21st Century Fashion – Thinking Beyond the Technology
Thursday, February 10, 2011There is a growing trend towards “technology hype” in the world of fashion as an amazing array of new technologies are featured on the fashion runways and new products begin to appear in the marketplace. This fashion technology hype, like all the other hypes that precede it, will grow to a head and then, in all likelihood, burst over the next few years, leading to disillusionment and then the real business of fashion – at which time the real fashion revolution to occur.
Ultimately, the revolution won’t be about the technology per se, but how the new functionality impacts on our everyday lives. Understanding the impact of new and emerging technologies is vital to the fashion industry – individual businesses that understand how changing fashions and garment functionality can be taken up within everyday life or in specialized applications will profit and grow from the trend. In the long term, those involved more in the hype risk losing out.
But the set of technologies that are emerging are complex and very, very different from what we have been used to seeing, even in the highly computerized world of today. Most of the technologies towards which we have learned to accommodate ourselves are communications technologies in one form or another, whether these be document production tools (the basic computer and the computerized office), mobile phones, display devices or auditory devices. However, although some communications technologies will merge with fabrics and fashions over the next few years, other technologies are very different. Some of these include energy generation technologies, others involve biophysical sensing, and still others embrace movement analysis and enhancement. Our modern instincts won’t always help us with these new technology infiltrations into our daily lives.
These new functionalities and the ways in which fashions incorporate and harness them will profoundly affect our lives – at least as much as the computer revolution has up to now. In earlier postings I talked about how fashion affects our sense of identity and how our ideas about identity have changed over the past few years. The arrival of new functionalities will continue to transform our understanding of the human condition. For example, with the incorporation of biosensors into our garments that react to body and/or emotional states of being will change the way in which we experience the world emotionally. We have already explored how people use their fashion choices as a tool to manage their emotions – this effect is going to be amplified as the clothes respond dynamically to our inner states. This may lead to more intense feelings – something that not everyone looks forward to. We shall be able to influence our emotional state in more direct ways, but we may also be more vulnerable to the efforts of others to influence us.
There is speculation that it may be possible to turn the emergent energy-generation functions of some of these new clothes into a means to “upload” energy to the main grid – this could lead to new possibilities for generating revenue. It is likely, in fact, that a whole range of micro revenue generation activities will become possible, in much the same way that some websites today allow individuals to generate income through how their blogs or websites direct internet traffic. These individual revenue generation activities, based on daily activities that are contributed to communal clearing houses, will contribute to redefining the relationship between the individual body and social or corporate initiatives.
The complexity and diversity of garment technologies will also likely lead to an extension of artistic creativity among individuals in terms of how these functionalites are harnesses. In line with the do-it-yourself movements, we may see much greater communal tolerance towards individual expressions. Today fashions are fairly conform and uniform – trends are driven by an alliance of large companies and individual “genius” designers, and although one sees a lot of variation in style, basic functionality is similar. This is almost certainly going to change as the range of possible functions to which clothes can be put increases dramatically.
These are only a few guesses at some of the changes we may see in fashions and how fashions are adopted. As the movement progresses and the technologies become increasingly available, our understanding will improve. But one thing is certain – 21st century fashion will be radically different from what we’ve seen for the past fifty years or so, and, although technology may be one of the driving forces of change, it is not the technology that will dominate our experience. It will be the changes in our life patterns that matter.