recentpopularlog in

robertogreco : threadless   4

How textiles revolutionised technology – Virginia Postrel – Aeon
"Older than bronze and as new as nanowires, textiles are technology — and they have remade our world time and again"

"In February 1939, Vogue ran a major feature on the fashions of the future. Inspired by the soon-to-open New York World’s Fair, the magazine asked nine industrial designers to imagine what the people of ‘a far Tomorrow’ might wear and why. (The editors deemed fashion designers too of-the-moment for such speculations.) A mock‑up of each outfit was manufactured and photographed for a lavish nine-page colour spread.

You might have seen some of the results online: an evening dress with a see-through net top and strategically placed swirls of gold braid, for instance, or a baggy men’s jumpsuit with a utility belt and halo antenna. Bloggers periodically rediscover a British newsreel of models demonstrating the outfits while a campy narrator (‘Oh, swish!’) makes laboured jokes. The silly get‑ups are always good for self-satisfied smirks. What dopes those old-time prognosticators were!

The ridicule is unfair. Anticipating climate-controlled interiors, greater nudity, more athleticism, more travel and simpler wardrobes, the designers actually got a lot of trends right. Besides, the mock‑ups don’t reveal what really made the predicted fashions futuristic. Looking only at the pictures, you can’t detect the most prominent technological theme.

‘The important improvements and innovations in clothes for the World of Tomorrow will be in the fabrics themselves,’ declared Raymond Loewy, one of the Vogue contributors. His fellow visionaries agreed. Every single one talked about textile advances. Many of their designs specified yet-to-be-invented materials that could adjust to temperature, change colour or be crushed into suitcases without wrinkling. Without exception, everyone foretelling the ‘World of Tomorrow’ believed that an exciting future meant innovative new fabrics.

They all understood something we’ve largely forgotten: that textiles are technology, more ancient than bronze and as contemporary as nanowires. We hairless apes co-evolved with our apparel. But, to reverse Arthur C Clarke’s adage, any sufficiently familiar technology is indistinguishable from nature. It seems intuitive, obvious – so woven into the fabric of our lives that we take it for granted.

We drag out heirloom metaphors – ‘on tenterhooks’, ‘tow-headed’, ‘frazzled’ – with no idea that we’re talking about fabric and fibres. We repeat threadbare clichés: ‘whole cloth’, ‘hanging by a thread’, ‘dyed in the wool’. We catch airline shuttles, weave through traffic, follow comment threads. We talk of lifespans and spin‑offs and never wonder why drawing out fibres and twirling them into thread looms so large in our language."



"As late as the 1970s, textiles still enjoyed the aura of science. Since then, however, we’ve stopped thinking of them as a technical achievement. In today’s popular imagination, fabric entirely belongs to the frivolous world of fashion. Even in the pages of Vogue, ‘wearable technology’ means electronic gadgets awkwardly tricked out as accessories, not the soft stuff you wear against your skin – no matter how much brainpower went into producing it. When we imagine economic progress, we no longer think about cloth, or even the machines that make it.

This cultural amnesia has multiple causes. The rise of computers and software as the very definition of ‘high technology’ eclipsed other industries. Intense global competition drove down prices of fibres and fabric, making textiles and apparel a less noticeable part of household budgets, and turning textile makers into unglamorous, commodity businesses. Environmental campaigns made synthetic a synonym for toxic. And for the first time in human history, generations of women across the developed world grew up without learning the needle arts."



"Textiles illustrate a more general point about technology. The more advanced a field is, the more blasé we are about its latest upgrades. Success breeds indifference. We still expect Moore’s Law to hold, but we no longer get excited about the latest microprocessor. The public has largely forgotten the silicon in Silicon Valley.

New and improved fabric technologies haven’t attracted public enthusiasm since the backlash against leisure suits and disco shirts made synthetics declassé in the early 1980s. ‘Pity poor polyester. People pick on it,’ wrote The Wall Street Journal’s Ronald Alsop in 1982, describing DuPont’s efforts to rehabilitate the fibre’s image.

