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High-Tech Activewear Drives Demand for Smart Conductive Textiles

At some point in the future, it might be quaint to think back to a time when clothing wasn’t connected—it just hung there on your body, looking pretty.

In the age of data and digital, apparel is getting a piece of the high-tech action, led by consumer demand for both up-to-the-minute information on their fitness stats and a wearing experience personalized down to the individual.

Whereas the very early days of smart clothing saw brands putting wires into garment to make them “connected,” today innovators look to conductive textiles to offer the benefits of digital with the convenience of easy care and washability. Uniforms and mockups for the armed forces now resemble futuristic warrior gear equipping with cutting-edge connectivity designed to give enlistees an edge on the battlefield.

This demand for textiles that embed circuitry in an easy-to-sew capacity is driving the market to a projected value of $2.1 billion by 2022, according to new data from Transparency Market Research (TMR). Large global manufacturers of conductive textiles are acquiring smaller players to strengthen their offerings. Much of the innovation happening with conductive fibers and textiles is taking place at the university level. Research teams have achieved breakthroughs in textile flexibility and breathability and areas like stretchability.

In October Volt Smart Yarns debuted a Wearable Tech division exclusively focused on working with brands looking to create smart apparel. Myant’s SKIIN smart underwear incorporates conductive textiles to offer EKG-like monitoring, freeing users from having to visit a doctor’s office to track that health data. Levi’s smart commuter jacket, a product of the Google Jacquard project, perhaps has been the most commercially successful conductive textile product to date, demonstrating the value of bringing wireless connectivity to the garments people wear every day.

Though not exclusively focused on conductive textiles and apparel, Twinery, the innovation arm of Sri Lanka’s MAS Holdings, launched last year to attract creative thinkers interested in solving problems related to the clothing sector. One of its startups, Lumo Run, build coaching technology into a running garment.