The Shoulder Dress, part of the collection (credit Ronald Borshan)

Design professor creates interactive electronic clothes

A professor has developed interactive electronic fabrics that change their colour and their shape in response to movement.

Joanna Berzowska, professor and chair of the Department of Design and Computation Arts at Concordia University in Montreal, designed the fabrics that harness power directly from the human body, store that energy, and then use it to change the garments’ visual properties.

“Our goal is to create garments that can transform in complex and surprising ways — far beyond reversible jackets, or shirts that change colour in response to heat,” said Professor Berzowska.

The major innovation of this research project, dubbed Karma Chameleon, is the ability to embed these electronic or computer functions within the fibre itself: rather than being attached to the textile, the electronic components are woven into these new composite fibres.

The fibres consist of multiple layers of polymers, which, when stretched and drawn out to a small diameter, begin to interact with each other.

The fabric, produced in collaboration with the École Polytechnique’s Maksim Skorobogatiy, represent a significant advance in the development of “smart textiles.”

Although it’s not yet possible to manufacture clothing with the new composite fibres, ProfessorBerzowska worked with fashion designers to create conceptual prototypes that can help us visualize how such clothing might look and behave.

“We won’t see such garments in stores for another 20 or 30 years, but the practical and creative possibilities are exciting,” said Professor Berzowska.

The technology could open the way for innovative clothes, for example a dress that changes shape and colour on its own, or a shirt that can capture the energy from human movement and use it to charge an iPhone.

The university said the research raised interesting questions about human behaviour relative to fashion and computers, like what it would mean to wear a piece of clothing with “a mind of its own,” that cannot be consciously controlled, or how much intimate contact with computers do we really want?

Professor Berzowska will explore these questions and present her findings at the Smart Fabrics 2013 conference this week in San Francisco.

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