on staying afloat

My February installment for Trouble magazine.

Hövding – an inflatable helmet for cyclists

Watching online footage of the monsoonal chaos unleashed in Queensland and schlomping around in the river that the latest floods created in our own backyard, I’ve found myself immersed in the terrene of technological wearables, keen to know where the fashion world is heading and what steps are being taken to keep us afloat.
Jumping castles, floaties and sex toys aside, inflatable fashion is amongst the movement of high tech, computerised clothing that seeks to create a seamless symbiosis between physical action and gadgetry interaction; hoping to offer greater awareness of how the products we consume aid or add doom to the shape of our future sphere.

For ladies who like to boat, or perhaps even townships whose main street is afloat, the Bandeau Belt is a subtle and stylish fabric accessory that unzips to conceal a personal flotation device, offering sea-faring safety without the fluro bulk. Cyclists have the space-age option of an inflatable helmet that lies hidden in a scarf. Individually tuned, rechargeable and extensively tested, Hövding, (seen above) can discern a crash motion from a bump or a cuddle and will deploy to cocoon your head before impact. Offered in a range of washable fashion fabrics, it is designed to give camouflaged protection for athletes and aesthetes alike.

The Danish company Diffus has created a Climate Dress – an elegant haute-tech evening frock that lights up to mimic carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere. Using conductive embroidery to transmit information to the hundreds of hand-stitched, appliquéd LEDs, it seems that excessive greenhouse gases will have this wearer looking radiant and aglow in an oscillating light show. Accompanied by “Herself”, a glamorous ‘air-purifying’ gown that apparently eliminates the pollutants that we breathe, these latest haute-technology gowns are designed to allow us to not only identify the toxins in the air, but to respond with improved respiratory health.

The Climate Dress by Diffuse

Then there are technologies that seem more stylish than sustainable, like the pulling of the Zip Jacket to control your iPod volume, or wearing garments that change colour in response to water or sound. There is also the wallet that will shrink and refuse to open if you indulge in excessive electronic spending and the little black dress that hugs the figure while working as a mobile phone.

image: Rainbow Winters – interactive couture

Although these are small, quirky, even gimmick-y projects, they are nonetheless weaving their way into the pending loom of ‘sustainable’ nanotechnologies – a fibrous world, where future frocks will be crafted out of energy-harvesting fabrics.  A world where photovoltaic, or solar cells will be decoratively screen-printed onto our garments to convert sunlight into energy; where piezoelectric fabrics will convert the wearer’s kinetic energy into usable electricity, and where electro-active polymers will change shape as electricity passes through, offering a responsive energy source to power the gadgets we carry on our bodies and keep in our homes.

In this version of our future world, perhaps our reliance on appliances will have direct correlation to our fitness and health, as powering our gadgets by kinetic energy will rely on the physical acceleration of our body’s motion. Maintaining a constant energy flow will also require a constant body speed, which may mean that idle time could no longer be spent sending messages or talking on the phone – unless of course the Idle Parent movement takes hold and our already wired children get hard-wired, powering our communication as they play an innocent game of catch.

For surely there is a catch? In this latest installment of man vs nature who, or what, will win? Perhaps this technology does have the potential to bring profound change in people’s relationship to their environment, but at what cost? Is more energy being used in the making of these products than can possibly be reclaimed or offset by whatever carbon rationalising means we choose? Do we want to be so entwined with technology that on waking breath we’re already plugged in? And have we simply opened another floodgate with potential to further reign us in?

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