Technology flourishes in wearable fashion designs

PHOENIX – A model in a pink bodysuit and a red high waisted couture skirt gracefully slides down the catwalk. But her sleek outfit takes fashion beyond the traditional, with smart technology designed to relieve a woman’s period cramps.

The bodysuit, called Empowerment, is one of many cutting-edge garments made this spring by students in the Fashion Technology class at Arizona State University. Galina Mihaleva, with a PhD in Smart Textiles, created the class in the fall semester of 2017. It has grown to include over 25 students across all disciplines.

Participants collaborate to create clothing inspired by scientific research, biomimicry, and the concepts of concealment and disclosure. Students get a taste of the wearable tech industry by learning about wearable computer clothing, electronic textiles, and smart clothing, from concept development and design to production and prototypes.


– Cronkite News video by Melina Zuñiga

“Wearable technology is all about enabling better lives,” said Mihaleva. “We target personal issues or environmental issues and create functional or poetic pieces that reflect or raise awareness of that. ”

Dennita Sewell, a practice professor for the ASU Fashion Program, describes smart clothing as “a narrow technological area that has taken hold” and is now an integral part of the fashion industry. She said it was a “perfect fit” for the class and the Materials Research Society, a member-driven organization focused on advancing materials, to team up in April and host the Wearables in Smart Fabrics fashion show in Phoenix. The 16 garments made by the students on the show used technology in a wearable context to complement the human body.

The clothing included the Chrysalis coat, which helps people with noise sensitivity issues by playing soothing sounds through threaded speakers on the hood when the wearer’s pulse reaches a certain rate. Synesthsia is a dress for the deaf or hard of hearing to enhance their concert experience by reflecting pitch frequencies with physical sensations.

Mariah Alcantar, an elder in the fashion program, created a dress to combat the invasion of personal space, which she said was based on the biomimicry behavior used by the monarch butterfly to ward off predators.

“Sonar sensors are adjustable according to the space each individual needs around them,” said Alcantar. “Say mine is within 3 feet of me and I don’t want you there.” This garment is triggered to recognize the person within your 3 foot girth and it will move and adjust accordingly.


– Cronkite News video by Melina Zuñiga

The fashion show resulted in awards for student designers based on functionality, aesthetics, overall design and people’s choice for originality, technical innovation, workmanship and usability. Taylor Tomczyk and Jacqueline Arnold’s Empowerment garment won the People’s Choice Award.

Tomczyk and Arnold, both juniors in the fashion program at ASU, wanted to design something to address cyclical menstrual discomfort. They teamed up with students from the engineering program to make their vision a reality.

“We’re women, we’ve been going through this for about 15 years and we wanted to create something that women could put on and instantly feel better,” Tomczyk said.

The result was a sheer pink four-way stretch lycra bodysuit with a bright red floral chiffon circular skirt. A built-in heating pad that reaches 120 degrees Fahrenheit is programmed to be on for 20 minutes and off for 20 minutes to help suppress cramps. The shoulders of the garment incorporate lavender aromatherapy diffusers to relax the wearer and a battery pack to help keep the body compact.

“Students use lighting, they use sensors, they use their imaginations and their creativity with technology,” Sewell said. “Some students are working on clothes, many of them to help people, to help things that are part of the human condition or of our society.”

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