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The latest developments in hi-tech clothing offer fun and function

New innovations include musical shirts for children, menswear that shields against phone waves, and fitness-friendly gear

PUBLISHED : Monday, 21 March, 2016, 9:38am
UPDATED : Monday, 21 March, 2016, 9:38am

When techies predict wearables as the next big trend in the internet of things (IoT), they’re not talking about fitness trackers or smart watches, but actual clothing. Here is some of what’s happening in the world of garment innovation:

German textile designer Selina Reiterer and Greek architect Constantinos Miltiadis teamed up to create a range of touch-reactive children’s T-shirts that can be played like musical instruments, aptly calling the collection John Paul George & Me.

Each T-shirt represents a specific instrument – guitar, bass and drums – which together form a rock ensemble, the creators explain. By wearing clothes that produce sound by touch, children are immersed in an interactive game which encourages and stimulates their musical interest.

The pattern on each T-shirt is based on the instrument it represents, and silk-screen printed with conductive paint. A microcontroller on the back of the garment is connected via conductive thread, relaying signals produced from the child’s touch via Bluetooth LE (Low Energy, also known as Bluetooth Smart) to either an Android or iOS device, which plays back the sound in real time. Multiple T-shirts can be connected to a single mobile device, or each band member can use their own.

The designers say their concept “proposes an interactive implementation of smart materials and new wearable technologies. Furthermore, it is an approach of transporting the idea of activated material and animated textiles”.

Paris-based company The Faraday Project has released its first collection of high-end menswear made for the modern urban gentleman, featuring a lining which “protects every user from phone waves and NFC/RFID hacking” of their credit cards and personal identification. The concept, its creators say, is about “data and health protection through style and elegance”. They imagine their collection of Selvedge denim jeans, cotton chinos, blazers, shirts and French leather jackets as “the armour of the new urban pioneers”.

They see the pieces being worn by “doers with a new kind of smartness, pioneers of our future with a touch of technology. Their style is sober, aesthetic and smart; their denim is smart and functional”. The project’s partners - Charles-Antoine de Beaumont, Thomas Fayon and Alexandre Stourbe - have said they believe the risk of cancer from phone waves “is very real”.

Another start-up, Canadian company FuelWear Clothing, has a heat-warming shirt that monitors body temperature, and heats up – or cools down – to keep the wearer comfortable in cold climates.

Even contemporary brands are entering the fray of intelligent apparel, as seen with Ralph Lauren’s PoloTech biometric smart shirt. Unveiled in 2014, this hi-tech incarnation of the brand’s classic polo is a compression shirt with biometric sensors knitted into the fabric to collect health information, much like a sophisticated fitness band or smart watch.

Technological innovations are also appearing in the first layer of clothing. "There is no such thing as too much comfort in underwear," says Hanesbrands executive Jay Turner, introducing X-Temp, a temperature control and cooling technology, to its line-up of Hanes underwear.

After all, he points out, the gym is not the only place where temperatures rise and perspiration follows. “Normal workday pressures” like interviewing for a new job, making a big presentation or dealing with a demanding boss can set the body’s thermostat to "really uncomfortable," Turner says. “That's why it's important to choose undergarments designed to respond to your body temperature.”

By incorporating the same cooling technology used in active apparel, he says, Hanes’ X-Temp undershirts, socks and men's and women's underwear wick moisture away when the body heats up, keeping the wearer feeling comfortable around the clock.