Smart Fashion


Smart fashion refers to technology embedded in fibre, yarn or textile, or in clothing; or in new forms of production. The expression can refer to smart clothes, smart materials, or smart production. 

Smart fashion is made of textiles or materials that can sense and/or react (“think” and “act”) to environmental conditions or stimuli, often through a computer and /or electronic technologies (i.e. e-textiles). Smart fashion technology is versatile and can range from e-fashion, smart materials, wearable electronics, solar energy and 3D printing to bio-couture and nanotechnology. 

Smart fashion is just one of the terms that are being used. The most used term is ‘wearable technology’ or simply ‘wearables’; the disadvantage of this term is that it refers more to technology than to clothes. Wearable Technology (‘wearables’ for short) usually refers to clothing/garments and accessories that integrate computer and electronic technologies (for example: GoogleGlass). Other terms are also used, such as ‘fashionable technology’ by Sabine Seymour (2009, 2010), which helps to bring the field of advanced technology more decidedly to the field of fashion. Bradley Quinn has used the term ‘technofashion’, which has also been used by Lianne Toussaint (2018). Anneke Smelik has used the term ‘cybercouture’ (Smelik, 2017); and ‘science fashion’ (2018). All these terms refer to the ‘marriage’ of fashion and technology. Studies in the field provide an overview of techniques and applications (Mattila, 2006; Cho, 2010), or summarise its developments and actors (Quinn, 2002, 2010, 2012; Seymour, 2009, 2010). The most extensive research on smart fashion or wearable technology is Lianne Toussaint’s PhD dissertation (2018).  

In itself the relation between fashion and technology is not new: making a fibre out of bast, plants or fleece; spinning a yarn; weaving, knitting and sewing; and dyeing are all intelligent inventions by humans involving technologies. It is important here to refer also to the invention of synthetic fibres through chemistry, such as nylon, polyester, elastane and many other fabrics. Generally, technology today is understood as related to the scientific and industrial revolutions of modern times. Usually, four industrial revolutions are mentioned (Schwab, 2015).  
The first one is mechanization of production with the invention of the steam engine feeding huge spinning and weaving machines. The second one is mass production enabled by electricity, for example the sewing machine. The third one is the automation made possible by the computer, for example CAD, computer aided design in fashion design. And finally, the networks: the internet (of things). 


Like most technology – the internet, for instance – smart fashion has its origin in military research and space travel (Quinn, 2002: 98). While most innovations have not been incorporated into our daily clothes (yet), others have been successful in, for instance, sports gear and high-performance gear. One of the most successful markets for wearables is the field of safety, such as the military, police and fire brigades. Other fields of application are healthcare, for example clothes with technology to help approve posture after a stroke or operation. New developments in microbiology and nanotechnology have opened up new applications for smart materials in healthcare and beauty care. Think for instance of the antibacterial qualities of cleaning cloths or a mattress – but researchers also experiment with smart materials that can have vitamins, sun creams or deodorant embedded into the fabric itself (Quinn, 2010). 

Another possible market for wearable technology is communications, involving the integration of mobile technology into the clothes. This may be the fastest-moving area in the field of wearables, and perhaps also the ‘coolest’ one. Researchers aim to integrate wireless systems into the fibre, yarn or fabric, thus allowing the piece of clothing to become interactive. There are promising developments, as for example Pauline van Dongen’s ‘Wearable Solar Dress’ and ‘Wearable Solar T-shirt’, where solar cells are integrated into the design enabling the wearer to load up the mobile phone (Smelik, Toussaint, Van Dongen, 2016). However, there remain practical problems like washing or day-to-day wear and tear. Toussaint (2018) discusses the problems of ‘wearable surveillance’; the risk of showing information to everyone while wearing digital data ‘on your sleeve’ as it were. 

Remarkably, fashion is seldom mentioned as a possible market for wearables in spite of the notion of smart fashion. This goes to show that the field of wearables is still dominated by a strong push from technology and little or no pull from fashion. Yet, wearables will never make it commercially if the prototypes are not translated into an aesthetics of fashion. 


This term refers to fashion or fabrics that are made of new organic fibres, for example fibres made of orange skin, coffee waste, or from mycelium of mushrooms. An early example of biocouture is Suzanne Lee’s ‘victimless leather’. More recently, mycelium fibres are used to produce vegan leather, e.g. Mylo, by Bolt Threads in the US, who made fabrics for Stella McCartney and Balenciaga in 2021 and 2022. Mycelium is also used for producing sustainable fabrics by Mcyotex, Neffa, in the Netherlands. Other examples are fabrics made from seaweed (e.g. by Tabinotabi in Venice, Italy). There are many other examples of fabrics made from cellulose materials other than cotton or linen, e.g. nettles, orange skin, pineapple skin and even fish scales.  

Digital fashion 

A recent development is digital fashion (see Rocamora 2013 for early discussion) and NFT’s (non-refundable tokens). Natalia Särmäkäri’s (2021) definition distinguishes digital fashion in three different categories: “a processual tool for virtual product development and visualization; marketing or educational tool for online stores and virtual museums; and digital-only end-product for virtual use”. NFT fashion is made entirely digitally through 3D design. To understand how garments can be digital-only, one must refer to the concept of the ‘metaverse’. According to Dionisio et al. (2013), the metaverse can be explained through the notion of virtual worlds, which are “persistent online computer-generated environments where multiple users in remote physical locations can interact in real time for the purposes of work or play”. A metaverse refers to “an integrated network of 3D virtual worlds”, providing an “immersive realism” and allowing “disparate heterogeneous virtual worlds to seamlessly exchange or transport objects, behaviours, and avatar”. These avatars can be dressed in NFT fashion. Short for Non-Fungible Token, NFTs are digital assets that are unique, meaning that not one NFT is identical to another. These assets are stored on a blockchain system where one’s proof of ownership is verified and kept track of at all times. In most cases, NFTs are organised in collections or sets that share common features (Nadini et al. 2020). NFTs are stored in what is called a crypto wallet. In short, NFTs are a form of metadata that can be minted on the blockchain. Generally, NFT fashion is minted as still images, videos, 3d designs such as avatar ‘skins’, or Augmented Reality filters. NFT garments that can be worn in a virtual environment and are not only for display are called ‘wearables”. An example of NFT fashion are the digital designs of The Fabricant. 

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