Something Completely Visionary: Fashion, Tech, Innovation, Part 3

Armed with our initial vision of a base garment that could essentially play videos on its surface, let’s explore some of the challenges that need to be addressed before this could become reality.

Last time we talked about some of the properties needed by a material used for a base garment.  This time, let’s look at issues of comfort.

Comfort can be a very subjective term, because different cultures have different expectations of ‘comfort’ in their garments based on their societal expectations of behavior, the climate in which they are based, and the materials which are readily available and part of their cultural meme. What a culture based in the equator might regard as comfortable would not be regarded as comfortable by a culture based near the Arctic Circle.  And while this is of course an extreme example, it serves to highlight why comfort can be so challenging to define.

Nevertheless, for our purposes, comfort needs to be defined as ‘keeping the wearer comfortable in whatever climate they are in according to their societal memes.’

Most garments are made of woven textiles.  A woven textile is made of multiple threads, which cross each other at a 90 degree angle, and which are more or less tightly ‘packed’ together to form the weave. No matter how tight the weave may be, however, there are always small spaces or holes left between the crossing threads.  Even threads that to the naked eye seem to compactly touch one another are not actually completely meshed together.  These tiny holes allow air to enter the garment, and perspiration and heat to leave the garment.

Used with Attribution from Wikipedia

Warp and weft in plain weaving, from Wikiepeda, the free encyclopedia

The degree to which the fibers of the threads interconnect, the size of the thread, and of course, the spacing of the threads in the weave will all have an impact not only on the comfort of a garment, but also on its durability.

Even those materials which are not made of woven threads have small interstitial air holes or pockets, which enable garments made from these materials to ‘breathe’.  This concept of breathing is critical for comfort: in both warm and cold climates, materials that don’t breathe lock perspiration inside the garment, which eventually leads to discomfort from overheating.  In very cold climates, the inability of a textile to breathe, or vent water vapor, leads to clamminess and eventually to the wearer experiencing cold.

Any material used for a base garment would need to have the ability to breathe, regardless of whether or not it was a woven or a nonwoven.  The glass substrate might be able to have some sort of micropores (tiny holes for breathing) incorporated into it, which would help create a more comfortable material to be worn.

This question of comfort also arises in the make and manufacture of the actual garment, which we will address next time.

On Trend: 2011 and beyond

Pantone has declared ‘Honeysuckle’ to be the 2011 Color of the Year. Ignoring all of the obvious like is there a beauty pageant where the candidate colors need to perform in the talent competition, the burning question we have is who decided that a hot pink is going to be called ‘Honeysuckle’?  Honeysuckle, where we grew up, is a soft cream to yellow, with occasionally a warm blush in the throat of the flower.  It in no way resembles the screaming hot pink that is being called ‘Honeysuckle’ by Pantone.

Not that we have anything against hot pink (or Honeysuckle) – after all, Mattel’s Barbie doll would have a greatly diminished wardrobe without it – but we find ourselves more interested in hunter green these days.  Rich, luxuriant, the color of growth and the color of money, we see hunter green as being an important color in coming years (although it’s obviously not going to be the trend color for 2011).

We also like foxes. OK, enough with the owls.  The owls had their 3D movie (Guardians) and now we can move on to more interesting trendy animals, like foxes.  That’s right – we think foxes will be the new meme, replacing owls as ‘the’ trend.  Watch for fox prints and lifestyle products of all sorts in the next couple of years.  We’ll know foxes have crested when they too get their own 3D movie.

And the whole equestrian lifestyle is interesting to us.  Possibly it is because we don’t have to drag ourselves out into the cold and muck out a horse stall at 5 am while a large quadruped is doing its best to maul us in search of snacks.  It’s amazing how having a horse step on your foot can really put you off your stride and think bleak thoughts about stall-bound trend setters.

We also like the direction fashion technology is taking, although we do have to admit to a lot of WTF moments every time we hear someone has Bluetooth-enabled a ski glove. No, this isn’t hot design, it’s fatuous.  Who in their right mind puts technology on the part of the body most like to slam into the ground at speed? The only thing less well thought out would be putting it on a ski boot.  Bluetooth can’t be compared to Timex, which could take a licking and keep on ticking.

Despite Haro’s Peter Shankman raving about the Scott E-vest and its popularity with the geek set, it’s still not really fashionable even if it is functional.  What we’d really like to see is wearable technology applied in a way that makes sense and actually enhances the fashion it is applied to.  Right now, what we’re seeing is a lot of gimmicky stuff that can’t be easily manufactured, it’s ugly, and there doesn’t seem to be any real point to it.  It appeases the tech set, though, so despite the ‘Fugly Factor’, we guess we’ll keep seeing this sort of thing.

Perhaps the most functional thing we’ve seen in fashion tech has been a hoodie with iPod cabling built in.  Plug your iPod into the outlet in the pocket, attach your earbuds to the wires in the hood, and away you go.  We wouldn’t be caught dead in a hoodie, but they are a major fashion statement amongst the iPod set.

One of the critical things prohibiting wider spread use of emerging technologies in apparel is the issue of power supply.  It’s a bit difficult to apply some particularly witty bit of technology to make a fashion statement when the frock or chapeau has to be plugged into a wall for power.  Fashion is still meant to be worn and seen, and it’s a bit tough to do that when you have to linger near a power outlet.  Changes in battery options, such as the further productization of thin-film batteries, will help fashion get past this need we have to not be tethered to a wall for juice.

So to recap emerging trends for 2011: green foxes wearing iPod-enabled hoodies emblazoned with equestrian prints.  You heard it here first.

Rumen Leather: Ick! vs. Fabulous!

Last week one of our trend publications featured a product called rumen leather that we posted about because it was just so ickily cool.

In the past week, we’ve had scores of email messages and conversations about this product, which isn’t one of ours, FYI.   What is curious is the very clear divide between consumer and maker messages.

Uniformly the consumer messages fell unequivocally into the ‘disgusting/gross/OMG you can’t really mean you’d use that’ camp.  The maker messages, on the other hand, wanted to know how much it cost, what the hand was like, it’s availability, how it would wear…in short, all of the questions a designer would ask before trying to specify it as a component in a product.

What was interesting to us about this body of correspondence, and the divide between vile/disgusting and let’s-use-it, is that this is the same historical chasm between creator and consumer that divides us in our understanding.  To a creator, anything can be fodder for a creative endeavor, even something like raw meat to make a dress for Lady Gaga (ok, going open kimono, we thought that was disgusting…cool but disgusting).

A consumer who is accustomed to buying their carefully pressed and folded T-shirt off the rack doesn’t see the T-shirt as its component parts of a pile of cotton fibers and some dye, nor do they necessarily see the T-shirt itself as being a possible future component that could be distressed and upcycled into something new and (one hopes) more interesting.

It is this dichotomy that lead to the Ick! vs. Fabulous! division in the communications about the rumen leather.

Makers tend to know their components come from somewhere – cotton fibers from cotton plants; leather from the skins of animals – and the origins concern us less than the supply chain questions (where do you get it, is it available, how much).  Consumers largely do not know or care about the supply chain considerations and tend to be pretty insulated from the actual ingredients list in their products.

Sure, we can read the labels, but we’re betting that if rumen leather were actually used it would be listed as ‘cow leather’, not as ‘cow stomach leather’.

We’re also willing to bet that if a designer used rumen leather in some fabulous thing like a handbag, and she slapped a pretty name on the specialty leather (velvet leather, maybe) that far from being icky, rumen leather would in fact be trendy and highly coveted and sought after. And we would so want that bag, albeit for different reasons.