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Smart Textiles and the Future of Sustainable Fashion

Smart textiles may be the catalyst for a more environmentally-friendly fashion industry.

According to panelists at a recent EcoSessions discussion in New York City, a mixture of greener innovation, wearable technology, collaborations with other industries and consumer conversations may help reduce the fashion industry’s carbon footprint.

“Sometimes when people think of smart textiles, they only think of electronic textiles,” Interwoven Design Group founder and panelist Rebeccah Pailes-Freidman said. “You have to think about the entire life cycle, close the loops and think about what textiles can do for designers.”

Smart textiles could be a greener solution for many aspects of the fashion industry, including outerwear. With designers, affiliates and consumers concerned about animal welfare, smart textiles could replace jackets that are typically created with animal-sourced materials. By using these digitally-enabled materials, the fashion industry could further its commitment to sustainability.

Modern Meadow chief creative officer and panelist Suzanne Lee spoke about how a smart textile would reduce the amount of animal-derived products in the fashion industry, foster environmentally-friendly collections and also provide transparency regarding garment materials.

“Looking at smart textiles, there is a perfect option to do something like a smaller label,” Lee said. “You will get to see that it is a genuine piece and there is an intellectuality that comes with that textile.”

Wearable technology is also gaining popularity as smart textiles become a highlighted conversation in the fashion industry. With wearable technology, consumers can achieve anything from a stable body climate to monitoring their heart rates. Although the development of these smart, breathable and cutting-edge textiles promises a shift away from the conventional and chemically-ridden fashion industry, there are challenges.

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“So many fibers say that they are sustainable and the process that it takes to get there is so unsustainable,” Pailes-Freidman said. “It’s just disheartening.”

Collaboration with other industries may be a potential solution to this dishonestly about smart textiles. Perhaps if designers worked with bio-engineers and artists, the fashion industry could develop potential solutions that would commit to the traceability and environmental integrity of smart textiles. Furthermore, if designers worked together with other professionals, the fashion industry could potentially combat nature’s unpredictable weather conditions with smart textiles.

“With climate change, one of the biggest problems is that we are going to have to solve is textiles that are going to be able to adapt to our ever-changing environment,” Pailes-Freidman noted.

As an individual who has worked with NASA, Pailes-Freidman discussed how a smart textile, perhaps one that is used for astronauts in space, can eventually be transformed into a very lightweight fabric that could protect future humans from extreme environments. The smart textile would be breathable and sustain body temperature in extremely cold or extremely hot weather.

As smart textiles continue to emerge in the fashion industry, it is also important for consumers to ignite change as well.

“A good looking fabric and a good had are very important, because that is what a consumer likes when they go to the store,” said Guisy Bettoni, chief executive of C.L.A.S.S. (Creativity Lifestyle and Sustainable Synergy). “There is the possibility of using new kinds of materials.”

With these intentions in mind, consumers also have the opportunity to inform themselves about smart textiles. Although many fashion educational institutions have reduced their textile science courses and smart textile resources are still evolving,  consumers can still express what they want in a product, whether it is environmental impact, supply chain transparency or functionality.

“Now more than ever, it’s so important for us to understand what our materials can do,” Pailes-Freidman said. “From a sustainability point of view, we need to know more not less.”