The Smart Fabric Of The Future?
Wearable, washable fabrics that can sense heat, light and touch
Can you imagine a future where your clothes are high tech? LOOMIA, a New York based startup which makes intelligent fabric can, and they’re building it right now. Their flexible circuitry can be built in to any kind of textile, offering the capabilities of heat, light and responsiveness to touch to the wearer. D/SRUPTION spoke to Lynne Guey, Head of Communications at LOOMIA, to get the low down on this innovation currently lighting up the clothing industry.
LOOMIA Electronic Layer
The LOOMIA Electronic Layer (LEL) is a soft, flexible circuit that can be embedded into textiles. As Guey explains, this makes it possible to create clothing with heating, lighting, sensing or data tracking applications.
“The LEL is a proprietary blend of materials that is washable and dryable,” she says. “What’s interesting, and what sets LOOMIA apart from other companies, is that the material is really soft, flexible and wire free. When this is integrated into your clothing you barely sense it because it is so thin.”
“This goes in line with our general philosophy that the materials we use and integrate into our garments can be responsive and intelligent in a very sophisticated, seamless and simple way,” she adds. “Just like our devices learn from our habits to create better experiences online, we think our clothes can provide even more, in a way that the user has much more control over what is done.”
This technology has many different applications, with the potential to revolutionise the textile industry and the very way we wear our clothes. In fact, it will make our clothes work harder for us. Take temperature, for example. LOOMIA’s Electronic Layer can help its wearer to stay comfortable in variable conditions.
“If you’re sitting outside and all of a sudden it gets cold,” Guey says, “your jacket would adjust to the weather changes and get warmer. This added intelligence will be a benefit to the consumer, in that the clothing knows when you need to be warmed up to maintain an ideal body temperature.” Whilst other brands have created fabrics with heaters in them, it is LOOMIA’s sensitivity – it’s ability to respond to temperature changes – which makes it really unique according to Guey.
Diving into the data
As well as enhancing the clothing experience for the user, LOOMIA’s technology provides much needed data capture opportunities for brands. Currently, as Guey states, very few apparel companies are able to collect post sale data on the goods that they create. This leaves a huge gap in the field of research and development, and makes it difficult for companies to ensure they are responding to consumer needs.
“This is another arena of the industry that we want to tackle,” says Guey. “When fashion companies aren’t getting any data once their goods go to the rack, they don’t know who’s buying that product, they don’t know how that clothing is being used or the situations in which it’s being worn. This creates a big problem in the industry, because companies spend billions of dollars a year based on guesswork around what products will be successful two years from now.”
With LOOMIA technology, companies can instead collect data directly from consumers, helping them to accurately understand patterns in product use, base their decisions on concrete facts, and benefit from added insight into supply chain management too.
The other side of this is that customers themselves stand to gain from information about their garments. Data such as frequency of wear and an estimate of the overall time – measured in wash and dry cycles – that is left in an item before it is worn out, enables a consumer to understand how they are really wearing their clothes. A user with several pieces of LOOMIA integrated clothing in their wardrobe will be able to identify whether they wear a particular item too often in comparison to their other clothes. This can not only boost a person’s fashion credentials, but also help them to identify garments which are not being worn – and could therefore be sold or donated.
To coordinate the collection and storage of all this data, LOOMIA has come up with a blockchain based system of a physical clothing tag and an associated mobile app. Whilst it probably won’t reach the market for another couple of years, the LOOMIA Tile is a small tag designed to be sewn into clothing. The tag collects product data such as motion, frequency of use, and environmental conditions, which consumers can then choose whether or not to send back to the brand. Thanks to the blockchain, any customer data shared would be completely anonymous and secure, with companies able to incentivise user participation in this feedback process through reward schemes or promotions.
LOOMIA has innovation all sewn up
Integrating their product with the blockchain highlights LOOMIA’s aspirations within the wider technology sector – rather than strictly confining themselves to the e-textiles market. As Guey states, shifting away from the prescriptive term ‘wearable’ is central to their business identity.
“When we talk about ourselves as a company,” she says, “we try to move away from defining ourselves as a wearable tech company, because we don’t want to just be known for wearables. We really see ourselves as a technology company that helps connect the physical world to the digital.”
For now, LOOMIA is providing the clothing industry with a necessary injection of innovation. It won’t be long, however, before the company sets its sights on sectors further afield.
“We are starting with clothes,” notes Guey, “But our ultimate goal is to bring this core product into all materials. LOOMIA technology can really be applied to other industries beyond fashion, such as the medical and military worlds.”
As with many other forms of disruptive innovation, if you can see it, you can be it. LOOMIA is leading the charge in getting us to wear it too.
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