Different Types of Smart Fabrics | Leaders in Smart Textile Industry

With the changing times, fashion has adapted in ways that can be difficult to imagine from what it was before. Technology has played a significant role in this journey, and as years pass by, we are seeing more and more technology integration in the fashion industry. One such instance is the growth in the application of smart textiles.

Let’s explore different types of smart textiles and further know the leaders in the smart textile industry that make it possible to take smart fabrics into a new dimension.

What are smart fabrics and textiles?

The word ‘smart’ has been in use as a suffix to describe products that have been revolutionised, re-invented, or updated with some sort of technology and this has been the same for fabric as well.

Over the past few decades, we have seen a growth in demand for fabric/materials that can perform beyond what regular fabric could ever achieve. This led to the development of smart fabrics also known as e-textiles, from regular textiles which have been upgraded with various technologies and technical processes to provide additional functionalities far beyond what traditional fabrics can offer. 

These abilities include responding to external stimuli, monitoring and recognition of data, electrical conductivity, communication, interactive capabilities etc. Solar-powered clothing, Color-changing fabrics and LED-embedded gowns are example of some smart fabrics.

Different types of smart textiles

If we look at the options in smart textiles that are available or possible, we can categorise them into three categories. These categories are divided based on the ability of the textile to sense, respond and adapt to any external stimuli

1. Passive smart textiles: 

This is the first generation of smart textiles, where limited technology only allows textiles to sense external conditions but not respond or adapt to them. An example of this will be a textile capable of detecting changes in temperature or pressure, displaying the wearer’s heart rate etc but without the ability to act on the data.

2. Active smart fabrics: 

These are better than the above considering that they can react to the surroundings. They are also able to change properties on detecting stimuli such as changing colour, changing temperature etc. Another example would be the presence of interactive systems like sound or vibration to inform on changes in certain conditions.

3. Ultra smart textile: 

From a technological standpoint, these are the most advanced textiles and materials that can monitor, react to collected data and adapt their function autonomously. With advanced computing capabilities, they can manage complex interactions and provide dynamic responses. Though this level of technology is yet to be fully achieved, there are some examples of garments which can monitor muscle activity during various activities, process the data internally and inform the wearer of optimal movements through various haptic feedback.

While the above defines what can be called a smart textile, in reality, we have only scratched the surface of what a smart textile can perform. This is mainly because there are still many technical complications that need to be resolved to make it more affordable and accessible.

As of now, these smart textiles are mostly in the category of Passive and Active, with fabrics performing relatively single tasks, physiological monitoring, waterproofing, moisture permeability, temperature control etc. While the development of a fabric/material with multiple such physical characteristics is still a long way off, other issues such as washability, foldability, wearing comfort, styleable still remain.

Also read: Difference Between Smart Textile and Technical Textiles

Industry leaders in smart textile development

Despite all these challenges, several industry leaders are working on smart textiles to improve our lifestyle and make these technologies more accessible. Here are some companies that lead the smart textiles development.

The Unseen has developed an ink that transforms textile surfaces, such as leather, into a chameleon, changing its colours with the change in climate, air pressure, and similar stimuli.

Wearable X has come up with interactive smart yoga pants embedded with sensors that provide feedback through vibrations for better positioning during exercise. Most importantly these are washable and the sensors are placed such that there is no compromise to the comfort.

Smart textiles
Image source: https://www.wearablex.com/

Interwoven is a US-based company with a strong interest in smart textiles and technical wearables, offering products such as exoskeleton suits, strength training gloves, etc. 

Smart clothing
Perci Emergency Preparedness Vest by Interwoven. (Image source: Interwoven)

Loomia is a tech company specializing in soft, flexible circuit technology designed to integrate easily with textiles. They have developed heating pads, pressure sensors, LED lighting, etc. that can be seamlessly integrated into textiles. Loomia has also partnered up with Analog Devices to create a T-shirt that tracks physical movements through sensors, is machine washable and even charges wirelessly.

Smart textile
Image source: https://www.loomia.com/

Herculite is a manufacturer of PVC composite textiles that enhances the physical properties of textiles for specific use case scenarios. Their product range from performance fabrics to healthcare fabrics, and outdoor textiles.

Athos is an athletic clothing company with expertise in the design and development of smart clothing, specifically focused on fitness apparel. These provide athletes with muscle activity-based feedback.

Hexoskin is a Montreal-based company that has developed technology to integrate sensors for monitoring blood pressure, skin temperature, blood oxygen levels, etc., to assess mental and physical performances, stress, altitude effect, sleep research etc. These sensor embedded garments are available for purchase. 

Companies such as Gentherm and Heiq are working on temperature management technology which on integration with textiles can be used outdoors, medical hospitability etc.

Other honourable mentions in smart fabrics innovation and application include Apex Mills, Gore-Tex, Quad Industries, among others.

These are just a few companies pioneering the development of smart textiles, to a level where we can seamlessly interact with our garments without any sacrifice. While there is still much to achieve we surely are moving in the right direction. Links to these companies provide more detailed information about the various innovations in smart textiles. You can explore more by connecting to these websites and their resources.

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Soumyadeep Saha

Soumyadeep Saha holds a Master's Degree in Fashion Technology from NIFT, New Delhi. He is also a graduate in apparel production. His area of interest includes Quality Assurance and technology implementations in Apparel Production.

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