I have very few illusions that the survival of our planet depends entirely on the clever technologies that we, out of dire necessity, will invent. Technology alone is not going to save our planet—but we certainly are. The onus is on us: It is our choices, our demands from the market, that will bring about the necessary actions and changes in the fashion industry. Smart fabrics and wearable technology offer us an opportunity for a more sustainable future, but the promise will be bittersweet if the entire product lifecycle isn’t taken into consideration.
A water-resistant textile that “never gets wet”.
NANO OR NO-NO?
Imagine, for example, that your favorite tee in the near future is not only made from a supple spider-silk fiber but is also stain-, wrinkle-, odor- and water-resistant. Because of these wonderful super-enhanced qualities, energy requirements for washing, drying, and ironing the garment are dramatically reduced.
There is still very little evidence about the environmental and health impacts of novel nanotechnologies.
Reducing the rate at which we wash our clothes is certainly more ecological and, as an added benefit, it also increases the lifespan of the garments itself. You can now hold onto your tee for twice as long. But here’s the catch: The novel nanotechnologies that give your high-tech T-shirt its self-cleaning, odor-eating, and water-resistant qualities may not be very environmentally friendly.
As of yet, there is very little evidence about the environmental and health impacts of these technologies. As consumers, we need to demand transparency in the production process to ensure that we don’t substitute one evil for an even greater one.
Amanda Parkes’ PIezing dress generates power from its wearer’s movements.
SPIME OF OUR LIFE
How can we possibly trace each garment through its entire life cycle, from the farmed cotton or lab-produced spider-silk to its nano-tech treatments and finally its disposal? This is where the promise of wearable technology comes into play.
Bruce Sterling, a science-fiction writer/futurist, came up with the term “spime” to describe future objects embedded with a history that can be precisely located in space and time. What this means is that you can look up your T-shirt on Google and track it throughout its entire life cycle, from manufacture to disassembly and material recovery.
Your tee becomes infused with a story, one that eventually intertwines with yours.
Your tee becomes infused with a story, one that eventually intertwines with yours. With the help of technology, the production and manufacturing cycle of garments (thereby their environmental and social consequences) will become more transparent. And when you decide to donate your shirt to a charity shop, this journey will also be visible.