The idea of combining fashion with high technology has been around for more than 30 years for sure.
Remember Marty McFly from the second sequel of Back to the Future trilogy? He flew to the year 2015 dressed up the way it was believed teenagers would be dressed in the future: He wore a jacket that self-adjusted to the size of its owner and those cool Nike shoes that laced themselves. His jacket could also speak and, when he fell into the water, it dried itself. When imagining the life in 2015, the kids growing up in the ‘90s saw themselves on hoverboards and in flying cars.
It’s late 2019 now, and none of these inventions has truly come to life. Nike did try to introduce power-lacing Nike Mags in 2016, calling them HyperAdapt 1.0. However, at a price of USD720, they are far from affordable for most people. So is there a future in combining fashion and technology? Can we integrate our high-tech gadgets into clothing and still make it comfortable to wear? Is this integration going to improve our lives, or just annoy us with constant updates, battery fillings and other bugs?
The best way to predict the future is to take a look into the past, just like Back to the Future suggests.
When we go further into the past, the examples of fashion following technology can be traced way back to the 1860s, when Levi Strauss invented blue jeans. The first “blue jeans” – as they were called – were made of the indigo-painted canvas he had brought with him for making tents. Later on, copper rivets were added to reinforce the points of stress in strategic places such as on the pocket corners. The first company that manufactured Levi’s jeans was founded in Kansas, US, in 1889. Using a new technology, the company changed the face of the fashion forever. Moreover, we can safely say blue jeans helped improve gender equality because women working on farms started wearing them in the 1930s. Fashion changed from decade to decade, but jeans always persisted, just changing their shape or style.
If you ask an average person what did the military research bring in terms of technology, most people would say gunpowder, Teflon (discovered as part of the space research) or GPS. However, in 1937, while testing the viability of the first man-made fiber developed entirely in a laboratory, nylon female stockings were made. They made their way to the shops in 1940, and the demand was so high that four million pairs were sold in just four days. “When you want to develop a new fiber for fabrics you need thousands of pounds,” said Crawford Greenewalt, a research supervisor during nylon development who later became company president and CEO. “All we needed to make was a few grams at a time, enough to knit one stocking.” During the WW2 nylon was diverted to making parachutes which were previously made of silk. Stockings became so popular that, in 1945, more than 40,000 people queued to get their hands on a pair of stockings. Chemistry combined with fashion transformed our world back then just like high technology and fashion are transforming it today.
After the WW2, mass fashion replaced haute couture.
Although sewing machine didn’t change much, in the 1950s textile factories were founded with female workers working in shifts to produce enough clothes to satisfy the masses. Dresses celebrated the women’s hourglass figure. Men’s fashion was still a bit stiff, but that was about to change in the ‘60s.
The 1960s were probably one of the most exciting decades in human history. Television entered homes faster than before, Martin Luther King appeared on the political scene, the Kennedys dictated the fashion trends and an Apollo mission landed on the Moon. As this was probably the most important moment in human history, it is only natural that it also left its impact in fashion. The space-age clothes were designed – they were made out of different materials such as metal or plastic discs linked together with wires or strings. Metallic and neon colors were trending, and the appearance of Andy Warhol brought a lot of ideas to life. He used optical illusions on clothes that looked like they were “brought to life”.
Finally, the ‘70s arrived and we can seriously talk technology – LCD screen was invented, microprocessor, VCR, the first video game Pong, Ethernet, laser printer, ink jet printer and cellphones. The 1970s were also a time of momentous change in fashion, not only in the look of clothes but also in the way they were designed, made, distributed, and used. Colors and patterns were all around, and hippie movement was at its peak. Nowadays retro fashion takes inspiration from the technology of ‘70s and ‘80s, with Pong and Pac-Man (released in May 1980) as a theme… Finally, the gadget fashion era – the ‘80s and ‘90s!
“Now this is a story all about how
My life got flipped – turned upside down
And I’d like to take a minute
Just sit right there
I’ll tell you how I became the prince of a town called Bel-Air
…I put my Walkman on and said, “I might as well kick it.”
