Fashion Tech Research In 2018 – Academia, Where You At Baby?

Eamon Kunze

Fashion Tech Research In 2018 – Nanoengineered functional textiles are revolutionising the clothes we wear. The adoption of nanotechnology in the development of new materials in the textile industry has become significant. Research shows that on the one hand, ‘functional value’ is added by the application of nanotech characteristics to existing production lines.

On the other hand, the production of next-gen textiles with new properties will allow not only for new shapes and designs but also for ‘apparel to the environment’ and ‘apparel to machine’ interactions.

While not much publicised and talked about, academia is at the forefront of these innovations. The first generation of nano-enhanced textiles benefitted from nano finishing.

Coating the surface of textiles and clothing with nanoparticles is an approach to the production of highly active surfaces to have UV-blocking, antimicrobial, antistatic, flame retardant, water and oil repellent, wrinkle-resistant and self-cleaning properties.

The Problems Fashion Tech Research Facing

But researchers are struggling with one stubborn hurdle that prevents nanomaterial-enhanced textiles from becoming more of commercial reality. The insufficient durability of nanocoatings on textile fibres or the stability of various properties endowed by nanoparticles makes the ‘smart’ come off during washing.

Also, while antimicrobial properties are exerted by nano-silver, UV blocking, self-cleaning and flame-retardant properties are imparted by nano-metal oxide coatings.

Zinc oxide nanoparticles embedded in polymer matrices like soluble starch are a good example of functional nanostructures with potential for applications such as UV-protection ability in textiles and sunscreens, and antibacterial finishes in medical textiles and inner wears.

What’s Coming Next

A published review paper in the 2016 online edition of ACS Nano (Nanotechnology in Textiles) discusses electronic and photonic nanotechnologies integrated with textiles and shows their applications in displays, sensing, and drug release within the context of performance, durability, and connectivity.

In these smart garments, the textile structures perform electronic or electric functions. The nanoelectronic components will be fused with the textile material, resulting in that, textile and non-textile components cannot be differentiated and ‘foreign particles’ can no longer be seen or felt.

Another new generation of smart textiles is the energy-scavenging fabrics that lead to wearable ‘smart’ clothes that can power integrated electronics and sensors through ordinary body movements and interwoven solar cells that turn T-shirts into power textiles.

Future Fashion Tech Research

Then we have the ongoing research in wearable textile batteries that can be recharged by sunlight, nanoelectronics at the tip of a gloved finger, graphene yarns that facilitate energy storage textiles and graphene-coated ‘e-textile’ that detect noxious gases.

Researchers are also making progress in the electrical conductivity of conducting polymers and graphene, as potential power sources for e-textiles such as lightweight fabric carbon nanotube supercapacitor electrodes, stretchable graphene and PPy-based supercapacitors, triboelectric nanogenerators and stretchable PPy-based supercapacitors.

The goal is to add smart sensors and other digital components to these e-textiles for a new area of functional clothing. OLEDs in fibre form could lead to revolutionary applications by integrating optical and optoelectronic devices into fashion clothes.

Combined with nanoelectronic devices, flexible optical sensors and display screens can be woven into shirts and other garments allowing us to wear the next-generation of smartphones ‘on the sleeve.’

Photonic Materials

Research in photonic materials and devices including films, nano-additives, or optical fibres led to their adoption in the fabrication of textiles and garments with the aim of enhancing both, the aesthetic and also endow the garments with additional functionalities.

With the integration of optical technologies into garments, future clothes will glow in the dark or change colour at the push of a button, in response to ambient heat or illumination, warning the wearer about airborne pollutants or pollen.

The recent research in the sensing principle of a plasmonic fibre sensor investigates the implementation of complex, autonomous multifunction sensing and actuating systems also called multifunctional labs.

The lab is integrated into a single optical fibre and able to exchange information, combining sensorial data, provide effective auto-diagnostic features as well as new photonic and electro-optic functionalities.

Medical Fashion?

Temperature, GPS, humidity, and pressure sensors have been already incorporated in smart textiles and now researchers are looking at microfluidics that can be incorporated in thread-based channels for application in point-of-care diagnostics.

Combined with LEDs, these textiles can give visual sensing information. Combined with drug-loaded nanoparticles, textile fibres could provide programmable release of therapeutic drugs.

To conclude, academia is not sleeping but working hard on the next fashion revolution; in textiles as well as in consumer behaviour, and commercial trends for a ‘smart fashion’ market.

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