When one thinks of technology, the focus tends to be on electronics and appliances. Refrigerators with built-in touchscreens and smart watches are exciting developments that would intrigue any science-fiction author from the first half of the 20th century. However, technology is advancing in the realm of fashion even when new tablets and self-driving cars receive most of the attention. From the use of newly created textiles to the role that 3D printers will play in the realm of fashion, there is no shortage of ways the future is altering fashion. Futuristic fashion is born when designers who are passionate about clothing adopt new technologies or create their own to bring their visions into reality.

Fresh, New Textile Options

Textile Fashion

Synthetic fabrics first gained popularity through nylon stockings in 1935. Then polyester made a splash among textiles in the 1950s in the form of wrinkle-free clothing. Many hated it, and many more loved it, especially a few decades later in the 1970s. Synthetic materials have fallen out of fashion, but textiles is still an exploratory field. Sustainability is a major question in fashion right now, and futuristic fashion endeavors are addressing it with new fabric options.

Piñatex is a faux-leather made from discarded pineapple leaves. The designer of this new material, Carmen Hijosa, was inspired by a traditional Filipino overshirt that is made from woven pineapple leaf fibers. The shirt is used as formal wear and has a striking, silky finish. As Hijosa studied leather production in the Philippines, she realized it had a negative impact on the environmental and on the health of the workers. Piñatex was an attempt to provide a healthier alternative that prioritizes sustainability.

The leaves would otherwise be considered waste and sent to a landfill. The product is sustainable because it makes use of a byproduct of the robust pineapple industry in the Philippines. The process of turning leaves into a fabric is also more environmentally friendly, as it doesn’t require the hazardous tanning process that animal leather goes through to become wearable. After the leaves are processed into the faux leather, the waste can be used as a fertilizer. The finished Piñatex can be purchased by designers in rolls for use like normal leather, in garments, accessories and more. It is unique in the world of faux leathers because it is plant-based, not petroleum-based, and it has a very small environmental impact. Faux leathers that are made from petroleum products tend to produce toxic waste, which Piñatex doesn’t do.

The Harvard Biodesign Lab has been working on a fabric glove that uses robotics to aid disabled people in everyday tasks. The team has decided to use fabric because it makes the glove more comfortable and wearable for those who may need it every day or most of the time. The glove helps with bending fingers and gripping items by using inflated chambers as a kind of skeleton within the three layers of textiles that make up the glove. The chambers that inflate are formed from a special knit material that can hold air like a balloon. When not inflated, the glove looks like normal apparel, instead of a bulky medical brace. The potential for other applications that aid people in mobility may very well affect the world of fashion, not just the world of medicine.

Using Fashion To Interact With Existing Technology

Tech Fashion

Many examples of futuristic fashion use common electronics to enhance a piece of clothing or vice versa. A jacket that syncs to your phone might seem like speculative apparel, but in fact it was released in late 2017. Augmented reality accessible to the general public came to the forefront with the 2016 release of Pokemon Go, which brought the classic media phenomenon to life using phone cameras. Now, augmented reality is poised to transform the fashion retail experience and fashion itself. Some designers, including Gucci, use this augmentation to add an extra layer of visuals to fashion pieces that can only be seen through an app. This digital layer is quickly gaining popularity with both designers and consumers thrilled by the potential.

Metaverse Nails has applied this process to nail art, with the intention to expand to other fashion products. This nail art includes an application for augmenting the designs shown on nails. With the app, you can see the extras that include a school of fish or shimmering lights emanating from a stick-on nail design. The technology also works with stickers for faces and apparel. The application allows artistic interaction with these visuals. The brand has also patented 3D games that rely on nail art as a backdrop.

Google phones and other appliances are making headlines, but they have also ventured into using conductive threads to create a wearable technology experience. Jacquard is a futuristic fashion platform that can be woven into clothing, allowing taps and swipes on clothing to connect to a phone. So far, the platform has been used on one piece of clothing: a Levi’s denim jacket.

The technology takes a traditional denim jacket, which has been a fashion staple for decades, and elevates its function through the use of technology. Jacquard depends upon an electronic snap tag, or pin, being attached to the jacket. The tag then works in combination with the conductive threads to connect to your phone, allowing control over music selection and other functions by using the Jacquard thread present in the arms of the jacket. Be careful cleaning it, though: The thread is only guaranteed to last through 10 washes.

New technology attempts to intertwine the electronics consumers know and love with fashion pieces. The progress so far mostly depends upon phones, because many people own phones and carry them around at all times. Jacquard envisions a world in which non-electronic items can interact with your electronics, providing new connections through a phone or other piece of technology. Augmented-reality applications have a similar goal, which is to enhance the physical world by adding features, currently focused on visuals, that can only be accessed digitally. The concept is a science-fiction staple that is becoming closer to reality each day.

Printing Fashion in 3 Dimensions

Futuristic Fashion

3D printing has taken off, sparking the public’s collective imagination. The possibilities for printing parts for cars or electronics have been well-documented, but what about the implications for futuristic fashion? The current applications mostly involve costuming and plastic or rubber overlays for runway fashion or editorial photoshoots. The most common and accessible material for 3D printing is plastic, with other materials such as rubber, resin and metal only available on specialty printers. Designers and everyday people alike have found ways to incorporate even the most basic printing into fashion, however.

The 2018 movie release “Sorry To Bother You” was noted for its psychedelic, striking aesthetic choices. The distinctive fashion in the film included the character Detroit, who wore large acrylic earrings emblazoned with bold slogans. Detroit is an artist and proudly mentions she made them herself. These signature earrings were created using a modeling computer program and printed by a 3D printer, as revealed by the costume designer. Within a month of its release, fans had already taken to the internet to publicly share their own recreated designs of the earrings.

Even a cursory search reveals a robust online community of people sharing designs for bracelets, earrings and more elaborate accessories, often for free. Many of them recreate signature pieces of a character design for use in costumes. A portal gun makes all the difference in the recognizability of a costume of a time-traveling anti-hero, for example.

3D-printed clothing is often found in bold, editorial fashion that would be out of place anywhere but a costume party or photoshoot. Bold cage skirts and plastic exoskeletons can be found on the pages of magazines. Fashion from 3D printers is beginning to make its way onto the streets, though. Some ready-to-wear options include items made out of meshes that conform to the body without forming a rigid structure.

Mesh provides a workaround for using material that doesn’t drape over the body the way most clothing is expected to. Danit Peleg has created a bomber jacket out of a closely interlocked rubbery mesh that can be custom ordered from a set of colors, lining options and, of course, sizing. A virtual fitting session shows what the jacket would look like when built to your specifications. Customization of fit through 3D printing has a lot of commercial potential, and exploration is just beginning.

How Technology Will Continue To Intersect With Fashion

The future of fashion is promising, with new and innovative connections between evolving technology and fashion released at a steady pace. Some of these pieces are not yet available to the public. Others are available only at a price that is not affordable for the general public. But several of these futuristic fashion options are steadily working their way into the mainstream, starting with early adapters. It is easy to envision some of these concepts eventually integrating themselves into fashion completely and becoming unremarkable in the near future. Keep an eye out for these high-tech pieces as they enter more of the market.

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