Now this is a story all about how fashion got flipped – turned upside down. It’s not about jeans, jackets, shirts or skirts anymore – it’s all about gadgets. And since it’s the ‘80s and ‘90s we are talking about, these gadgets are huge. Carrying a BoomBox around was what every respected fan of the hip hop music did, and The Beastie Boys and The Clash made this trend mainstream.
Sony had the opposite idea of the BoomBox when promoting Walkman – it was to make music special and private for the listener. Sony was probably the first brand to use what we call today influencers to promote their products. They sent 100 Walkmans to popular editors and musicians. After that they started the “There’s a revolution in the streets” campaign which did not just sell the product – it sold a lifestyle. In the early 2000s, Apple used the same approach when introducing the iPod, and took over the market from Sony. Of course, there were also cellphones, Nintendo, digital watches…
Walkman campaign and influencers: Since the Walkman was a little too big to fit in a pocket, it was carried outside jeans. This was a big drawback, but with the help of advertising and pop culture, this problem quickly became a benefit of ownership. The Walkman was now like a badge that showed off your wealth and technological prowess.
One of the things that fashion and technology have in common is that they constantly improve.
Besides, fashion tends to move in circles and some long forgotten trend might soon come back to life again. In the past, new technologies determined fashion trends, but now it is fashion that popularizes new technologies. That being said, fashion can also bring old technology back to life, or at least use its looks on new, improved gadgets or clothes. The example is the above mentioned Pong/Pac-Man shirt, or an iPhone 6 case that looks like old Nokia 3310.
More than ever, fashion trends are dictated by the online community (web sites like 9gag, College Humor, BuzzFeed, Pinterest, Dudepins, Unilad, Lad Bible) and by influencers on Instagram and other social networks. Today, these tools and platforms, along with technology, influence and shape purchase decisions. Fashion is not dictated exclusively by fashion weeks or well-known celebrities anymore. Thanks to the social networks, every girl/boy next door can become a trend-setter. But the biggest change is that technology is now incorporated into fashion and is transformative; this new direction is called Fashion Tech.
Gadgets are not separate items anymore; instead they share the function with our clothing, bags, shoes, wallets…
The clothes do not hold our devices – they embody them instead. The approach to making these products is called product design – it is a process that focuses on figuring out what is required, brainstorming possible ideas, creating mock prototypes, and then generating the product. Today, a smart watch communicates with a smart phone, measures heartbeats, knows your location, counts steps and speed. Scarf is not only there to cover your neck when it’s cold outside, it can also serve as an inflatable helmet that can save your life in an accident. Shoes are not only made for walking, but will also collect kinetic energy and charge batteries in the future. A dress can be 3D printed or alive, showing live tweets or light to the beat of a song. Ring can now be used to unlock doors, share links on social networks, unlock phones, share pictures…
Now that our whole lives are connected, safety is a growing issue. Fashion Tech has already addressed this issue with Baggizmo Wiseward smart wallet that communicates with the smartphone by using Bluetooth 2; traceable at any time, it detects movements, charges wirelessly and has a blue UV light for detecting counterfeit banknotes. This is an example of a gadget that is already affordable for most people and that even saves your investment due to the fact that it’s theft-proof.
So what is happening right now and what is soon to come?
Adidas is trying to be the first one to grasp the 3D printing technology in order to customize shoes for its customers. The jacket mentioned in Back to the Future is soon-to-be made. Google and Levi’s joined forces on creating the smart jacket that monitors the functioning of the whole body and is waterproof. The ongoing research has yet to show how fashion will combine with bioengineering. Tech companies are incessantly on the verge of a major breakthrough in fashion, and it’s only a matter of time when these new products will become both useful and accessible to everyone.
Matt Hermes, a former chemist for DuPont who worked with some of the early developers of synthetics and wrote a biography on nylon’s inventor Wallace Caruthers, said in 1941.: „All around us are the products of modern chemistry, window shades, draperies, upholstery and furniture, all are made of, or covered with, something that came from a test-tube… in this new world of industrial chemistry, the horizon is unlimited“. In the years to come, this sentence should read: in this new world of high technology, the horizon is unlimited.