The Fashionable Side of Wearable Technology

By now you’ve probably seen Google Glass, a wearable computer that acts as a hands-free smartphone, or Fitbit’s popular wireless wristbands that track the wearer’s fitness stats. Maybe you saw the electroluminescent shirts that appeared at Lollapalooza or Katy Perry’s glowing LED (Light Emitting Diode) dress that she wore to the glamorous Met Ball. These days, technology is not only at our fingertips, but worn on our bodies for function and fashion.

According to ABI Research, 90 million wearable devices will be sold in 2014, primarily related to health and fitness. The wearable technologies market will spike to 485 million annual device shipments by 2018. In other words, it’s becoming ubiquitous. So it makes sense that start-ups and established corporations alike are getting in on the craze—and it seems that the possibilities are endless.

It’s About Time

One of the most popular products from January’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas was the Pebble Steel smartwatch for iPhone and Android. The sleek and stylish wristwatch allows its wearer to see who is calling, receive emails and texts, and track apps, all without having to pull out their phone, which can be inconvenient at school or in business meetings. More than 300,000 customers are already using Pebble according to Mashable.

Qualcomm already produces the Toq smartwatch for Android with a vibrant color touchscreen display, Sony’s SmartWatch2 will be available globally this September, and Samsung sells the Gear 2 Neo, which allows the wearer to answer calls and send messages right from their wrist. This fall, Cuff, a San Francisco Bay Area start-up, introduced a collection of safety-focused wireless devices that can send a signal and GPS location to contacts by hitting a button hidden within a chic piece of jewelry and key chains.

Innovative Materials

In 2008, Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising (FIDM) began amassing a collection of innovative materials and unique textiles made available to FIDM students to use as inspiration. Featuring the latest trends and development in sustainability, nanotechnology, biocouture, biotechnology, and wearable technology, the collection is cutting-edge.

In August, the college’s Library and Alumni Relations Office hosted the 5th annual Innovative Materials and Textile Conference at its four California campuses in Los Angeles, Orange County, San Francisco, and San Diego. Open to students, faculty, staff, alumni, and the general public, the conference featured exciting wearable technology garments made from LED. Pieces from illuminated clothing designer Janet Hansen, who has made one-of-a-kind creations for Daft Punk and Britney Spears, were also showcased. The specialized designer also served as a guest speaker in Los Angeles.

Also on display were a pair of Adidas shoes made from hemp, a dress made from recycled plastic pieces by English designer Jane Bowler, and a revolutionary new kind of wallpaper that can be removed and reused multiple times.

“When I started working at FIDM, I noticed what exceptional resources the Library has and what a great place it is to get inspired,” says FIDM Textiles & Materials Manager Kristine Upesleja, who curates and puts together the popular conference. “I noticed that the materials world and the perception of fashion and design were changing dramatically. I instantly knew that we needed to educate our students and faculty about these exciting developments.”

A One-of-a-Kind Collection

The college supported Upesleja’s idea to establish an innovative materials collection and conference after she broached the idea in 2008. “After a while, I had acquired garments made from coffee grounds, milk, coconut, recycled plastic bottles, and biodegradable shoes,” she adds. “I connected with international companies such as Hugo Boss, C.P Company, Stone Island, Patagonia, and Vitra.”

One of her favorite items in the ever-expanding collection is a solar powered coat, which allows users to recharge their phones from their pocket.

The FIDM Library Textiles & Materials team—Jennifer Blue, Cynthia Aaron, and Upesleja—is constantly on the hunt for new trends and innovations when it comes to wearable technology. Last year they focused on 3-D printing, featuring a pair of shoes from Continuum and a black lacquer dress embellished with 12,000 Swarovski crystals from New York-based designer Michael Schmidt that was worn by Dita Von Teese at the annual conference.

The floor-length nylon gown, which was made using selective laser sintering (SLS), where material is built up in layers from plastic powder that has been fused together, was based on a computer rendering of Von Teese’s body to ensure a perfect fit. Schmidt, who has also worked with Madonna, Rihanna, Cher, and Lady Gaga, designed the dress with architect Francis Bitonti. It is the world’s first fully articulated 3-D printed dress.

Perhaps the most fascinating and impactful form of wearable technology, 3-D printing has been used not only to create clothing and accessories, but food, housing, and even living body parts such as blood vessels and skin tissue. CNN recently reported on the emerging process, which uses computer-created digital models to create real-world objects.

The Future of Wearables

Wearables have become so widespread that they have their own conference, Smart Fabrics + Wearable Technology, and an online magazine, The online magazine features game changing technologies like singer Imogen Heap’s Mi.Mu glove, which is intended to facilitate the creation of music with gesture control rather than dials and computer screens.

Some companies, like Puma, are fusing technology and sustainability to aid nature and boost sales. The German sportswear company introduced biodegradable sneakers, shirts, jackets, and backpacks that can be returned to the store for processing after they have been used in 2013. Designer Stella McCartney created biodegradable heels made from bioplastic textiles that eventually disintegrate into the environment.

And while wearable technology is all the rage, there is still a ways to go when it comes to fashion (more than a few critics have been vocal about the unattractive appearance of Google Glass, for example).

“Wearable technology today still looks bulky,” explains Upesleja. “It is tech savvy rather than fashionable, but there’s hope on the horizon. Companies such as Nike, Open Ceremony, The Council of Fashion Designers, and global tech authorities like Intel are finally working together to fix that problem and to make wearables more beautiful.”

What do you think about wearable-technology meeting fashion?Tweet @FIDM and @DECAInc and share your thoughts with us!