An astronaut’s clothes for a trip to the International Space Station include some unusual things: a bodysuit replicating gravity’s effects on the spine and “force shoes” that measure the forces exerted when exercising in space. The contents of such a suitcase are inspired by weightlessness and the forces that differ from those at work on Earth.
In a fun twist on this inspiration, five fashion schools in the European Union (EU) have spent the past two years participating in the Couture in Orbit project with the goal of developing “desirable and practical clothing, incorporating technology to make life better.” On earth, technology incorporated into clothing is referred to as wearables – as in, wearable technology. In this case, the students are designing everyday clothes that leverage some tech already used in space while adding the flair of fashion not possible for a trip into the stratosphere.
On earth, technology incorporated into clothing is referred to as wearables – as in, wearable technology. In this case, the students are designing everyday clothes that leverage some tech already used in space while adding the flair of fashion not possible for a trip into the stratosphere.
The participating schools in are the Fashion Akademiet in Denmark, the Politecnico di Milan in Italy, and the International University of Art for Fashion in France and Germany. The culmination of this partnership with the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Science Museum in London occurs May 25 at the “Space and Fashion” show as part of the museum’s after-hours series called Lates.
Spacey Design and Bionic Yarn
During the two-year project (2014-2016) astronauts from five EU countries were scheduled to make trips to the ISS – Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, and United Kingdom. Fashion schools in each country were assigned a theme for the ESA’s philosophy of climate protection, recycling, and sustainability. The themes of environment, health, innovation, technology, and sports directed the creation of appealing clothes that are also practical for everyday use.
One way to find inspiration for the designs was talking with the astronauts about issues such as Earth observation, climate monitoring, health, and nutrition. They also had an opportunity to learn about everyday life in space. These conversations combined with the materials and technology provided by various program sponsors, allowed students to leverage the existing space/fashion connection.
“The space and fashion industries often influence each other. ESA innovations were recently used in thermal underwear for the manufacturer Björn Borg,” according to the project website. “A motorcycle-clothing manufacturer, Dainese, tailor-made ESA’s Skinsuit to alleviate astronaut back problems.”
ESA gives the students space-certified textiles including materials such as Bionic Yarn. Tyson Toussant, co-founder of the company, describes the “strength-optimized fibers from recycled ocean plastic” on the project website.
“The quality of the resulting yarn is so good that it used by high-end retailers like Timberland and G-Star Raw as well as in fashion projects like ESA Couture in Orbit,” he writes. “Other textiles are then typically wrapped around the plastic, such as really high-quality cotton thread, to make denim. The result is greater performance in terms of abrasion and tensile strength … Our yarn can be designed to meet nearly any performance or aesthetic requirements.”
Embedded sensors and heating units are two of the technologies available to students to incorporate into their clothes. While the clothing designs will showcase each national culture, all of the fashions will attempt to predict how people can benefit from wearables.
Some of those futuristic ideas are already in use. The Dutch company Xsens provides sensors used by athletes to measure and improve individual performance. Remco Sikkema, senior marketing manager, explains on the project website how this works.
“Each sensor is basically the same, fusing gyroscopes to measure the turns being made, a magnetometer to identify changes in heading and an accelerometer to record the speed,” he writes. “Based around microelectromechanical systems (MEMS), the sensors are small and getting smaller all the time. They started out about the size of a matchbox and are already down to a quarter of that size.”
The three data streams can be combined with biometric data to create a 3D image of the user to make observations about and adjustments to performance. This same technology can be used to help a person at the office adjust her posture or increase his walking pace to help support daily good health. But only if the clothes have got the look.