With the rise of the fourth revolution upon us, changes are afoot that are affecting industries across the board including banking, manufacturing, technology, medical and one that is less heard about, fashion. Fashion often gets forgotten about when discussing the great technological advances of today but is one area that is perhaps benefiting from this wave of new technologies the most.
For fashion, the fourth revolution brings new fabrics and new manufacturing techniques. Some of these new fabrics that will be implemented will have computing embedded into their fibers at a microscopic level. This kind of technology will result in actual clothing being able to adjust its temperature or store energy like a battery.
Breakthroughs can already be seen in the world of fashion within the past few years, including the creation of Shrilk, which is a transparent compostable material made out of discarded shrimp shells and proteins from milk. Also, Qmilk is a new type of thread made from sour milk and is both fire and bacteria resistant. But, so far these brilliant inventions are yet to make their over to the clothing trade. This would require collaboration between scientists, manufacturers and designers and is yet to happen.
The fourth industrial revolution could bring with it many solutions to the fashion industry’s current problems including the scarcity of certain materials such as leather, cashmere, and silk. One of the ways this issue is being addressed is through the help of Suzanne Lee, creative director of Modern Meadow, a New York-based company that develops lab-grown leather. She advises that because of the way that animals have intensively farmed the quality of their hide is compromised. There is generally between 30 to 80 percent waste from one animal, which in terms of efficiency is very poor.
Around 10.5 million tons of clothing is sent to landfills every year, and that is from the U.S. alone. Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are in the process of building a 3D printer that could produce jewelry made from shrimp chitin. This would be a whole new type of biodegradable jewelry where it would be worn for a few months, and then could be tossed back in the ocean where it would dissolve in the water.
The cost of 3D printing is dropping and will continue to do so. Estimates suggest that the cost of an average 3D printed object will have between what it was in 2013 and what it will be in 2018. This will allow customization in fashion to become more cost effective. Adidas and Nike are already jumping on the 3D printing wagon as they are now utilizing 3D printers to customize the way their customers’ shoes fit.
As well as 3D printing, artificial intelligence is contributing to the onset of the fourth revolution by automating roles that were previously carried out by humans. This ability to make complex data driven decisions could help uncover trends and if a new product will become a bestseller. Also by using the AI’s to analyze online purchasing histories, social media trends, and other data quickly, firms will be able to predict what the market needs and supply it to them.
It’s not just the fashion industry that will benefit from 3D printed fashion items. The health industry too is currently marketing wearables such as Fitbit and Apple Watch and just last year Intel teamed up with Chromat to create a dress that was able to change its appearance based on the wearers’ breathing, body temperature, and sweat. This could be very beneficial for parents with children who have autism as they would be able to detect their child’s mood through the help of their clothing.
There will still be problems that the fashion industry will face even with the use of advanced technology. One of which is the time it takes to market a product in biotechnology can be 8-15 years, but the lifespan of a fashion trend is much less than that. But, all is not lost. The Revolutionary Fibres and Textiles Manufacturing Institute have set aside $300 million in grants which will go towards working with new materials.
Some partnerships have already been formed between the fashion and technology industries with Levi and Google pairing up to release a jacket that had Google’s Project jacquard technology woven into it. This allows the user to control their phone simply by touching their sleeve. One issue the fashion industry will face upon entering the fourth industrial revolution is the risk of counterfeit products being printed with very little control over it, currently. But, these things will get ironed out eventually, and business will be booming for the fashion industry with help from technology as it is in other industries.
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