19th February, 2019
The textiles industry is bursting at the seams with innovation, with some of the more recent technological advances positively impacting a wide range of businesses – making textile-tech an exciting space to watch.
Before the rise of textile-tech, people would often look at the industry in a very two-dimensional way.
Textiles could be seen as materials that are given to fashion experts and altered to create garments that either meet current fashions or usher in new ones. These garments are then sold to a customer, who returns once their clothing wears out or when there’s a new fashion trend that they need to keep up with, thereby creating a ‘cycle of fashion’.
But if you dig a little deeper, you’ll find that the fashion and textile industry can be so much more than a simple cycle.
According to Professor Robyn Healy (PhD), Dean of RMIT’s School of Textile and Fashion, the advances that textile-tech research is bringing to the fashion industry have “remarkable applications” – many of which the typical consumer isn’t even be aware of.
As for the business owner, textile technology may be of specific interest in terms of the potential impacts it may have for things like product development, employee uniforms and much more besides.
Here are four examples of those applications.
One of the hardest parts of shopping for clothing is the challenge of trying to keep up with the latest styles and trends – and some of the more recent applications of textile-tech are geared toward solving this problem.
“There’s a lot of buzz around wearable technologies at the moment,” Healy told The Pulse.
“This being the case, many of our researchers are out looking for technological solutions that are aimed at improving the way people interact with textiles.”
Healy describes some of this research as leading to solutions that transform textiles into wearable display screens on which patterns and styles can be programmed.
The innovation of this technology lies in “the ability to decorate and customise textiles” with the aim of reducing the number of garments people need to purchase.
Once you start to adapt emerging tech like AI and machine learning into this programming, the future of this form of textile-tech becomes all about “catching up with a lot of the things that we thought were just fantasy”.
Imagine waking up on a summer morning and your outfit knows how to design itself based on factors like the weather, your calendar of events and the latest trends – this is where we’re headed.
Another area of focus for textile-tech research has been the evolution of old-school medical devices and creating innovative ways to make them ‘trendier’.
Unfortunately, various stigmas exist when it comes to medical devices. People don’t want to stand out because of the medical devices that they are given to use, and often opt out of using them just so that people don’t look at them differently – a choice which can significantly impact their quality of life.
According to Healy, research is being conducted with the aim of “breaking down these stigmas” and changing the way these devices are perceived by turning them into “everyday accessories” rather than devices.
“Researchers have been looking at ways to wire up and program different types of textiles in order to replacing age-old medical devices like heart-monitors and hearing-aids into pieces of jewellery and other accessories,” said Healy.
While we may not expect that business owners will ever gain direct and holistic insight into their workers’ health data, some information could be shared on an ‘opt-in’ basis that helps a business work to improve the health and wellbeing of its staff.
Certain businesses may also be able to offer their customers more tailored solutions if this type of data were made available.
Clothing has always been a form of protection for those who wear it and textile-tech researchers have been exploring ways to enhance this ability.
According to Healy, a good example of this is ‘stab and spike’ clothing protection research.
“Some researchers are working on a ‘stab and spike’ protection which looks at improving the resistance of t-shirt fabric, making it more difficult for knives and other sharp weapons to break through the material,” said Healy.
Healy also explained that, aside from improved protection that textile-tech is bringing to every day civilians, there have also been innovative advances to the sporting technology space, with textile-tech improving “abrasion resistance” of athletic clothing by using fabrics like Lycra.
When asked what advice she would give to entrepreneurs who are looking to disrupt the textile-tech space, Healy encouraged people to “take responsibility for the textiles they create” and to ensure that there is an emphasis on the impact that this textile has on the environment by implementing the solutions that make textile manufacturing more environmentally friendly.
For example, Healy said that ongoing research is being conducted into how long textiles last, and solutions that help these materials break down and dissolve are being deployed into many textile manufacturing plants.
Healy also encouraged people to only use textiles that are made through sources of fair labour.
“Special attention needs to be given to the entire textile supply chain,” said Healy.
“Questions like: ‘who is making it?’, ‘how is it being made?’, and ‘is the innovation being conducted in a responsible way?’ all need to be asked when working with textiles.”