Innovations in active wear

It’s an area of technology that’s often overlooked, but materials science has an amazing role to play in fashion. Working with continually changing fabrics, some fashion designers are very much in the role of engineers, solving day-to-day problems and developing exciting new ideas based on the tech that becomes available to them. The design studio and the lab have grown closer and closer together as modern materials have progressed, and nowhere more so than in the realm of active wear. In this article we look at some of the innovations that are changing the way we think about clothing and sport.

Performance-monitoring clothes

It’s official: smart clothing is getting smarter. What started with wristbands and clunky belts has now expanded into t-shirts, sports bras and even socks that track what you’re doing as you move, assessing things like how fast you’re moving, how fast your heart is beating and how hard your feet are impacting against the ground, to calculate a range of performance stats that you can use to refine what you do. They can even tell you when it’s time to buy a new pair of shoes. You can dress like this at times when you really don’t want the hassle of carrying your phone, and get all the data sent to it to read at your leisure.

Advances in insulation

If you like the kind of sports that take you up mountains or out onto snowy plains, you’re always going to be interested in innovations that can keep you warm. Insulating tech has been undergoing a lot of changes lately, and the latest products are all about control. Subtly inflating clothing can create a warm layer that expands as required – with the air inside providing a barrier to heat loss not unlike the air in double glazing – so that you can snuggle up when you need to but also avoid overheating when you’re climbing up a cliff face or hurtling down a slope, high on adrenaline.

Compression clothing

It’s long been understood that garments that are tight in the right places can help your muscles move more efficiently, but specially designed compression clothing takes this one step further. It can help you to get more out of your workout and can be a big help when you’re recovering from an injury. Copper-infused compression shorts, for instance, provide support and tension where it’s needed, to help with running, cycling and cross-training activities, as well as improving your ability to do squats. Work out in them regularly and you’ll improve what you can do without them, too.

Self-ventilating clothes

Do you love working out but hate getting too hot and sticky when you do it? Constantly adjusting layers can be an annoyance, but MIT has come up with an ingenious solution – clothing that peels back portions of itself to let your skin get more air contact when it needs it. How does it work? That’s the really cool bit. This is clothing that is actually alive, made out of bacterial biofilms. Ancient microbe Bacillus subtilus expands and contracts according to heat and moisture, so when millions of them work together, you have a garment that will always keep you feeling fresh.

Solar powered clothing

Tech-lovers will know that solar powered clothing has been around for a while, but it’s orders of magnitude more efficient than it used to be, and people who know something about fashion are finally developing it! Granted, it’s easier to make today’s gear look sleek and stylish because the latest solar cells are much thinner and more flexible than they used to be – they’re even stretchable and capable of surviving a tumble in your washing machine. You can use your solar clothes to power anything from your smartphone to a GPS locator, and many garments even come with pocket batteries so that when you’re out hiking in the sun all day you can store some power for later.

Innovations like these just keep on coming and they’re also dropping in price, putting gear that used to be used only by top athletes within reach of the average person. There’s now something that can help you pretty much whatever your choice of sport, and a lot of the gear that’s emerging can also be worn day to day in other situations. Because of this, the fashion business is not only benefiting from materials science – it’s driving it. The future is looking increasingly interesting.

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I'm an eternal optimist, follow a Buddhist philosophy, geek of many areas, entrepreneur, learning the Chinese language, a die-hard sports fan, love politics and nuclear submarines.

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