This summer, the Pratt Institute’s Brooklyn Fashion + Design Accelerator launched the TEK-TILES project with the goal of discovering and documenting new ways of manufacturing smart garments and functional fabrics. The project, a “sprint” to use a term familiar to coders, brought together designers and researchers with extensive experience in product development, apparel and textile design, and interactive technology. Pulling this group of people together in one place facilitates collaboration between universities, innovation centers, and companies.
Fabric innovation is a topic near and dear to Polartec. We asked Deb Johnson, founder of the BF+DA and previous chairperson of the Industrial Design program at Pratt Institute, to tell us more about the TEK-TILES project.
Q: Why the TEK-TILES project? And why now?
A: Until recent breakthroughs in fiber materials and manufacturing processes, our expectation of fabrics has remained essentially the same. These advances will change the function of fabrics and garments as we currently know them. This is also why we need to be talking about them. Smart garments are predicted to be a $38 billion industry by 2022 — it’s important to consider the environmental and social consequences of this emerging industry before rather than after systems and processes have been put in place.
The current manufacturing infrastructure isn’t prepared to meet the demands of innovation. We want to be that resource.
Q: How do these functional fabrics differ from the ones we know now?
A: New technologies will create textiles that allow us to see, hear, sense, communicate, store energy, regulate temperature, monitor health and change color. This is an age that will have a massive impact on the function of clothing and the way our products communicate with us and each other.
Q: What are potential environmental impacts of functional fabrics? How to the pros and cons stack up?
A: There will always be trade-offs when creating new products. Does a product that makes life better for an elder, a child with autism, a biker riding on a crowded street, a person with diabetes, someone in hospice warrant the use of less sustainable materials? It is important to understand the impact of the materials in use — conductive yarns for example and balance it with the purpose of the garment and the design for disassembly at the end of the product’s useful life.
The above jacket is one result of the project. Polartec Power Stretch Pro fabric was chosen by Tara St. James to create a jacket with LED lighted-epaulets that function as turning signals for cyclists. Power Stretch Pro offers resilient stretch and moisture wicking properties that are the perfect partner for this functional, comfortable garment.
You can see this jacket and more innovations from the summer’s sprint at “This is Not a Sweater: Smart Garments & Functional Fabrics,” a TEK-TILES fair and designers meet+greet on Tuesday, September 19, in Brooklyn, NY. For anyone interested in the future of textiles, this is not an event to be missed!