We all remember the show-stopping gown Clare Danes wore to the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s annual gala. Designed by Zach Posen, the dress was made using a fiber-optic woven organza powered by 30 mini battery packs attached to the lining. The dress didn’t light up on the red carpet but the glow effect was fully visible in a darker environment. It apparently took 6 people and 600 hours to make it, definitely not something that can be repeated at industrial scale.
Zach Posen was not the first designer inspired by light and trying to incorporate it into his creations. Few years earlier, designer Ying Gao created dresses that mix motion, photo-luminescent thread and eye tracking technology. Her two dresses come alive thanks to observer’s gaze: tiny motors slowly move the fabric so that the dress looks breathing. When the light is turned off, the dresses become illuminated and create beautiful, mesmerizing patterns.
Until recently illumination was used mostly at experimental level: led-embedded textiles were not very user-friendly, impossible to wash and delicate (it was reported that Clare Danes came by bus to the MET gala as the dress would be damaged if squeezed in a car).
This is however changing. At CES 2017 show MAS Holdings, a global leader in textile and apparel solutions, launched its innovative Firefly intelligence that can be embedded directly into the desired fabric. Mimicking bio-motion to light up on demand safely and effectively, Firefly embedded illumination stays lit for four hours, activates easily with a button and recharges with a USB. The fabric embedded with Firefly is fully flexible, durable and washable.
Athleisure was the starting point for Firefly technology that aimed at providing safety to runners and bikers in low visibility environments. In the USA alone, there are more than 50 million runners 40% of whom experience low light conditions during their run. Most accidents involving runners are caused by low visibility and careless driving. The same applies to cyclists.
To improve their security, MAS in collaboration with electronic manufacturer Flex, introduced a range of active-wear clothing with integrated LEDs that flash in a pattern that looks like a moving person. This avoids the challenges of current clothing-based safety systems – reflectors rely on external light sources, so a driver may not see a reflector on a jacket in time.
Firefly technology can also detect impact and assess its degree. Upon impact the LEDs light up with detection being determined by color. Green indicates the resulting hit or fall would be considered mild and not likely cause for concern. Red indicates a strong or severe blow, which could result in injury or concussion. Impact detection gear provides visual confirmation of a severe hit, eliminating the guesswork that often happens or goes unnoticed. This can help coaches and medical professionals determine the level of potential injury.
Of course you could imagine many potential applications of this technology in every-day life. For instance clothes for kids who often walk from school after dark and play outside or clothing for outdoor activities, such as hiking. Or imagine a carpet that lights up when you woke up and go to get a drink in the kitchen.
Firefly opens a whole new area for fashion designers who want to experiment with illumination. Take Anouk Wipprecht for instance: she is often inspired by reactions of people when someone enters their personal space. A dress could for instance change colour or light intensity when someone gets closer to the wearer and start flashing red lights when it feels another person touching it.
Advanced and intelligent textiles such as Firefly offer to designers a total freedom to explore and be creative. And, if you compare with the time and cost of creation of Zac Posen’s gown, they offer the possibility to manufacture quickly and affordably on a bigger scale.