- A clothing manufacturer is using fabric developed by NASA to make warm clothes.
- One fashion company designs garments that can hide your identity from spy cameras.
- A researcher is developing a new process to cut textile waste.
A growing number of high-tech garments can do everything from warming you up to protecting your privacy.
Vollebak recently released its Titan collection, which includes a puffer jacket, trousers, and a hat. The clothes are made from space parachute fabric developed by NASA, military materials developed for the British Special Forces, and insulation made from recycled plastic bottles.
“The lining of the Titan Puffer is one of the most technically innovative fabrics we’ve ever worked with: a super-strong but extremely lightweight polyamide that NASA spent 15 years developing for use in its space parachutes,” Steve Tidball, the CEO of Vollebak told Lifewire in an email interview. “This material helped to land the Cassini-Huygens probe on Titan and the Perseverance Rover on Mars, and it’ll be deployed again in 2026 when NASA’s Dragonfly rotorcraft starts its journey to Titan.”
The name of the Titan range of clothes was inspired by the moon of Saturn, which has an average temperature of -179°C. To measure the Titan range's performance in extreme cold, the company took the Titan puffer jacket to a laboratory with a liquid nitrogen testing chamber which can create rapid temperature changes.
"This kind of liquid nitrogen chamber is normally used to test hardware like electronic components for missiles which have to function in freezing temperatures at high altitude," Tidball said. "Our Titan puffer tests were the first time this technique has been applied to a piece of clothing."
The Titan line isn’t the only clothing that’s seeing high-tech innovations. There’s an Italian brand called Cap_able design that has patented a process combining textiles, fashion, and engineering that enables garments to confuse facial recognition. The company’s lead designer Rachele Didero was inspired to create the type of garment after meeting a computer scientist. The two discussed how they could develop fabrics using AI algorithms to allow people to protect their privacy.
The company claims the clothes can deceive algorithms meant to identify human shapes. When wearing one of the garments, the biometric data of your face is either not detectable, or it is associated with an incorrect category, such as 'animal' rather than 'person.'
Recent innovations are also helping makers make better-fitting clothes. New kinds of 3D garment rendering software are being used to develop new garments and speed up the sampling process, Robert Felder, the CEO of the clothing company Bearbottom, said in an email interview. The software has helped companies to test more ideas and styles without the long lead time and shipping across the world that the traditional sampling process has.
"This software can show how different garments and fabrics will fit on all different bodies," he added. "It is likely that in the next decade when shopping online, rather than seeing a photo of a product on a model, you will be able to see how each product will fit on your body with software like this."
More Tech, Less Waste
While most clothing research goes into figuring out how to make more and better garments, scientists are also turning to technology to solve the problem of clothing waste. In the United States, 11 million metric tons of textile waste go into landfills every year.
Sonja Salmon, a professor of textile engineering, chemistry, and science at North Carolina State University, is studying a process for separating blended fabrics into their component fibers so they can be recycled or composted.
Most textile waste comes from two materials, or polymers, Salmon said in a news release. The individual fibers are twisted together tightly at the yarn level, so it’s difficult to unravel and recycle them. Salmon is working on a chemical method of separating the fibers.
"The techniques involves enzymes, to go in there and chew up the cotton part and separate it so you end up with clean polyester that you can recycle," Salmon said. "From the digested cotton, you end up with this fine fiber material that you can pump with a liquid spray into a compost pile. It's another option for these little tiny fibers; they are a waste, but if you put them into compost, they might be a useful waste."