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business models, strategies and technologies

Condition-responsive textiles – clothing gets configurable

Threads and fibres no longer have to be static – they can be made to change technical capabilities

All over the world, thread, yarns and fibres of countless kinds and with myriads of different specs get woven into garments and textiles. These, in turn, are the basis for huge industrial manufacturing and logistics operations, spewing out more-or-less planet-destructive products in a cycle of misery that seems endlessly repeated.

Beyond static capabilities

There are now lots of ways of improving the performance, capabilities and environmental responsibility of fibres used in textiles. However, such measures usually only tweak certain performance parameters, and just create (temporary) competitive advantage for individual companies. The sheer volume involved in the textile industry means there’s no major change unless any particular incremental tweak or improvement goes mainstream.

Each fibre, garment or product usually does one specific job, or has one particular set of characteristics. Each is normally a singular, static function provider, fashion statement or comfort facilitator. And this doesn’t change anything significant in the overall business model – or the huge worldwide volume of more-or-less polluting textile products en route to landfill or incineration.

Which is why there’s a whole science/market segment for layering. And why we have winter coats and summer jackets, rainwear, warm clothing and pack-light alternatives – etc.  Resource-squandering duplication …

Manipulating the “four Ts” of yarn making

US-based Skyscrape – and its technology – seems to be making a noteworthy change to this, with innovative, thermally adaptive yarn that automatically and naturally responds to changing temperatures by expanding or contracting. This then makes the yarn bend, which increases or reduces the thickness of the fabric of which it is a component – and makes its insulation properties respond to changing ambient temperatures.

Skyscrape apparently aims to create clothing that’s sufficiently thermally comfortable to reduce the considerable amounts of energy used to heat and cool building interiors. Their innovative work is reportedly based on research done at Otherlab and supported by the United States Department of Energy. It also seems to be based on work at Kestrel Materials.

As of Q1 2020, Skyscrape is apparently still transitioning from lab potential to product launch, but the lesson seems clear. They’re showing that it’s commercially feasible to manipulate the “four Ts” of yarn specifications – time, temperature, tension and twist – in order to create a biomorph textile structure that naturally changes thickness and thermal properties. The material change is a physical response, with no wires or sensors and no need for input from the wearer or any control system. Brent Ridley, now Skyscrape CEO, explains the tech and the developmental back story here.

Passive thermodynamic textiles

Passive thermodynamic textiles that “automatically” respond to variations in temperature mean people can make do with fewer layers of clothing for comfort over a broader temperature range, effectively lowering the heating and cooling requirements for buildings. Multiple items of clothing can be replaced by just one, thus reducing the increasingly controversial and unacceptable fashion/textile impact on our planet and its ecosystems.

This can be just one chess piece in the textile and fashion industries’ struggle to provide even a vaguely credible response to the widespread ongoing critique of their wear-and-discard business model.

Metamorphic design

Biomorphing yarns and thermally adaptive fabrics whose thickness and insulation value alter in direct response to changes in temperature also represent a practical example of a new perspective on textiles of all kinds, as having dynamic, multifaceted capabilities.

Metamorphic design is the now-popular moniker for such products, services and experiences that automatically adapt to the changing needs of the individual user – a key mindset for more intelligent ways to meet human needs with less overall impact.