Fashion Forward – Nanofabrics Take Textiles Into The Future

Fashion Forward – Nanofabrics Take Textiles Into The Future

Fashion forward is taking on a complete new meaning with the emergence of smart materials. Moving beyond trends, these fabrics require labs and scientists rather than designers and workrooms and their debut is much more likely to happen at universities and not Fashion Week.

Nanofabrics is an emerging branch of nanotechnology that deals with building specialized materials. This branch of science introduced active camouflage that hides the wearer by redirecting light from one side to the other. Nanofabrics even cushioned Olympic contenders at the 2006 games in Torino – most were wearing costumes that hardened on impact to protect the athletes if they hit the ground.

Recently scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology developed clothes that could listen and produce sound. (You’re not reading that wrong – I really said listen.)

According to the workforce at MIT, “applications could consist of clothes which are themselves sensitive microphones for capturing speech or monitoring bodily functions, and tiny filaments that could measure blood flow in capillaries or pressure in the brain.”

The long term applications for these materials goes beyond clothing. One day, the application of these fibers could include loose nets that monitor the flow of water in the ocean and large-area sonar imaging systems. Explains MIT, “a fabric woven from acoustic fibers would produce the equivalent of millions of tiny acoustic sensors.”

Another team at MIT is giving the gift of sight to smart fabrics. Led by Associate Professor Yoel Fink, this crew is working steadily towards the development of materials that can capture images. And while these materials pose a complete new challenge for privacy protection, at least soldiers can benefit. The seeing fabrics may someday give them the capability to see in all directions to identify threats. The light detecting fibers can act as a flexible camera and joined to a laptop that provides data to a small screen attached to a visor.

On a smaller scale, MIT researchers are developing sensor-studded women’s clothing that could report assaults on them and store the information on a computer. Inspired by stories of violence against women in foreign countries, Yoda Patta (a doctoral student in materials engineering) wanted to present more tools for a domestic violence victim to file attacks and to use that data to recognize escalating abuse. Not only would that (hopefully) prompt her to seek aid, but it would also supply a file of attacks to use in court against the attacker.

Nanofabrics have even been created for the runway. Cornell student Olivia Ong recently debuted “smart textiles” including a jacket and dress produced of nanofabrics. These items have been coated in nano-sized bits of metal and are resistant to dirt, allergens and even break down harmful pollution before reaching the wearer’s skin.

Imagine the possibilities for allergy sufferers and the cold & flu season if everyone could protect themselves with more than just pills and a shot!

While these aren’t the fabrics that grace Project Runway, the application of nanotechnology to textiles is opening an entire new door to truly fashion forward clothes.