For some of us the words ‘smart fabrics, ‘smart textiles’ and ‘e-textiles’ are still shiny and new, although pioneers have been innovating within the textile industry for a while now. The merger of fashion with technology is held up by the makers and designers who are coming up with different materials that offer convenience to the wearer. Knowing this should we be surprised that fashion tech like conductive threads was used as early as the Elizabethan era?
Knowledge is power, so make sure you take a moment to read something that our friends at LOOMIA created. It is a smart textile timeline from 1600- 2016. It shows how technology has played a crucial role in textiles. Read and learn.
- 1600 — Early conductive threads are said to date back to the Elizabethan era when gold threads were woven into garments for a gleaming accent. Now, we often use silver or nickel threads for conductivity, but the concept of metallic threads has existed for centuries for decorating garments.
- The early 1990s — MIT students, started researching smart apparel for military use.
- 1996 — Less EMF, the conductive fabric superstore (for EMF blocking purposes), launches
- 1998 — Sabine Seymour launches Moondial, making a practice of merging “silicon and style.”
- 2000 — Whitepaper “ E-broidery Design and Fabrication of Textile Based Computing” features favourite projects before the year 2000 from embroidered keyboards to fashion tech garments
- 2000– Plug and Wear launches, selling conductive materials for knitting and sewing
- 2003- Georgia Tech Motherboard shirt appears in the press.
- 2007 — Leah Buechley develops the Lilypad, a microcontroller made specifically for textiles. (Adafruit later makes its version called the Flora)
- 2008 — Sabine Seymour publishes Fashioning Technology
- 2008 -Mika Satomi and Hannah Perner-Wilson Launch Kobakant
- 2009 — Forster Rohner launches the Climate Dress using their innovative embroidered techniques
- 2009–2012 —In 2009 project fibre artist Lynne Bruning started producing runway shows around e-textiles. This was followed by the E-Textile Lounge which Lynne and Angela Sheehan helped produce for Maker Faire 2011 and 2012. 2011 was the first time they used the term ‘E-Textile Lounge’ for a specific Maker Faire event.
- 2011- MICA Fiber department begins to explore conductive thread and electronics, creating the Midi Puppet Glove
- 2012 — Drexel launches their Haute Tech Lab exploring smart fabrics and additive manufacturing for textiles. (date inferred)
- 2013 — Machina Launches the Midi Controller Jacket on Kickstarter
- 2014 — Dupont presents their stretchable, conductive ink at Printed Electronics 2014
- 2014 — The Next Black, highlights the future of apparel featuring companies like Studio XO and the Unseen.
- 2014 — The MIT Biosuit creates a strong use case for e-textile in industry
- 2014 — Bebop Sensors launches wearable tech and textile circuits (coincidentally printed using Dupont’s conductive ink)
- 2015– Fast Company features innovators like Switch Embassy speculating the possibility of commercial fashion applications for e-textiles
- 2015 — Ralph Lauren and OMSignal team up for the Polo Tech Shirt
- 2015 — Google’s Project Jacquard directs tech eyes to e-textiles at Google I/O
- 2015 — The Department of Defense put out an RFP for developing smart textiles and innovative fabrics
- 2015 — ZSK embroidery reveals conductive thread and sequin LEDs compatible with their machines
- 2013-2016 — Studios such as Wearable Experiments, Interwoven and The Crated create practices around e-textiles and making invisible wearable tech.
- 2016 — IDTechEx launches a report speculating about the future of wearable tech in 2026. They break down how people are using conductive textiles, inks and threads
- April 2016 — $302 million DoD and M.I.T collaboration and the U.S Commerce Department’s first-ever smart-fabrics gathering.
If you are now wondering what has been taking place in 2017, explore our coverage here.
Founding editor-in-chief of FashNerd.com, Muchaneta is currently one of the leading influencers writing about the merger of fashion with technology and wearable technology. She has also given talks at Premiere Vision, Munich Fabric Start and Pure London, to name a few. Besides working as a fashion innovation consultant for various fashion companies like LVMH Atelier, Muchaneta has also contributed to Vogue Business, is a senior contributor at The Interline and an associate lecturer at London College of Fashion, UAL.