What ended the consumer hatred of polyester wasn’t a marketing campaign. It was a quiet series of technical innovations: the development of microfibres. These are synthetics, most often polyester or nylon, that are thinner than silk and incredibly soft, as well as lightweight, strong, washable and quick-drying. Their shapes can be engineered to control how water vapour and heat pass through the fabric or to create microcapsules to add sunscreen, antimicrobial agents or insect repellent. Over the past decade, microfibres have become ubiquitous; they’re found in everything from wickable workout wear to supersoft plush toys.

Microfibres are one reason the ‘air-conditioned’ fabrics Loewy and his fellow designers foresaw in 1939 have finally come to pass. These fabrics just aren’t promoted in the pages of Vogue or highlighted on the racks at Banana Republic. They don’t attract attention during New York Fashion Week. Their tribe gathers instead at the big Outdoor Retailer trade shows held twice a year in Salt Lake City. There, outdoor-apparel makers and their suppliers tout textiles that keep wearers warm in the cold and cool in the heat; that block raindrops but allow sweat to escape; that repel insects, screen out UV rays and control odour. By establishing that truly weather-resistant fabrics were possible, Gore-Tex (first sold in 1976) and Polartec synthetic fleece (1979) created an industry where engineers now vie to find ever-better ways to conquer the elements. For instance, ‘smart textiles’ originally developed for spacesuits use microencapsulated materials that melt when they get hot, keeping wearers comfortable by absorbing body heat; when temperatures fall, the materials solidify and warm the body."



"Reducing textiles to their functional properties misses much of their appeal, however. They’ve always been decorative as well, a source of sensory pleasure going all the way back to the sexy string skirts worn by Stone Age women. That’s why dyes have been so important in the history of chemistry and trade.

In our computer-centric era, the pursuit of beautiful textiles has naturally turned to information technology. Over the past decade, inkjet printing on fabric has taken off. Instead of requiring a separate plate for each colour, digital printing registers the entire design at once. So for the first time, designers can use as many colours, and as varied patterns, as they choose. Although it currently accounts for less than 5 per cent of printed fabrics, digital printing has already changed the way clothes look. It’s the technology driving the colourful prints so prominent in recent women’s fashion, as well as the crowdsourced design sites Threadless and Spoonflower.

The customers who’ve embraced those designs don’t think much about what makes them possible. But the very invisibility of textiles testifies to their power. We think of them as natural. The instinct behind ‘wearable technology’ is sound, even if the products so far are awkward. ‘Imagine a textile structured from a blend of different fibres which each function as component within a circuit, for example, battery fibres, solar fibres and antenna fibres,’ writes the US fashion technologist Amanda Parkes in an op-ed for the website Business of Fashion. ‘The material itself becomes a self-sustaining “textile circuit” that has its own power and interactive capabilities, but the embedded technology is essentially invisible.’

If the goal is to shrink the distance between nature and artifice, us and it, no technology is as powerful as fabric. Intimate and essential, it touches every moment of our lives. It is among the greatest products of human artifice. Yet it is also an extension of our skin."
textiles  glvo  virginiapostrel  history  clothing  crafts  culture  technology  2015  wearables  materials  industrialrevolution  fashion  craft  dyes  machines  printing  science  adamsmith  raymondloewy  arthurcclarke  dupont  synthetics  fabrics  fabric  elizabethbarber  williampetty  davidorban  josephmariejacquard  weaving  looms  knitting  spinning  craigmuldrew  jameshargreaves  richardarkwright  beverlylemire  samuelcrompton  1939  vogue  microfibres  gore-tex  polartec  ministryofsupply  mizzenandmain  yicui  materialsscience  threadless  spoonflower  amandaparkes  future  making  cv 
june 2015 by robertogreco
Threadless: The Do-First Work Ethic on Vimeo
"Jeffrey Kalmikoff and Jake Nickell, co-founders of Threadless, talk about how they transformed a fun side project into a multimillion dollar company."
threadless  diy  make  do  doing  do-first  glvo  tcsnmy  learning  failure  iteration  jeffreykalmikoff  jakenicjkell 
may 2010 by robertogreco
Threadless Is No Longer Placeless With Retail Store
'seem..odd...take on the added costs&management overhead of a brick-n-mortar store. It makes more sense...remember that Threadless is built on community. Having a physical space lets them give back to the community in ways a website never will."
business  clothing  threadless  retail  space  community  physical  interaction  lcproject 
october 2007 by robertogreco

Copy this bookmark:





to read