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Fashion forward: how technology will change the clothes we wear

When Marty McFly and ‘Doc’ Brown time-travelled from 1985 to 2015 in the cult film classic Back to the Future: Part II, they found themselves smack-bang in a world of futuristic fashion.

Self-lacing sneakers (later unveiled by Nike in real life), auto-adjusting jackets, robo backpacks, smart glasses and the impressive, office-appropriate, double tie. Not to mention the most fashionable mode of transport going around – the hoverboard.

Sadly, many of the film’s predictions didn’t eventuate – we’re particularly disappointed about the flying hoverboards.

Rather than sharp dressers wearing two ties simultaneously, in real life neckties have almost disappeared. Meanwhile the closest thing to Back to the Future’s flashy smart glasses – Google Glass – was ditched under widespread criticism and reinvented for business use only.

However, there’s no denying that technology will continue to transform not only the way in which we buy our clothes, but the type of garments we buy.

How technology has already changed fashion

Major innovations along the path of fashion, such as the development of the modern metal zipper in the early 1900s, the first bikinis of the 1940s and the invention of Lycra in the late 1950s, dramatically changed fashion.

But the arrival of the internet, and the ubiquitousness of smartphones, has led to arguably the biggest shake-up of the industry yet.

These days fast fashion – ordered via the touch of a button – rules the roost. Clothing trends make it from the runway to your wardrobe quicker than ever, and are arguably discarded to landfill just as rapidly.

Undies that hardly need to be washed

While technology has sped up the pace of the fashion industry and forced many physical stores to close, it has also allowed inventors to bring new innovations to market.

Earlier this year, Danish fashion label Organic Basics launched a Kickstarter campaign to bring ‘the world’s most advanced underwear’ to life.

The NASA-inspired underwear used anti-microbial silver to kill bacteria, fungi and other microbes and apparently can go for weeks at a time without being washed. We’ll take their word for it.

Charging your phone via your shirt pocket

Meanwhile, at Deakin’s Institute for Frontier Materials, the race is on to invent new, innovative materials that are both affordable and sustainable.

The team is working to develop clothing fibres that are capable of storing energy. That means if you pop your phone in your shirt pocket, for example, you’ll be able to charge your phone or other small devices on the go.

The fibres are made up of an energy-storing material called MXene, combined with a small amount of ‘spinnable’ graphene.

Dr Shayan Seyedin, who is co-leading the project, says: ‘the potential impact of this breakthrough is enormous… it can result in wearable energy storing textiles… you can have energy with you all the time.’

Last year, Levi’s and Google also set a new benchmark in denim wear when they created a denim jacket, the Commuter Trucker, designed to allow cyclists to fiddle with their phones just by brushing their sleeve.

three pairs of blue jeans

Reducing waste and the environmental effects of clothing

Deakin researchers, working with textile innovation company HeiQ, have also had another couple of wins, developing:

  • a range of ‘no fuzz’ textile treatments that reduce unsightly pilling and keep clothes looking and feeling newer for longer
  • a synthetic silk that looks and feels just like the real thing.

In April 2017, the Institute for Frontier Materials was recognised globally for its work in reducing the huge environmental effects of denim production.

Each year, more than 450 million pairs of jeans are sold globally, with the average life cycle of just one pair producing more than 30kg of C02 and using around 3500 litres of water.

In Holland, entrepreneur Bert van Son is kicking goals with his radical business model – jeans that can be leased then sent back for recycling or resale. Customers pay a monthly fee to lease their eco-friendly, organic cotton jeans for a year or so – then choose to keep them or switch them for a new pair. Once the jeans reach the end of their useful life, Mud Jeans sends them to a factory in Italy, where the jeans are shredded and the raw materials used to create new jeans.

Looking into fashion’s crystal ball

So what does the future for fashion really hold? A recent study from UK-based Juniper Research predicts consumers will start to shift away from wrist-based devices such as smart watches and fitness trackers, and become gung-ho about connected clothing.

That’s if we’re not all sitting at home on our laptops (or the device of the future) sharing 3D designs and printing out our own garments.

Will fashion become even faster, as the likes of Amazon bed down in Australia? Or will it slow down and become more circular as customers become more interested in sustainability?

Only time, or perhaps another reboot of Back to the Future, will tell.

Curious about how technology will impact your future? Read about some surprising jobs robots will do to change our lives.

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