Written by:Charles Taylor

Published: October 20, 2023

What is the Future of Design for Smart Textiles?


Smart Textiles: The Future of Design Solutions 

What do Spacesuits for NASA astronauts and the jackets worn by Team USA at the opening ceremony of the 2018 Winter Olympics have in common?

Both use smart textile technologies.

Sensors in spacesuits help detect space debris and monitor vital health statistics, critical for the well-being and survival of astronauts. Heated jackets used by Team USA ensure that athletes are kept warm and reduce the risk of injury so that they are at peak performance – and can secure those medals!

These examples highlight the developing integration of this technology into mass-market products.

Smart Textile technology has the potential to deliver solutions to modern-day social challenges and future lifestyle trends.

With multiple big tech companies patenting a series of Smart Textile products, the industry is growing rapidly. But where do the opportunities lie, and what challenges do we need to be aware of?

What can Smart Textiles do: Removing Material Limitations 


What are Smart Textiles?

Smart Textile Technology is the seamless integration of electronics and textiles. There is a wide range of potential applications for the technology within military, healthcare, elite sports, fashion and PPE spaces to name a few.

As individuals and as a society we have become more aware of the consequences that our purchasing actions have on the planet. The Designing Plastics Circulation report by the Nordic Council of Ministers (NCM) cited that it is estimated that “80% of environmental pollution and 90% of manufacturing costs’ are the result of decisions made at the product design stage.

So what can smart textiles do?

For designers, this technology can offer an environmentally friendly alternative to the metals and plastics that are seen as the ‘go-to’ in new products.

Emphasis is also being put on using recycled plastic compounds formed into a textile as one of the main materials, helping to reduce the global wastage of plastic.

Specifically, within the development of smart textiles components great focus is being put into ensuring that the products are designed with their ‘end of life’ at the forefront of design planning. All of these conscious decisions help move consumer products towards a circularity lifecycle.

Realise Design has developed its own inhouse framework Positive Products, which sits alongside the traditional design and development process. It helps challenge all stakeholders in the decision-making process and to empower designers, and thus forcing positive change inside the business at an earlier stage of development.

This tool kit will prove essential as new technologies evolve and products come to mass market and their long-term impact on the environment.

Smart Textiles Potential: 

There have been some good early examples of sustainable Smart Textile solutions in action;

  • Graspor, consists of a sensor system that measures Muscle Oxygen and Muscle Activation levels to optimise training and prevent injuries in athletes. Having a Smart Textile product allows the equipment to function outside of a laboratory setting. The lab equipment can be miniaturised and embedded into clothing, making it possible for athletes to now wear the equipment as part of their apparel, rather than being wired up, they gather live data as part of their regular routine. Using less plastic and metal for measuring Key Performance Indicators is an effective way in which the sports industry can develop more sustainable products.
  • Carpetlight, originating by the German embroidery company Foster Rohner, offers customized flexible LED lamps on fabrics in any size for professional lighting options. This product has been used extensively for lighting in film and television productions. Previously the lighting equipment would have contained large amounts of both plastic and metals, however that quantity is vastly reduced in the Carpetlight product. Using lighter materials means that the Carpetlight is easy to pack, and transport compared to traditional lighting equipment. The holistic design approach allows the Carpetlight to be used in a versatile way whilst also saving on energy consumption during manufacturing.


Building Industry Standards to Support Growth 

In order to advance the development of the sector, recently formed Smart Textile Alliance (STA) (hyperlink) is looking to provide sustainable standards. Founded in October 2020, they have set up their offices within the headquarters of the UK Fashion and Textile Association in Queen Square, London. They are led by the experienced Christian Dalsgaard (founder and former CTO of Ohmatex) and Mili Tharakan (former Head of the Welspun Innovation Lab).

As one of their main pillars of business they offer an Advisory Program (hyperlink) that helps companies to develop new products, expand their manufacturing capabilities to take Smart Textile products to market or make adaptations to Smart Textile products.

Starting your Smart Textile Journey 

What do existing products on the market, for example, Hedkayse and Airhead, look like with Smart Textile integration? What new commercial opportunities could this technology bring? By integrating technology into textiles, you open a range of opportunities that would not previously have been available.

The STA is incredibly passionate about promoting Smart Textile Technology and embracing diverse design ideas from across the sector. Realise is proactively looking to evaluate the opportunity for Smart Textile integration with new products to market alongside STA.

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0117 325 9100 | Info@realisedesign.co.uk

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