Nobel-Prize winning material graphene has been disrupting the smart textile space for some years now. Described as the ‘wonder material’ of the 21st-century world, graphene was first discovered in 2002 by physics professors at the University of Manchester, Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov. The revolutionary material is not only changing the science and technology landscape; it is also promising to play a critical role in fashion, specifically in interactive clothes, in the near future.
Graphene, Revolutionising The Textile Sector
With the power to change how we view clothing, graphene first caught the attention of the mainstream media back in 2012 when researchers at the University of Exeter adapted it into something they called GraphExeter. Transparent, lightweight and flexible, Dr. Monica Craciun, a professor in the Engineering Department at the university and a leading expert in nanomaterials said, “GraphExeter could revolutionise the electronics industry. It outperforms any other carbon-based transparent conductor used in electronics and could be used for a range of applications, from solar panels to ‘smart’ T-shirts. We are very excited about the potential of this material and look forward to seeing where it can take the electronics industry in the future.”
With various research being continually conducted on graphene, the Centre for Graphene Science at the University of Exeter recently stated that graphene is capable of revolutionising the way technology works, making it stronger, better and faster. According to Science Daily, the University of Exeter have come up with a new technique that creates fully electronic fibres that can be incorporated into the production of everyday clothing. Also, sharing their findings are scientists from the Cambridge Graphene Centre (CGC) and Jiangnan University. In 2017, they shared how they successfully developed a conductive cotton fabric laced with graphene ink, which meant that they figured out a way of incorporating graphene to cotton, allowing for seamless integration between electronics and textiles.
Who Has Taken the Leap
In 2017 CuteCircuit, a London based fashion tech company created a graphene dress that pushed the boundaries of the textile and garment industry. Designed using a graphene composite that conducts electricity, the dress was lined with graphene-enhanced sensors and inbuilt LED lights that were spread out throughout the garment’s top half of the dress. Designed to react to the heartbeat of the wearer, CuteCircuit co-founder Francesca Rosella, told CNN, “If you look under an electron microscope, you can see how the structure of graphene is made up of what looks like hexagonal crystals. We used that structure as a starting point to design the dress.” Paul Wiper, a research associate at the National Graphene Institute who worked with Rosella, added: “There’s a lot of potential for graphene within the textile industry.”
Besides CuteCircuit, Colmar has also been experimenting with graphene. Believing that graphene will significantly improve the overall performance of athletes, professionals and sports enthusiasts, the brand launched a sportswear collection that contained graphene-based products tailor-made comfort while ensuring the ideal temperature for the wearer.
It is encouraging to see brands invest in the new material, especially since it is graphene is still technically in its research phase. That being said the European Union has already invested $1.3 billion in ‘The Graphene Flagship’- a consortium of academic and commercial researchers. Also, some tech companies have been investing in developing their understanding of the graphene and the benefits it can bring to various industries.
It is Merely the Beginning
Described as the most exciting material of the 21st century by Dr. James Hone of Columbia University, the evolution of graphene continues. Lecturer in Graphene Technology, Dr. Felice Torrisi believes that graphene’s ability to turn cotton fibres into functional electronic components will open an entirely new set of applications from healthcare and wellbeing to the Internet of Things. On the development of graphene, Craciun said, during her TEDx Truro talk: “I believe graphene is the new future. Why? Because it is perfect for so many different applications.”
Promising to change the dynamics of the smart fabrics space for the better, graphene has so far shown potential in replacing synthetic fibres such as polyester and nylon. It has demonstrated usefulness when it comes to the design of intelligent clothing and Graphene-based sensors. Therefore, in the not too distant future, it will not be strange to see graphene-based products entering the market. For now, we get to enjoy a glimpse of what this super material can potentially mean for fashion industry.
Written by Muchaneta Kapfunde