Imagine the cave man’s reaction going from animal skins to the advent of textiles. Around 5,000 BCE, textiles made from wool, cotton and silk fibers were being woven in Egypt, India and China. Those fibers and methods of weaving were the mainstay of the industry until the advent of man-made textiles like rayon in 1855, viscose 1894 and acetate in 1910. Then, along came the big disruptors…synthetic fibers. These included nylon (1931), polyester (circa 1941), modacrylic (1949) and acrylic (1950). Then there was a trend in creating fabric out of more sustainable fibers and materials such as bamboo, corn, pineapple and even plastic bottles and of course silver nanoparticles used used to impart antimicrobial properties to cotton fibers to aid in the healing of wounds.
Now… enter the 21st century and the latest version of textile disruption …technology. In our blog last week, we discussed the innovative possibilities of 3D and laser printing and the growing list designers who are embracing a futuristic approach to fashion. Let’s check out how technology is affecting and shaping the world of textiles.
This past spring, college researchers in Florida created a temperature-controlled color-changing fabric known as ChroMorphous. Consumers will now have the ability to change the color and pattern of their handbag or scarf, so that it matches their outfit…all possible with a tap of their smartphone.
Dr. Ayman Abouraddy, professor of optics and photonics at the College of Optics & Photonics at the University of Central Florida (CREOL), stated that the age of user-controlled color-changing fabric is here. “Our goal is to bring this technology to the market to make an impact on the textile industry,” he said.
So, how does ChroMorphous work? How can fabric change color and pattern? According to Dr. Abouraddy, “each woven thread is equipped with a micro-wire and a color-altering pigment. You can use your smartphone to change the color or pattern of the fabric on-demand, as the wire can alter the temperature of the fabric in a quick and uniform way. The change in temperature is barely noticeable by touch.”
Abouraddy and Josh Kaufman have been working on optical technology for over a decade at CREOL, but it has only been in the past couple of years that they have veered away from that work, to produce this new kind of fabric. “This is the culmination of our work,” said Kaufman. “We developed different fabrication techniques. This is our first foray in taking those optical fibers into fabric.”
In the past, color-changing fabrics contained light-emitting diodes, better known as LED’s, that release light in a variety of colors. But ChroMorphous’ technology enables innovative capabilities, in that consumers can control the color as well as the pattern in woven fabrics and cut-and-sewn products.
The threads are made from a synthetic polymer. Within each thread there is a thin metal micro-wire. Electric currents flow through these micro-wires, changing the thread temperature, slightly higher. But don’t worry they do not touch the customer’s skin. Embedded in the thread are special pigments that respond to the change in temperature by changing the thread’s color.
Just think of the infinite possibilities this advanced technology gives designers and consumers. ChroMorphous allows the user to control, both when the color change happens and what pattern they want to appear on the fabric. All this is possible with just a simple press of a button on your smart device.
“Can we expect an ever-expanding range of functionalities from our clothing? These were the questions we asked when creating the ChroMorphous technology that we began developing in 2016,” Abouraddy said. He claims that the technology is scalable at mass-production levels via a process known as fiber-spinning and is currently produced in Melbourne, Florida, with CREOL’s collaborators at Hills Inc. Founded in 1971, Hills Inc. is a well-known innovator in multi-component fiber extrusion technologies.
The CREOL team is working closely with Hills Inc. to minimize the diameter of the threads in order to produce fabrics for the wide-scale market. This innovative fabric can be used in everything from clothing and accessories to furniture and home decor.
So, I’m sure you want to know…how is the fabric charged and how can it be washed? Well, the fabric is powered by a rechargeable battery pack that is hidden inside the clothing. The texture of the fabric is like denim, and it can be washed and ironed.
Abouraddy stated that he expects mass production to begin within the next year. At the moment, the threads are too thick for clothing, but they will work with bags, scarves, and backpacks. “We would reduce the threads in the future to make it more comfortable for a shirt,” Abouraddy said. “It’s not just for things you would wear. It could be used for upholstery, wall decorations for a room … you could change it to darker and more soothing colors.”
This product is the result of a decade’s worth of research with the past year and a half focused on textiles. It may have taken centuries to get here but wow, the future of textiles has never been more exciting than it has been in just the past decade. Wonder what the future has in store?
So tell us, are you ready to embrace the future of technological textiles?