3 Days of Smart Fabric Conference madness in Miami

I attended the Smart Fabric Conference in Miami this week and there was a lot of terrific discussion about the current state of eTextiles, trends and innovations happening with eTextiles and wearable technology, the opportunities and challenges of commercialization, and questions around what's next. The conference was a 3-day jammed packed extravaganza that included keynote speakers Stacey Burr, CEO Textronics and VP adidas, along with Dr. Liesbeth van Pieterson, project leader of the photonic textile project at Philips Research. Some of the trends and opportunity areas that were discussed throughout the 3 days included:

  • The "Urban adventurer" - people who live an urban lifestyle are also seeking outdoor adventure so they can have their own adventure in the city. How do we create products for the outdoor adventurer that keeps them close to their urban lifestyle.
  • Happiness and meaning - over 9 Billion euros was spent in Europe last year on helping people find life meaning.
  • Personalized concepts for health - how do I prevent illness and how can a healthy lifestyle be integrated into my entire life.
  • Green and sustainability - is a very fast growing industry. What are products that can help support the environment?
  • Travel - people are traveling more, working remotely more, and on the go. How can we create products that help people stay connected, be productive, have fun, and provide a sense of home.
  • Cross-integration - how can many different forms of materials, manufacturing techniques, textiles, etc... be integrated into one product and manufacturing lifecycle
  • Cross-innovation - how can many (and somewhat disparate) industries and disciplines work together toward innovative and holistic solutions?
  • DIY (Do-It-Yourself) - is making electronics and wearable technology accessible to a broader audience and opening up consumers to the possibility and acceptance of wearable technology solutions.

People in this field from all over the world (see the list of speakers here) discussed these opportunities and the challenges that this emerging field faces, including:

  • Commercialization - there was a large focus on the topic of commercialization and how to bring new eTextiles and products to the market. There are still a significant amount of manufacturing hurdles to get over since this type of technology requires a new look at the infrastructure and techniques of manufacturing
  • Market potential - who will want wearable technology solutions? What are the market opportunities? What kind of brands and companies are investing in these types of solutions?
  • Market acceptance - will people accept wearable technology? Are they worried about safety? Can they use it?
  • The right solution - what is the right combination of materials, manufacturing, marketing, consumer understanding and need, design, etc...

In between discussions everyone from Despina Papadoloulos of Studio 5050, to fashion designer Angel Chang, to Kenneth Klopp of Ardica Technologies talked about opportunities, challenges and shared what they are working on.

To read more on the Smart Fabric conference, go to the site here.


The photo is from the eStatic Shadows project done by Jackson Tan (who spoke at the conference) and Professor Zane Bersina. The project is a soft fabric that has thousands of integrated LEDs and electrostatic antennas made of woven conductive thread. This gorgeous eTextile reacts to your electrostatic energy by turning the leds off when you are near. The result is a beautiful and soft shadow that animates to your movement. I just want to wrap myself up in this!

Copper-woven antennae

Christy Matson is a designer investigating the interaction of textiles and the possibilities when electronics are woven into them. Her recent project called Plain Weave Variations explores copper that is woven directly into the fabric to act as flexible antennae. As described by Matson, "When a viewer touches the weavings, the scores generated from the patterns on the weavings will be played for the viewer through speakers mounted on the wall." Matson is turning a simple fabric into a soft sonic material by weaving the copper directly into it.

What I love about this piece is that she adopts Martin Thompson's geometry-based aesthetics into her copper weaving, resulting in an interface that is seamlessly integrated into the fabric. And even the speaker is beautiful.

Touch-Sensitive Apparel

Yasmine Abbas and Cati Vaucelle are currently working on a project called Touch-Sensitive. Through their low-fidelity prototypes, they are asking the question: "What if objects that people carry with them and even carry on them could offer this sensory comfort that they seem to seek? ... Touch·Sensitive allows the diffusion of tactile information through computational and mechanical technologies. It is a computerized touch therapy apparel whose modular pieces can be integrated within the clothing... [and] provides individuals with a sensory cocoon."

What intrigues me about this investigation is that they aim to seamlessly integrate the technology directly into the fabrics so that it's hidden but functional. The technology then informs the aesthetics of both form and behavior, without feeling like an add-on.