From Athleisure to Haute Couture: The Evolution of Fashion Materials
Textiles are synonymous with culture. Textiles first uses are said to date back to primitive times when people would separate strands of flax fibers to weave into fabrics and color using natural dyes from plants.
It wasn’t until the year 5,000 BCE when cotton, silk, and linen began cropping up all over India, Egypt, and China. Traditional methods like plain weave and Twill have seen little variations throughout the centuries, but it's the increased speed and capacity that contributed to the industry’s fierce growth. The Industrial Revolution The Industrial Revolution is when fast fashion began picking up speed. The same era introduced the spinning Jenny, which was one of the key developments in the industrialization of weaving. It wasn't long before the invention of the sewing machine saw manufacturing rates soar and prices drop, making the fast fashion cycle possible.
The 19th Century
From fur and plant-based textiles, technology has come a long way. Silk, lace, and linen were some of the most popular raw materials, though more so among the wealthy, while the middle-class would wear knitted wool and cotton — fabrics hailed for their versatility. As steam and water-powered machinery became accessible to more manufacturers, centralized factories began to pop up around Western Europe and North America. Soon, aniline dyes were also discovered and an entire spectrum of color became available.
The rise of the synthetic fabric industry
The next significant wave in textile innovation came with the birth of synthetic fabrics. Cellulose-based synthetics like rayon became more common, but history has DuPont to thank for pivoting the industry. Their scientists are credited for developing the very first nylon in 1935, which made its market debut through their iconic stockings. With that, synthetics were brought to the masses.
The innovation of man-made fibers
As manufacturing capabilities expanded, clothes became more than just protective fabric. Improvements like wrinkle and stain resistance became possible, thus paving the way for sportswear companies like Adidas and Nike to create their own line of workout gear and what’s now known as athleisure wear. These brands developed fabric designed to keep moisture away from the body to prevent the material from becoming heavy and clingy. Even accessories like socks got the high-tech treatment; Coral details how modern socks have anti-microbial properties and anti-odor finishes to prevent athlete’s foot. This represents a major leap forward in manufacturing textiles and is a healthy evolution for feet, which tend to be neglected when it comes to fashion.
Wearable technology hits the mainstream
Eventually, it wasn't just sportswear brands leveraging the latest tech. "Wearable technology" became the catch-all term for these advancements, characterized by built-in thermal support, electronic devices incorporated into threads and more. In 2014, UK fashion brand THE UNSEEN pushed boundaries with a capsule collection made of specialized fabric that changed color when hit with environmental stimuli. Even longstanding companies like Levi's are catching up, having recently released a $350 denim jacket that allows users to control their phone through gestures.
Textiles and the future of fashion
Yet, the textile industry hasn't lost its fashion ties to function just yet. In the last few years, more designers have turned to fabrics to set themselves apart. Man Repeller shares that fabrics have always represented someone’s social status, with silk and cashmere being the elites’ thread of choice. On the runway, this is exhibited through couture labels like Chanel and Margiela, who each feature an abundant selection of shining silver garments and holographic pieces in their recent collections. Similarly, Valentino and Rick Owens make use of botanical patterns and richly dyed wool to exude luxury and elegance. On the other hand, brands like ElektroCouture and Friends and 3lectromode have been ushering in a new era that merges fashion with tech, developing the hybrid “techno-fashion” with interactivity in mind. A century ago, these concepts were wildly unheard of. With this new generation of designers breathing fresh life into the textile industry, the power of fabric is recognized once again. In the past, it has been a touchpoint for some of the most influential eras in history and remains to be one of the greatest products ever invented.