Smart Fabrics: Learn about Smart Fabrics

Smart fabrics are textiles that have been developed with new technologies that provide added value to the wearer.  This would include fabrics that enable digital components (including small computers), and electronics to be embedded in them.

The field of e-textiles/smart fabrics can be divided into two main categories:

E-textiles with classical electronic devices such as conductors, integrated circuits, LEDs, and conventional batteries embedded into garments.

E-textiles with electronics integrated directly into the textile substrates. This can include either passive electronics such as conductors and resistors or active components like transistors, diodes, and solar cells.

Most research and commercial e-textile projects are hybrids where electronic components embedded in the textile are connected to classical electronic devices or components.  Some examples are touch buttons that are constructed completely in textile forms by using conducting textile weaves, which are then connected to devices such as music players or LEDs that are mounted on woven conducting fiber networks to form displays.

Printed sensors for both physiological and environmental monitoring have been integrated into textiles including cotton, Gore-Tex, and neoprene.

Relevant terms include smart garments, E-textiles, smart clothing, electronic textiles, smart textiles, or smart fabrics.

Smart fabrics have various abilities and benefits.   Some may be able to communicate, transform, conduct energy, run apps, etc.

Smart textiles can be described as aesthetic or performance enhancing.

Aesthetic examples include everything from fabrics that light up to fabrics that can change color. Some of these fabrics gather energy from the environment by harnessing vibrations, sound or heat, reacting to this input.

Then there are performance enhancing smart textiles, which will have a huge impact on the athletic, extreme sports and military industries.  There are fabrics that help regulate body temperature, reduce wind resistance and control muscle vibration – all of which help improve athletic performance.  Other fabrics have been developed for protective clothing to guard against extreme environmental hazards like radiation and the effects of space travel.

The health and beauty industry is also taking advantage of these innovations, which range from drug-releasing medical textiles, to fabric with moisturizer, perfume, and anti-aging properties (maybe they can contain an app that will help you navigate yourself to the fountain of youth). 

Many smart clothing, wearable technology, and wearable computing projects involve the use of e-textiles.

Electronic textiles are distinct from wearable computing because emphasis is placed on the seamless integration of textiles with electronic elements like microcontrollers, sensors, and actuators.  Furthermore, e-textiles does not actually have to be wearable.  For instance, e-textiles are also found in interior design.

The related field of fibretronics explores how electronic and computational functionality can be integrated into textile fibers.

Smart fabrics is a field that is rapidly progressing.  It is very possible that new creations have been developed since the time you started to read this page.  In fact, this page is potentially outdated already…  Fabric development and technology are moving very fast.  It is a very exciting time for the apparel industry.  Smart fabrics and wearable technology are here to stay.  Apparel Search is very much interested in seeing how this sector of the industry evolves.

Learn about wearable technology.

You may want to read about the Google Jacquard Project on the Fashion Blog.  It would also be a good idea to view the wearable tech blog posts.  If you enjoy the subject, reading about electronic paper & e-ink would not be a bad idea either.

Learn more about the textile industry here on Apparel Search.

Additional Info

How smart is your fabric?