Clothing and Fashion: Goose-Bump Coats and Other Synbio Perks

Within this future, where nearly everything is biologically produced, we stretched our imagination to pursue concepts integrated in our daily lives. A fertile area would be the clothing industry, in which digital technology and fashion are merging in the work of designers such as Hussein Chalayan. Even more aptly, Suzanne Lee and others have already started working with textiles grown from synthetic organisms.[] What if these technologies could merge together?

Possibly we will be wearing entirely biodegradable garments that we have grown ourselves. This doesn’t mean the design aspect in fashion will become less significant: setting the parameters of how a dress grows will be just as skilled a job as drawing it. As in the other fields, models and shapes will be the focus of the new industrial processes in which an entire wardrobe of clothing could actually be supported by the same material, changing its shapes and properties according to the user’s needs and environment.

Imagine a scenario in which you fly from a Chilean summer to a -30 degree Canadian winter. Normally, you would have to pack two sets of clothing. What if you could just buy a new set of features for your shirt in an airport vending machine, as illustrated in Figure 17-2? During the flight the molecules in the shirt would be reconfigured so that it grows into a warm coat. The coat might even get goose bumps in the cold weather causing the hairs on the fabric to stand up and provide even greater thermal insulation. These kinds of organic mutations would require a significant amount of time to happen. But, if we combine them with nanotech, responses to the environment could be instantaneous.

Clothing would change in response to the social environments the wearer is in, shifting color to become anonymous in a crowd or become the focus of attention, or changing shape to be appropriate to the social situation, to make her feel comfortable and confident, as depicted in Figure 17-3. This could happen quite seamlessly: a combination of gestures directly on the fabric, interlaced with our behavioral patterns and the data gathered from the environment. Sensors embedded into the garments would continually feed data back into the clothing so that over time it would become optimally adjusted to the wearer’s needs. Fashion brands are already trying to envision this kind of future through their advertising.[]

The goose-bump coat

Figure 17-2. The goose-bump coat

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