When you think about how fashion will work alongside technology in the future, it might be hard to break from science-fiction-heavy ideas. However, fashionably using solar, wind and even kinetic energy to charge devices, keep us connected and even donate our energy to non-profits is being explored by a number of design houses.
Meg Grant, of Solar Fiber, says she and co-collaborators Aniela Hoitink, Marina Toeters, Ralf Jacobs, and Professor Derek Schlettwein from Giessen University are already pushing the textile boundaries in terms of solar fibres.
“If you look around you, textiles cover so many surfaces, so why not give them a ‘super power’ that can take advantage of this, like solar energy harvesting,” says Grant.
The idea behind Solar Fiber is a flexible photovoltaic fibre that converts sunlight energy into electrical energy via a yarn that can be worked into all sorts of fabrics. Its latest prototype is the solar shawl which displays the amount of energy being generated in real-time.
Grant says the project is 100% part-time, voluntary and open-source and prototypes are currently only capable of generating tiny amounts of energy. “We are open-source because we believe that this kind of technology could be so game-changing that it should be in the public domain,” says Grant.
After graduating from ArtEZ Institute of the Arts in Arnhem, the Netherlands in 2010, Pauline van Dongen started her own womenswear label. Working with companies from the fields of science and innovation, van Dongen aims to merge fashion and technology and like Grant, her focus is on solar textiles. She and her team call it Wearable Solar, clothing that gives people an opportunity to generate sustainable energy through what they wear and charge their tech on the go.
The Wearable Solar collection currently consists of two designs, a coat and a dress made of wool and leather, which produce energy through their integrated solar cells. The coat incorporates 48 rigid solar cells and the dress has 72 flexible solar cells. When worn in full sun for two hours, both garments can generate enough energy to allow a typical smartphone to be 100% charged. The solar cell compartments can be opened and revealed to the sun when needed and folded back when they are not being used.
“Wearable Solar is a sustainable answer to our increasing demand for energy and connectivity, while also anticipating the vastly expanding wearable technology market,” says van Dongen.
Professor Rebeccah Pailes-Friedman is a designer and author of Designing With Smart Textiles, due to be published in 2015. She says, “If you think about what traditional fashion is, it’s such a small part of the real world, but then when you look at performance fashion, clothing that has to do something, you see a much larger part of the population using them.”
Pailes-Friedman focuses her research on light and movement in smart textiles. “Really good design is when you don’t notice it. We have always lived and worked in clothing so we know how it functions, 98% of how we wear it is no mystery to us so technology being incorporated needs to be part of and as intuitive as our clothing.” An example of this seamless design might be kinetic energy, where movement generates energy.
Last winter, Damon Ahola, a recent graduate of the School of Visual Arts, MFA in Products of Design, was running on a treadmill at the gym watching people bobbing up and down on ellipticals, stair masters and bikes. “I thought we were all exerting a huge amount of energy while at the same time consuming a vast amount of electrical energy.” His gym observation led him to question how to take advantage of kinetic energy through a project called Harvest which investigated the potential of integrating energy harvesting into our lives. Ahola said he began by approaching the work from a user-centric point of view, initially exploring what activities are appropriate for energy harvesting.
In the case of Harvest, a user’s daily movement is transformed into quantifiable energy through an electromagnetic process. Energy is stored to a micro rechargeable lithium-ion battery called a pod that is embedded in footwear, attached to bicycles or kept in the pockets of clothes. The energy is stored to the Harvest pod battery and the user can plug it into their smartphone to check his or her metrics using the Harvest app.
Though only a concept at this point, the future of Harvest is that it would partner with footwear, apparel and bicycle companies. The Harvest user can upload their energy by visiting “harvest hotspots”, which utilise the existing infrastructure of the square payment kiosk system, and the harvested energy is transferred and stored to a green energy bank.
Once enough energy is accumulated, a renewable energy certificate is created. The certificate is then sold on the energy market and the proceeds are donated to a set of philanthropic and charity organisations. “Fashion is an effective means for public adoption of a new product or technology. Everyone wants to look sexy and if you’re creating a secondary benefit, such as producing your own energy, it’s a win win.”
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