A revolution is afoot in the textile and fashion industries and advances in technology are the catalyst for change. What will this mean for the future of apparel and business? Perhaps a robot will custom design your pants from your bedroom and have them ready for your by the time you get out of the shower? Maybe you’ll access directions from the cuff of your jean jacket. With the evolution of sewing robots, wearable technology and 3-D printing, change is inevitable.
Before companies like Sewbo and SoftWear Automation developed their technolgies, it was difficult for robots to work with apparel fabric because of its soft which makes it more difficult to manipulate. To overcome this challenge, Sewbo found a way to temporarily stiffen the fabric with a water-soluble stiffener so that robots can work with the fabric like they would a piece of more dense material like metal. According to Sewbo, the stiffener is rinsed off at the end of the manufacturing process, leaving a soft, fully assembled garment. Sewbo’s vision is to allow manufacturers to create clothing at lower costs and in less time.
Similarly, SoftWear Automation is using the automation of sewing fabric to create smaller, more specific clothing items with more precise details. According to an Industry Week interview with SoftWear’s CEO, this company tracks fabric at the thread level using computer vision technology. By tracking the threads, they always know where the needle is in relation to a specific thread intersection. This way the system can detect when the fabric wrinkles in order to straighten it out and make adjustments.
You may think of Apple Watch and other gadgets when you hear the term ‘wearables’ but that’s about to change. Companies are now weaving technology into clothing fabric. Take Levi’s Commuter x Jacquard by Google Trucker Jacket for example. This piece of wearable tech—launching spring 2017—weaves conductive yarn into the left cuff of the jean jacket. Cyclists—the intended users—can control their mobile experience and other services, like music or maps, directly from the jacket’s touch interactivity. The digital connectivity is provided through a smart tag, and apart from this detachable tag, the whole interactive garment is washable and durable like the regular denim we all know and love.
Ralph Lauren was one of the first major brands to launch wearable-tech clothing with the introduction of its PoloTech shirt. The compression shirt contains cutting-edge silver fibers that track stats—like calories burned and steps taken—and stream them directly to your iPhone, iWatch or iPod Touch. This shirt uses a black box attached to the rib cage area of the shirt to send the intel to your devices via bluetooth.
Perhaps further down the road for the masses is the practice of 3-D printing to create custom clothing right from your own home. While 3-D printing for clothing is still primarily used for exclusive coutre, several companies are using this technology to create footwear, jewelry and other accessories.
According to the NY Times, companies like Feetz, are taking these new technologies to change the way goods are ordered, made and sold. The San Diego based start-up uses customer photos —taken on smartphones and sent via app—to create 3-D models for customized shoes. Some consider this type of customization to be the future of fashion rather than mass-produced, off-the rack clothing. Time will tell.
Would you consider using these new technologies in your own business or personal life? Share your thoughts with us.