As with the rest of human civilization, textiles have come a long way in recent years. Go back a few centuries and your fabric and style choices were rather limited. Over the last hundred and some years, however, textiles and fabrics have rapidly evolved, affording people more choices than ever before. Textile expert Philip Bart sheds light.
“If you slow down and think about textiles, the progress we’ve made as a civilization is truly astounding,” Philip Bart argues. “This is true in terms of the quality and diversity of fabrics and also true in terms of cost.”
Throughout much of history, clothing was relatively expensive. Clothing was traditionally made by hand and involved a lot of labor power. While closets today are often stuffed to the brim with clothing, throughout history many people only owned a few pieces. Then, in the 18th century, powered looms were created, making it possible to mass produce fabric.
When you think about mass production and industrialization, you might first think of automobiles or electronics. But advances in textiles were every bit as dramatic and important. And as technology continues to advance, textiles will as well.
Today, people have far more choices in terms of styles, cuts, materials, and more. Throughout most of history, clothing was made from organic materials, like cotton or silk. Now, synthetic materials, like polyester, nylon, and spandex, are also very common and affordable. Still, as far as we’ve come, textiles have plenty of room to grow.
“Synthetic fabrics were revolutionary when they entered the market. And now, we’re seeing cutting-edge smart fabrics and nanotechnology textiles emerging,” Mr. Bart points out. “These fabrics will further improve how useful and functional our clothing is.”
Currently, scientists are working on so-called “smart” fabrics. Fabrics are being designed to collect solar energy and charge electronics, such as your smartphone. Other fabrics are being designed to monitor human health. If you’re suffering a medical event, your clothing might give you a warning. Some smart fabrics may be able to adjust to the environment, becoming more breathable when you’re hot or more thermally insulated when you’re cold.
“The fabrics we can access now are far better than the fabrics the average person could access in the 19th century,” Mr. Bart notes. “But as far as we’ve come, new smart fabrics promise a much more useful future.”
Did you know that you can purchase pineapple leather? Or that you can make silk-like materials from orange peels? One of the biggest sources of innovation for textiles has been the drive for sustainability and reusing what would otherwise become waste.
Mr. Bart notes that some of the most interesting fabric developments are the results of efforts to increase sustainability. If we can take materials that would otherwise go to waste and repurpose them into making clothing, we might not only revolutionize textiles, but can build towards a cleaner, greener future.