parties" the marketing material explains. It remains to be seen if this can be called "smart" or "dumb" clothing.

On a more serious plane, a thoughtful piece published in the International Journal of Clothing Science and Technology explains that the past few years have produced "…an increased interest in wearable technologies, smart fabrics and interactive garments" (Stylios, 2005).

Professor George K. Stylios is the principal investigator for the Research Institute for Flexible Materials (RIFleX) in Heriot-Watt University (Selkirkshire, UK). Stylios explains that technological developments vis-a-vis these smart fabrics and interactive garments are thanks in part to "sensor-based fabrics, micro devices, wire and wireless networks."

Stylios goes on to criticize the global fashion markets whose developments in recent years have resulted in "…glorifying garments as gimmicky gadgets." That said, Stylios also points to some efforts on the part of the fashion industry to use technology to improve the quality of life for citizens, "even for life saving purposes" (especially in the military, for healthcare purposes and firefighters). In order to develop prototype interactive garments that can monitor the "various functions of the wearer," these vital research efforts will require the use of "…interdisciplinary technologies in fabrics, sensors and wireless computing."

The professor has recently been involved in a project with several objectives, all of which are planned as helpful monitoring products for healthcare and clinical purposes. Among the objectives sought by Stylios' team are the following "smart clothing" goals: a) to develop "suitable wireless sensors" that will be implanted in fabrics and used to measure "ECG, temperature, breathing, skin conductivity, mobility and movement, humidity and positioning"; b) to innovate a "Personal Area Network and a Wireless Communication Centre"; c) to… [END OF PREVIEW]

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https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/fashion-technology/13341.