• Tayeeb Khan

Smart Textiles | What Are They & How They Are Beneficial

Textile is the basic ground on which the whole Fashion Industry stands. No Textile means no clothing & no fashion which would be weird. Anyhow, you get the gist of my point.

Fashion today is not just about clothing anymore; it is about class, attitude, emotions, and wait for its “Technology”. We, humans, have always looked for ways to make our lives simpler, easier & efficient; in that process, we have made things serve more purposes than it was expected to serve before. Smart Watches are the best example of it. There was a time when watches were supposed to show just the time. In our effort to make our lives simpler and efficient we made watches serve purposes like monitoring heart rates, send messages, pick calls up, etc.

What if I say that same thing has been happening in the Textile industry for a while now? Would you believe it? I would have not if it were told to me some 10-15 years ago. Heck, I would not have even believed it if someone said that mobile phones and watches could be this smart.

Anyhow, we are not here to talk about smartwatches or Smart Phones; we are here to talk about Smart Textiles. If it’s the first time you have heard of such a concept, well, you are me just a couple of months ago. In this post, we will explore the concept of Smart Textiles, their categories, types, and their benefits in various industries. I am hoping it to be a fun ride, so grab a cup of coffee and let us dive right into it.

What is Smart Textile or E-Textile?

There are several definitions & explanations about Smart Textiles out there. To put it in simple words, Smart Textiles are technologically enabled textiles as opposed to that common fabric that you use in your daily lives. Smart Textiles are textiles that provide additional functionality beyond the typical value of a fabric. Smart Textiles comes with an ability to react to the environment around you and adapt to them depending on your needs.

Textiles incorporated with LED filaments or sensors, clothes that can change behavior by allowing the air to pass through it in Summer and blocking it in winters are some examples of Smart Textiles. The possibilities with Smart Textiles are just endless.

There is so much of research being done on Smart Textiles. If you are interested in knowing the limits and capabilities of Smart Textiles, I would suggest you read papers that have been published on the concept.

Now that we know what Smart Textiles are, let us have a look at different types and categories of Smart Textiles.

Let us first see the categories, coz I believe as someone who is interested in Fashion & Fashion Designing, it might pique your interest a bit.

Categories in Smart Textiles:

There are two categories of Smart Textiles based on the purposes they serve and the problems they are trying to solve.

1. Aesthetic Smart Textiles:

You might have already figured out what this category means. This kind of Smart Textiles are all about improving the appeal. They started to slowly break out into the Fashion Industry a couple of years ago. Smart Textiles have an interactive element to them that reacts to the surrounding environment.

Have you ever seen a T-shirt with a picture that glows up in the dark? Well, that kind of comes under Smart Textiles.

I know, I know, I just undermined the whole Smart Textiles concept with that example. But the concept of Smart Textiles is much larger than mere T-shirts glowing up in the dark. It extends from wearables to décor to anything that you can think of from a Fashion perspective. Fashion Designers have already started incorporating the techniques & materials to create a line of smart materials.

If you are a Fashion Designer, I would strongly recommend looking into it. If you are not a Fashion Designer yet but are looking to become one, well, I have got you covered, check out these amazing Fashion Designing courses in Bangalore offered by the Indian Institute of Fashion Technology.

2. Performance Enhancing Smart Textiles:

Performance Enhancing is where Smart Textiles excel in terms of the functionalities they can provide. While Aesthetic Smart Textiles' major focus is on Fashion, Performance Enhancing Smart Textiles' major focus is functionalities.

Remember that garment that can adapt to the weather that we talked about in the earlier section? That is one example of Performance Enhancing smart textiles. They provide a unique experience to the user depending on the needs of the person using them.

Temperature regulation, Water Resistance, Blocking Radiations, Muscle Vibration control & minimizing the effects of Space travel are some purposes for which Performance Enhancing smart textiles can provide a solution.

Types of Smart Textiles?

  1. Passive Smart Textiles: Passive or the First-Generation Smart Textiles comprises only sensors. Fabrics with optical sensors, UV Protection clothing, etc. comes under Passive Smart Textiles. They can perceive the data they gain using the sensors, but they can’t memorize it or adapt to it, that is where the Active Smart Textiles come into play.

  2. Active Smart textiles: Active or the Second-Generation Smart Textiles comprises sensors and actuators that help them in receiving the data and then use that data to alter their functionality. A garment that is keeping you warm in winter starts to keep you comfortable when the weather changes to summer. Active Smart Textiles act based on the environmental conditions or the user inputs.

  3. Ultra-Smart Textiles: Ultra Smart or the Third-Generation Smart Textiles are a more advanced version of Smart Textiles. What makes them Ultra Smart is the micro-chip installed into these that acts like a microcomputer. They adapt their behavior to the circumstances. Spacesuits, Wearable computers, Musical Jackets, etc. come under this category of Ultra Smart Textiles.

Benefits of Smart Textiles:

The benefits of Smart Textiles can be majorly seen in the medicines and the health care industry and that is why I will talk exclusively in a later section.

Nope, it’s not me that is doing partiality towards this one sector. It is just the way it is for now at least. Maybe we will start seeing Smart Textiles benefiting other industries on a bigger scale as well.

The benefits of Smart Textiles are just innumerable. I can write a whole new post it and it won’t still be enough. But I will try to squeeze them in here as much as I can.

  • Innovation in Fashion & Fashion Technology is the most relevant benefit for this post.

  • Textiles with gesture control sensors can make our life so much easier.

  • Smart Textiles can help in better & accurate data acquisition in Sports training.

  • Monitoring people who handle or work in hazardous environments.

  • Smart Textiles are also being used in military operations. Specifically, in Bullet-Proof vests where when a bullet hits the vest, the data will be sent back to the base.

  • Smart Textiles can be used by fitness personnel to track their progress and better data acquisition.

Benefits of Smart Textiles in Medicines and Health Care Industry:

While there are myriad of industries that reap the benefit of Smart Textiles, the Health Care industry is the one that stands amongst the top. Not because these Smart Textiles have medicinal properties, but because it assists medical professionals & patience in exceptional ways.

Electronics can be weaved into a piece of clothing to take care of & perform patient care functions. Imagine how great it would be if the T-shirt can detect if you are having a heart attack and signal the doctors directly. That is one more life saved.

Smart Textiles enables health care providers to have access to real-time information of patients and even send warning signals when needed.

Here are some benefits of Smart Textiles in the Medicines & Health Care Industry:

  • Can detect early warning signs that indicate disease.

  • Can help in monitoring personal health.

  • Telemedicine can allow a doctor to administer the medicine without actually being with the patient.

  • Can help in monitoring ECG & Heart rate.

Other Industries that can benefit more from Smart Textiles:

  • Sports & Fitness

  • Fashion

  • Medicine & Healthcare

  • Military

  • Entertainment

  • Safety

  • Transportation

  • Architecture

The benefits of Smart textiles are just infinite and some of them are just around the corner waiting to be discovered. There are several companies that are working on developing these technologies. If you are interested in learning more about Smart Textiles, there are several research papers on it. I suggest you look them up.

If you think I have missed out on anything, I encourage you to let me know in the comment section below and I will update the post.


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