Technology fashion uses advances in science and technology to design and produce fashion products. Methods used in Technology fashion borrow from technologies developed in the fields of chemistry, computer science, aerospace engineering, automotive engineering, architecture, industrial textiles, and competitive athletic wear. Fashion projects an image of rapid change and forward thinking-a good environment for use of the latest technologies in production methods and materials. As technology becomes more integrated with one’s everyday life, its influence on the fashion one wears continues to increase.
Historic technological innovations such as the development of the sewing machine, the zipper, and synthetic fibers have influenced how garments are made, how they look, and how they perform. Elsa Schiaparelli was a noted designer of the 1930s and 1940s who had an eagerness to experiment with synthetic fibers. She introduced the first zipper to Paris couture. World events delayed advancements in techno fashions until the race for space began to influence designers in the 1960s. André Courrèges’s use of bonded jersey, Paco Rabanne’s experimentation with metal-linked garments, and Pierre Cardin’s pioneering vacuum-formed fabrics began to push the boundaries of fashion through experimentation with technology and innovative materials. Plastics, foam-laminated fabrics, metallic-coated fabrics, and a sleek fashion silhouette launched fashion into a new realm.
Technological advances continue to influence fashion with new developments in materials, garment structuring and sizing, methods of production, and the quest for fashion that reflects the look and lifestyle of the future.
Techno materials include fibers, textiles, and textile finishes engineered for a specific function or appearance. The U.K. designer Sophia Lewis believes that “the greatest potential for the future lies in experimental fashion using advanced synthetics to promote new aesthetics and methods of garment construction” (Braddock and O’Mahony, 1999, p. 80). While most synthetics of the twentieth century were developed to mimic natural fibers, the new synthetics are engineered to be strong and durable even when lightweight, transparent, or elastic. Blending natural fibers with synthetics in new ways to produce “techno-naturals” is adding to the aesthetic and performance advantages of textiles.
Recent fiber developments include microfibers, fibers regenerated from corn and milk proteins, metallics, and fiber optics. Microfibers can be produced at a thickness less than that of a silk filament to create fabrics that are soft and fluid with great strength and capabilities of performing under extreme environmental conditions. New processes and experimentation have lead to ecofriendly fibers made from renewable resources such as corn and soybeans. Another eco-friendly advancement is the genetic development of naturally colored cotton, eliminating the need to use caustic dyes. Shape memory alloys (SMAs) made of nickel and titanium can be produced in wire or sheet form to be incorporated into fabrics that retain memory of their original shape.
While traditional fabrication methods of weaving and knitting remain, new fabric technologies are emerging. Knits are being fashioned to form seamless garments that are shaped to fit any figure. Nonwovens are inexpensive to produce and are adaptable to multiple ends uses. Experimentation with a variety of finishing techniques for nonwovens has introduced a new aesthetic option for designers such as Hussein Chalayan, who fashioned dresses of Tyvek nonwoven fabrics. Foams give options for developing sculptural shapes for the body as well as providing insulation. Synthetic rubber allows garments to fit close to the body with freedom of movement in many applications, from wet suits to evening gowns.
The last quarter of the twentieth century saw rapid development of computer technology. Computer-aided design and computer-aided manufacturing (CAD/CAM) dramatically changed the process of designing and manufacturing garments by reducing many labor-intensive processes, increasing speed and accuracy, and lowering costs. Garments can be developed with CAD from sketch to pattern and cutting, either locally or globally, in a fraction of the time it took.
Designers research trend and development information, communicate with clients and suppliers and sell and market designs in a wireless Internet environment where yesterday is too late. Fashion news is available hours after an event occurs, and the Internet has even replaced some live fashion events. Walter Van Beirendonck, Helmut Lang, and Victoria’s Secret have used Internet methods of showing designs. This rapid flow of information, and interest in individuality, and the technology to support rapid production have led to the development of mass customization.
Fashions for New Lifestyles
Sports and active lifestyles have influenced fashions of the early 2000s. Apparel technologies developed for competitive sports are incorporated into fashions for everyone. Research and innovative thinking have advanced sportswear with attention to both performance and aesthetics. Garments that maintain body temperature, cool the body, and improve performance are researched and engineered with a new aesthetic that has moved the garments out of the gym and into everyday life.
Current fashion is making accommodations for the consumer’s changing electronic lifestyle, including garments with pockets for cell phones, jackets with connections for electronic music players, and stylish bags to tote laptops. Researchers are developing “intelligent” fashions incorporating wearable computers, communication systems, global positioning systems, and body sensors. Systems may have the capability to allow the wearer to surf the Internet, make phone calls, monitor vital signs, and administer medication. While much research remains to be done, initial exploration has begun at MIT’s Media Lab, Starlab, Charmed Technology, and International Fashion Machines. The goal of these groups is to develop prototypes of wearable electronics and to explore the synergy required between computer science, fashion, health care, and defense to produce marketable, user-friendly products. Advances and innovative thinking in the production of apparel and communication platforms and networks will be required to move these concepts forward.