The BF+DA Launches TEK-TILES

Jesse Jur, Assistant Professor of Textile Engineering, Chemistry & Science at NC State University talks to the TEK-TILES team

The BF+DA recently launched the TEK-TILES project with a seasoned group of designers and researchers who have expertise in product development, apparel and textile design, and interactive technology to explore new ways of manufacturing smart garments and functional fabrics. Key to the project is creating thirty “TEK-TILES” – knit swatches that have been activated by incorporating conductive yarn, nanofibers and filaments that have unique properties and functions. In addition to the exploration of new materials, the team will explore the environmental and ethical consequences of integrating technology into textiles.

Deb Johnson, founder of the BF+DA and previous chairperson of the Industrial Design program at Pratt Institute says that the industry has entered a new age in material technology.

“This is an age that will have a massive impact on the function of clothing and the way our products communicate with us and each other,” says Johnson, adding that rapid advances in science, computing and connectivity are expanding the boundaries of possibility for creating life-changing products that connect sustainability and technology.

“We want to work on developing responsible technology.”

The TEK-TILES project is aligned with a $486K grant that will expand the BF+DA to include a research center for creative technologists that will connect product developers to the design and manufacturing services they need to get “smart garments” and functional textiles from concept to market.

 Yuchen Zhang, a research fellow at the the BF+DA who works at the intersection of fashion and technology says connecting product developers to resources will help companies reduce the time and cost in pushing their product from concept to market.

“This is a key part of the fashion and technology industry. As an e-textile designer myself, I can see the benefit of being able to see and feel a prototype as early as possible. The BF+DA is helping developers make vital decisions early on about design for manufacturing. The BF+DA TEK-TILES program is truly a pioneer program in New York City and will benefit many companies and institutions around the nation,” says Zhang, one of the TEK-TILES leads.

The goal is to create a space that connects universities, innovation centers and industry into one space – pioneering the way for new products that can do everything from capturing biometric data and deploying information through sensors, to textiles that react to changes in the environment. The TEK-TILES summer sprint is bringing together researchers and designers from 8 universities to collaborate and demonstrate the value of creating a knowledge pool from multiple perspectives.
“These novel materials have incredible potential to redefine the function of apparel and make our lives healthier, safer and more productive. Products incorporating these new tech materials will be a major driver for economic development, creating new jobs and new markets,” says Johnson, adding that the catch is the current manufacturing infrastructure isn’t prepared to meet the demands of innovation.
“We want to be that resource.”

The inaugural BF+DA TEK-TILES research team

Barbara Layne, Director at Studio subTela, Affiliate Professor at Concordia University and TEK-TILES team member says she feels her research will hopefully add to the TEK-TILES project in terms of fueling the cycle of innovation to commercialization.

“The process starts with openness and curiosity, but the development of a community is crucial to resolve new problems in the field of smart textiles,” says Layne.

“Linking multiple disciplines often involves the development of shared languages and methodologies as different perspectives bring a variety of iterations and new resolutions. The next step to commercialization should also involve a collaborative spirit of exchange to preserve values through shared goals and after only a few days of working together, the TEK-TILES group has already demonstrated a supportive environment of diverse, invested and ambitious participants: essential drivers for innovation. This adventure is going to be epic,” says Layne.

The program is divided into three modules: “Discovery,” “Exploration” and “Making,” taking place from May 30th to August 4th.

From gaining a deeper understanding of the challenges for manufacturing that each material presents, to prototyping smart garments in the BF+DA production lab, TEK-TILES will be evaluated for manufacturability, functionality and purpose, and materials will be assessed for environmental impacts along its life-cycle.
Laura Forlano, the team’s ethnographer from the Illinois Institute of Technology will lead discussions about the ethical issues these new technologies present at the weekly wrap up, “Pizza, Beer and Ethics.”

The next phase of TEK-TILES will actually support product development with three creative technologists during a second round of production, resulting in a series of finished, functional garments and/or textiles suitable for user testing and product validation.

Jesse Jur, Assistant Professor of Textile Engineering, Chemistry & Science at NC State University says the TEK-TILES program allows young, creative minds to innovate in the exciting field of smart textiles.
“By putting the necessary information in their hands, the BF+DA is developing the next generation of leaders in this industry. I am excited to see what new products are inspired by the TEK-TILES program.”