London College of Fashion has designs on in-fabric technology

How digital technology will sew itself into the fabric of future fashions was the subject of a recent talk at the London College of Fashion (LCF), entitled ‘Interrogating Fashion: New Paradigms for Fashion Design in the 21st Century’.

London College of Fashion has designs on in-fabric technology

We are familiar with gadget-friendly clothing – for example, the Burton Amp Jacket, a snowboarding jacket with iPod controls built into the sleeve – but this considered futuristic fashionware that integrates electronics ‘seamlessly’, incorporating technology at a nano-level.

Examples quoted by Sandy Black, a Reader in fashion and textiles at the LCF, were patterned designs using light-emitting diodes that reacted to body heat and the display of video on T-shirts (dubbed ‘responsive interactive clothing’).

Of all possible developments, however, she believed that digital jewellery was the most likely to take off in the near future. Portable and small-scale in design – involving digital printing and configurable displays Black felt that this particular appliance of science would be the first to find a niche in the real world market place (check out Speckled Computing at

It should be stressed, however, that all of the designs highlighted are still in the prototype phase – none are in commercial production.

As well as backing from BT Research – who are also heavily investigating futuristic ambient communications (see BT previews research projects at Adastral Park [part 1]) – France Telecom has been backing the LCF research.

Possible drawbacks for technological fashionware? For powering the technology, it was envisaged that sufficient energy could be drawn from the wearers themselves, with a small power unit being detachable from the clothing. Which leads to the question of washing… and we were assured that as the technology is within the very fabric of the clothing itself, it should be able to survive the heat of washing machine, which has long been an enemy of progress in this field.

Other areas considered during the talk included the use of 3D computing technology to map the shape of people and provide virtual fittings – for example, SizeUK, which is a consortium of retailers, scientists, and academics – and the use sensors to provide ‘well-being services’ for the growing health care market – for example, cushions or rugs that sense the temperature and movements of the elderly.

‘As “fabric” becomes the interface between body and environment it also becomes the point of interaction between the person and technology,’ declared Philip Delamore, a Research Fellow at London College of Fashion in the accompanying research paper. ‘We are entering an exciting period of convergence where materials play an important role not just as decoration, but as mediator.

The designers who are the leading edge of digital fashion certainly recognise the importance of technologists that make their innovation possible.

‘Once limited by the repeat size imposed by the block or screen which repeat along a length of fabric, we are now defined by the programmers who produce the digital design tools we use,’ observes Delamore. ‘This is ironic in the sense that it is always the technicians and engineers who define the creativity of each generation, rather than those who claim to be the “creatives”‘.

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