Beyond wearables

The future of fashion, technology and production.

Ever since humans started wrapping themselves in animal skins as protection against the elements, innovation has been part and parcel of the fashion industry.

Even seemingly small inventions have had significant impact on our daily lives and lifestyles – we take zips for granted now, but when they first caught on in the 1930s, they were a cause for celebration as they allowed the wearer to dress speedily and without the assistance that their predecessors (hooks, buttons, lacings and the like) had required.

Nearly a century later, innovations in what we wear continue to excite us – whether they appear in such bold form as the hyper-hued “techno induced” streetwear, created via 3D and digital printing, that makes up RMIT graduate Nixi Killick’s collections, or via the subtler shades that coloured fellow alumnus Toni Maticevski’s show-stopping AW 2013 range.

MATICEVSKI fashion photo of woman wearing orange coloured dress

Photographer: Justin Ridler
Stylist: Jolyon Mason

It was the Yarraville-based designer’s use of bonded neoprene, a fabric traditionally used for wetsuits and insulation, that got the style set talking. But neoprene is just a drop in the ocean in what has been a veritable wave (surfing puns intended) of technology-driven innovations infiltrating the fashion industry.

In the realms of avant-garde design, combining technology with non-traditional materials and techniques is nothing new. Internationally, designers such as Amsterdam’s Iris van Herpen draw on the latest that science has to offer and collaborate with other creatives, in van Herpen’s case resulting in collections with themes such as lucid dreaming and the study of cymatics, and designs executed in materials including injection-moulded fabrics, silicone-coated crystals and 3D printed elements. Fellow Amsterdam resident and Melbourne export Lucy McRae also blends art with science in her work as a “body architect”, creating pieces such as dresses made from fabric with electronically triggered light sources woven into it that transforms depending on the wearer’s temperature and mood.

Closer to home, menswear designer and RMIT alumnus Chris Ran Lin explores the potential of merino wool – a much more traditional fibre – but his manipulation of the coding on a knitting machine has allowed him to create variations in tension and weight to achieve unexpected volumes and forms in his garments.

Fashion photograph of two models wearing Chrin Ran Lin fashion pieces

Chris Ran Lin designs

While these pieces are impressive, many of them are not affordable for the average person, and not exactly practical for everyday dressing. But streetwear brands are exploring ways to work technology into comfortable, infinitely wearable designs too – Levi’s has teamed with Google to create a jacket with technology woven into its Project Jacquard fabric, allowing the wearer to wirelessly access their phone and mobile apps by simply tapping or swiping the jacket sleeve. And unlike a mobile phone or other electronic devices, contact with water won’t damage the jacket, as it is fully washable. It would seem fitting that just a tap on this item of clothing and other wearable technology in turn enables shopping or swapping of other clothing items.

In parallel with the innovations that are transforming the physical items that we wear, the way we purchase – and dispose of – fashion is also changing.

Online shopping is a given these days, but apps are constantly being launched to enhance our fashion experience and even our sense of community.

Shedd lets users sell their pre-loved pieces directly to other users by uploading photos and searchable hashtags, while if a new fashion item is proving elusive, The Hunt community might be able to help you find it based on photos posted – and cast their votes on which trends will suit you.

Going beyond trends, the Good On You app lists ethical ratings of hundreds of brands, allowing users to see how their favourite labels rank in areas such as animal protection and labour rights, and to leave positive feedback for those that who are doing the right thing – and constructive criticism for those that who can do better.

Innovation in fashion isn’t limited to electronic gadgetry, however. Some of the most surprising developments in the textile and garment industry are more to do with how we utilise natural resources – using raw milk unsuitable for consumption to create textile fibre, for example, or incorporating seaweed into cellulose fibre for a fabric that may retain the beneficial trace elements of the marine plant. But the ultimate low-tech, high-innovation fabric may already be in our kitchens. Kombucha (fermented tea) can be used to “grow” a textile-like skin which can be used similarly to leather. While its tendency to disintegrate on contact with water is a problem its proponents are still working on, this humble bacteria may just be the next innovation to change the future of fashion.

Grow-your-own clothes? We’ll drink to that.

Article by @Leeyong_Soo

Header image: Pillow Pro. Wearing ‘PHT Furry’ halter tops by Wendy Ma. Photography / Direction: Sophie Banh + Lucy Fry.