ECONOMY

New generation of fabrics

«Smart» fabrics is a term coming straight from the future of the clothing industry, as the development of technology promotes the application of innovative approaches both in apparel production and in retailing, changing the overall experience for consumers. The development of new materials with the use of nanotechnology is expected to create unlimited potential for producers, while commerce will also change in that consumers will be able to use the Internet to select their garments of preference and make their purchases. «We can now speak of digital catwalks, that is the presentation of fashion collections by designers through three-dimension screens of high definition on impeccable virtual models with the right measurements that can change according to each designer’s needs,» says George Stylios, professor at the School of Textiles & Design of the Heriot-Watt University in Great Britain and director of the «TechniTex Faraday Partnership» laboratory. Such is the momentum in demand for smart fabrics already, with many laboratories in the world focusing on them, that by 2008 the global smart fabrics market is expected to reach $720 million in value. Smart fabrics use nanotechnology and can also adjust to humidity and heat, yet the new technologies of today also mean that consumers will be able to see a virtual picture of themselves wearing the garments of their choice via a special program on the Internet. Some of these promises were made recently at an international conference focusing on textile, clothing and design. Stylianos announced there that new technologies can change the landscape in the sectors of textile and apparel. He told Kathimerini the research conducted at his laboratory and at others around the world could be considered revolutionary, since the changes could reach the cinema industry, advertising and marketing. These technological prospects could also bolster electronic commerce in the apparel sector, he said. «Just think of the prospects for a company producing clothes that it wishes to promote through the Internet. Electronic commerce can have an immense potential in this perspective, especially for clothing companies with the increase of people using the Internet for their purchases,» he said. Furthermore, companies can maintain the measurements of their customers and offer them the appropriate clothing, while those specializing in «fast fashion» can quickly see each garment on a virtual model, test its popularity and decide on the quantity to be produced. New material Stylios also discussed nanofabrics, an entirely new material that is exceptionally dense, strong and amazingly light, which can be used for particularly durable threads. «This material is so durable that it can be used in architecture, bridge-building, aeronautics, airplane construction and of course textile, for the production of new-generation fabrics used in fashion as well as interior decoration,» he said. Smart fabrics, also known as intelligent textiles, have a «memory» and can detect changes in temperature and humidity, while some can change shape or color. Some fabrics can also repel pests, serve as deodorant or change color according to the mood of the person wearing them. They do not need ironing as they return to their original shape once placed on a hanger. Some of them are so durable that they do not even get stained. This technology is not yet available in China, which could be crucial for the market in the West. It could become a precious weapon in maintaining the production infrastructure of developed countries.