Could Solar Panels and LEDs Be Fashion's Next Must-Have Accessories?

Could Solar Panels and LEDs Be Fashion's Next Must-Have Accessories?

By Heather Corcoran
When fashion meets technology, the results can be electrifying.

Just when it seems like everything in the world is plugged in, the latest area to get the high-tech treatment is clothing. From the runways to the gear shop, these designers are redefining wearable tech

Junya Watanabe Man

For fall/winter 2016, Junya Watanabe showcased a collection featuring solar panels embedded into bonded polyurethane fabrics. 

In a menswear collection themed "Outside," Junya Watanabe pared of-the-moment technology with performance oriented materials. Models in the fall/winter show wore coats with embedded solar panels, which charge a battery that can power a smart phone or other electronic devices. The polyurethane bonded fabrics were paired with paraffin-coatings and aluminum linings (a move borrowed from military wear) to make pieces water resistant and add an extra layer of protection. 

Pauline Van Dongen's Solar Shirt uses 120 thin-film solar cells integrated directly into the fabric to generate up to 1 watt of electricity to keep devices charged. 

Pauline Van Dongen

Emerging Dutch designer Pauline Van Dongen is doing similar work integrating tech into clothing with pieces like her Solar Shirt, a T featuring 120 thin-film solar cells that can produce up to a watt of electricity. The design utilizes the Holst Centre research and development lab's stretchable interconnect technology to combine the cells into functional modules and integrate them into fabric. Her investigation into high-tech clothing has a life beyond high fashion; the designer has also designed parkas with solar panels for Holland's Wadden Sea rangers. 


BirkSun's backpacks make charging mobile with integrated solar panels and a battery.

A more accessible take on the trend can be found from BirkSun, the California backpack company that's giving users a way to charge their devices on the go. The bags feature 3 or 4.4 watt panels, which charge smartphones an estimated 1 percent for every 3 or 2 minutes, respectively, of sunlight exposure.

Chromat LAB

Chromat's Lumia collection, which changes color in reaction to movement thanks to the Intel Curie Module.

Another wave of young labels are exploring how technology can make clothing not just more functional, but also more fun. Along with her ready-to-wear line, Chromat's Becca McCharen, a designer trained in architecture and urban planning, also creates projects under the umbrella of Chromat LAB, where she partners with innovators like 3D printing expert Francis Bitonti and computing giant Intel. For fall/winter 2016, she turned her focus toward biomimicry and luminescence, which a collection of responsive accessories that can change the garments' glow.

She's not alone in her high-tech investigations. Other emerging labels, like Studio XO and  Neurocouture, are also tapping into the emotional side of technology in their collections. Recent runways have seen pieces with embedded fiberoptic LEDs that can change color based on the user's mood or that use EEG devices to measure brainwaves and use the resulting data to determine the patterns projected onto clothing. Thanks to integrated technology, these responsive garments are allowing consumers, as Studio XO designer Nancy Tilbury has said, "to wear the Internet." Thanks to technology, custom clothing is taking on a whole new meaning. 

Cover photo courtesy by Liselotte Fleur, Model: Ann at Paparazzi Models; Hair and make up by Angelique Stapelbroek.


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