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Cover Story | June 2017

A new era for textiles

Textiles have become smarter, rendering advanced functional properties like UV absorbent, anti-allergy, anti-microbial, anti-odour and also protection from wind, cold and adverse weather conditions, says Avinash Mayekar.

Smartness is no more term to be used only for human beings. Smart textiles have started gaining importance in recent times. What started as the basic necessity of covering for protection has evolved and gone past high fashion. Textiles are no longer considered as just fabrics that look good but the ones that feel good, that are breathable, skin friendly and as gentle and light as a feather. In short, textiles have become smarter, rendering advanced functional properties like UV absorbent, anti-allergy, anti-microbial, anti-odour and also protection from wind, cold and adverse weather conditions.

A long time back no one would have considered clothes that would provide medicinal properties like secreting vitamins, aloe vera, aromatherapy and anti-allergy properties, but today smart textiles have made this possible by using microencapsulation technology.

Microencapsulation involves encapsulating liquid or solid substances in tiny thin-walled natural or synthetic bubbles. The microcapsules are manufactured with a protective polymeric coating or melamine shell. These microspheres are coated on textile fabrics and they gradually release active agents by mechanical rubbing, which ruptures the membrane over time.

Microencapsulation is also used for drug delivery through skin gel revolutionising the medical science as it will lead to a new era of painless procedures. These microspheres also encapsulate essential oils having – flowers, fruits, essences, secreting fragrance when in contact with sweaty skin. They also release aromatherapy blends like lavender, alpine for de-odorising, anti-tobacco fragrance, skincare active ingredients – aloe vera, vitamin E , cosmetic oils, herbal oils, etc.

Anti-repellents like menthoglycol, DEET- N, N-diethyl-meta-toluamide are encapsulated thereby providing protection from mosquitoes and other repellents. In case of menthoglycol, they are released on direct-contact on stimulating sense of touch and being a natural product it has no biocide. UV Protection finishes applied on fabric enhances the light fastness by energy transfer mechanism and converts electronic excitation energy into thermal energy via a fast reversible intra molecular proton transfer reaction thereby functioning as radical scavengers and as singlet oxygen quenchers.

Cool finishes applied to fabrics help in moisture management allowing greater passage of moisture through the material providing a cool feel to body as the moisture is evaporated than being absorbed in the apparels.

Thermal insulator finishes are special nano dispersions in binder to produce heat retaining effect. It safeguards fabrics from catching fire when exposed to infrared radiation. The repellent also provides deodorant effect against basic gases like ammonia and trimethyl amine.

Liquid stretch finishes helps in increasing extensibility up to 40 per cent thus increasing the stretch and recovery characteristics. These finishes ultimately provide luxurious softness to fabric and improve wearability after laundry. They also help the fabric fit according to body shapes of individuals.

Anti-stain finishes on fabric can help resists spills and splashes of aerated drinks, tomato ketchup, alcohols etc. these clothes are thus water and oil repellent. Water proof finish forms a film on surface of the fabric which prevents the permeability of water as well as air. Water proofing can be done with vulcanised natural rubber, wax emulsions, oxidised oils of varnishes and synthetic resins.

Anti-static finishes to fabrics and carpets reduce the risk of shock and is more useful as static electricity is created when synthetic textiles rub together causing fabrics to “cling” giving discomfort. Also dust and lint are easily attracted to such fabrics. Also while walking on carpets, especially in rooms in which computers are used, because of electrical components synthetic fabrics are prone to generate static charge and give shock. Thus by using finishes like anti-static these ordinary fabrics are converted into smart textiles.

Anti-microbial finishes uses AEM technology that helps maintain hygiene and freshness, stops bad odor, controls or eliminates microbial staining, eliminates the chances of disease transmission, stops skin irritation and is durable throughout the life of the product which can be applied on all natural and synthetic textiles.

Combinations of all above finishes are what make these textiles – smart textiles. Depending on the user specifications and demands the above properties are furnished on fabric/fibre. The latest developments like shape memory polymers helps in regaining original shape, Phase change material (PCM) that have ability to change their state with a certain temperature range are also being developed.

Smart textiles have evolved beyond textiles providing just functional characteristics. The smart textiles have taken the advantage of innovations in electronics and opened door towards new generation of textiles. Some of the examples are sensing t-shirts used by teenagers suffering from scoliosis. T-shirt with textile pressure sensors increases the comfort and effectiveness of spinal braces. Edema stocking uses electronic smart textile device that monitors and measures changes in leg volume for patients suffering from edema (fluid accumulation or swelling) of the lower limbs.

Smart textiles also provide aesthetic properties like fabrics that light up to fabrics that can change colour. Such fabrics gather energy from environment by harnessing vibrations, sound or heat and react to the input. Recently smart textiles have become way smarter as they are being used as a communication tool. These smart textiles don’t just make you look stylish, feel good but also express your state of emotion creating a clear mode for communication. A mirror to your emotions that will help you express better. These apparels tap into the wearer’s emotions, physical exertion, and reactions to their environment and convey these responses outwardly for others to see. These emotions are displayed by changing colour.

Smart textiles are evolving and with the developments in this pace the day is not far away when our clothing alone will replace the need of using excessive deodorants to keep away the body odour, sunscreen for UV protection, or the need to use anti allergic, anti-repellent and other lotions that keeps body free from rashes and allergies caused by germs.

The other important aspect that needs to be rethought is the cost factor. The industry must create a balance in between the cost of garment and functional properties that the garment will provide. Most of the time in regular wears using such over excessive functional properties is not needed. An anti-stain finish is sufficient however a proper combination of speciality finishes is needed in sportswear, gym workouts, and patient uniform to boost the overall performance and increase the hygiene levels. The use of smart t-shirts conveying emotions will be a boon for the mothers whose toddlers have not yet learned to speak and also for people who are deaf and mute.

Innovations have led conventional textiles to smart textiles; however innovation is an endless journey. Yesterday’s imaginations are today’s reality. Though textile industry has seen a great revolution but there are still many sectors that need innovations, superman drape that allows him to fly, clothes that don’t wear off, etc are all yet to be transformed into reality. May be a time would come when a person would wear his costumes by clicking a button on his app and put them off in a bin at the end of the day as per his wish. Smarter we become happier would be our days!

The article is authored by Avinash Mayekar, who is MD & CEO at Suvin Advisors Pvt Ltd.

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