The fashion industry, just like any industry, is attempting to merge with technology at a fast rate. This combination has to be extremely functional, subtle and be something the consumer would potentially need in his/her daily life- that is simply what good design is all about, right?
The most common commingling of fashion and technology we've seen in recent years is various methods for charging your electronic devices, such as your tablet, smartphone, gaming systems directly from your clothing, without the extra need to carry cables or portable chargers with you. How do you do that? Using solar panels. Sounds like a great idea right? So why doesn't every jacket, dress and blouse have this useful technology installed already and why haven't we seen these items invade the market yet? The answer to this complex design problem is simple, and we'll go into some detail explaining why we think so bellow:
1. It Is Expensive
It really comes down to the price point. When you weigh the dollar amount to the need for the product it becomes not-worth-it to the consumer. In other words, as much as I like the concept, why would I spend over $500 for a regular clothing item that charges my phone when I can get a portable charger for $8 at the drug store. Yes, it will take some extra effort on my part to charge the device but it is a smarter purchase when you think about the odds of your phone loosing battery. In addition, there is huge competition with Apple's Iphone and other devices that have already introduced a Battery Save mode which works pretty well in maintaining your smartphone's battery throughout the day, minimizing the need for outside charging devices- and, it's technically free!
There is definitely a pricing issue with technology infused apparel and it is not the product designer's fault either- It's nobody's fault really. the problem is that we can't get discreet, solar panels at a reasonable wholesale cost yet, and the manufacturing cost of these clothing items is through the roof. By the time it gets to the consumer, the cost has tripled and many people cannot afford the luxury of purchasing an item as such.
2. It is not aesthetically and functionally easy to wear yet
If we're going to spend a lot on techno-apparel we want it to offer top-notch comfort and make us "look good" for lack of a better term. The fact that clothing should increase our confidence and be flattering will always be a reality as long as we remain human. This factor has proven to be true throughout history, it is today, and will be for as long as we wear clothing. The issue with solar panel clothing at the moment is that the need for larger panels creates a bulky, almost overly-futuristic look the average consumer is not yet comfortable wearing. We simply don't have the right developments to incorporate solar panel technology into apparel in a discreet, extremely functional way. For example, if we had access to a small chip technology that used solar energy to build enough power for charging our devices fully, and this chip technology would come at a reasonable cost, we would most likely see this used very often across the market. We are simply not there yet. Instead, we have to settle for the use of a larger solar panel surface in order to achieve full charge. As a result, we have to settle for heavier, bulkier, and less comfortable clothing.
3. Other industries can offer a more affordable, reachable solution
We mentioned the Battery Save mode on your smartphone as a solution for fixing the battery problem. This comes at an all-inclusive cost to the smartphone user, and in fact, works pretty well. There are also simple solar charging tablet and smartphone cases that also come at a reasonable cost and can actually get rid of the need to ever charge your phone by cable. Unfortunately for the solar apparel industry, the probability that these will be the norm for charging our devices in the near future is very high- the clothing industry simply cannot compete. It is very likely that unless tech science comes up with a very subtle but powerful solar charging method that can be incorporated into apparel at a low cost, the idea of charging your devices with your clothing is slowly going to be overtaken by other industries. That is not to say that the apparel industry can't bounce back with advancements in product design and customer satisfaction. In fact, the clothing industry can simplify and solve problems in the consumer's life by more mechanical means. For example, a good convertible clothing item that is comfortable and wearable can sometimes be a simple answer to a complex problem. Every industry has its own strengths and weakness, but the apparel industry will always have an upper hand in the art of textile use.
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Designer by trade and dressmaker at heart. I spend most of my days obsessing over new fabrics and daydreaming new ideas.
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