Is The Textile Industry Heading For A 4th Industrial Revolution?

Textile Industry

A recently released report foresees the next industrial revolution, with the fashion and textile industry being the beneficiary. Its drivers: technology and fabrics.

Smart textile on the forerun

According to technology consultancy Cientifica, the rise of smart textile wearables is unstoppable, potentially resulting in a value of the textile and fashion industry of over $130 billion by 2025; an enormous number, which seems to justify the thesis. Adding the pace in which technologies such as 3D printing or nanotechnology have changed the world of fashion until today, it sounds even less far-fetched.

Smart textiles – a classification

In the past, we already have reported about smart textiles, e.g. when we introduced the work of Lauren Bowker who designs inks that respond to environmental and biometric change. A T-shirt which, when in contact with polluted water, adapts its color is one example of her work. And in a nutshell, this is what smart textiles (or e-textiles, or smart clothing) is all about: The fashion of the future senses and reacts to external stimuli, with the stimuli being as diverse as our surroundings and ranging from thermal to electrical or mechanical sources – to name only a few. Yet, Cientifica’s report provides a more detailed classification of smart textiles, showing where we are now and where the journey will go. Reason enough to fill you in.

The three generations

The report distinguishes between three generations of textile wearable technologies:

  1. The first generation is where a sensor is externally attached to clothes. Looking for an example, we stumbled across a co-operation between Levi’s and Google, even though the technology is not attached but woven in.
  2. Second generation products embed the sensor in the garment, the sportswear brand Athos being an important player.
  3. In third generation wearables, the garment is the sensor. Here, technology and fabrics merge. To say so, the fabric is the technology – or vice versa, depending on where you stand.

Summing it up, while first and second generation smart textiles are garment plus electronics, third generation devices use the fashion as the sensor. Just take the example of the color-changing T-shirt and you have a good one to explain the functionality of third generation wearables to your friends – and this is where, as to the report, the future, as well as the massive potential, lies.

Which markets could benefit? Key growth areas

Sports, health, and wellbeing are said to be the major markets for textile-based wearables – at least initially. In the longer run, the report sees the biggest potential for e-textiles in the medical sector, as technology will mature and be repurposed for medical monitoring. Yet, legal constraints are biggest here. Also, technology in the medical market needs to be error-free. These hurdles could slow the rise of wearables a little. But as monitoring biometric data or environmental factors and receiving immediate feedback such as color changes is already part of our reality, large-scale usage should only be a matter of time – in fact, the report sees smart textiles overtaking within only six years.

Can you imagine wearing apparel that mirrors your feelings or starts an alarm if your pulse rate is too high? Why? Or why not? Leave us a comment!