Fashion by definition is based on trends
What’s en vogue is determined by many factors – what’s new, what’s making a comeback, what celebrities are endorsing – and it has the potential to define generations (we can all call to mind the aesthetics of decades gone by, from the glitz of the ’30s to the grunge of the ’90s).
What’s en vogue is determined by many factors – what’s new, what’s making a comeback, what celebrities are endorsing – and it has the potential to define generations (we can all call to mind the aesthetics of decades gone by, from the glitz of the ’30s to the grunge of the ’90s). Fashion is creative, it can be political, it’s unpredictable, it’s transformative, it’s innovative. Think about it: Buttons, zippers, the sewing machine, new types of materials, new patterns and methods of production, synthetic dyes, and now exciting, out-of-the-box technologies are just a few of the advancements found in the history books of what we wear. Just ask the brains behind IFTech, Myant Inc., Sheertex and Frère Du Nord because one day these companies will have their own chapters in the timeline of the industry, too.
The intersection between technology and clothing or accessories isn’t exactly new — eyeglasses and wristwatches are hundreds of years old, for example — but with modern advancements, we’re now seeing wearable items that could have been costume pieces from Back to the Future.
IFTech’s ARAIG suit is the perfect example. ARAIG, which stands for As Real As It Gets, is the world’s first multi-sensory, multi-directional, force-feedback suit. The suit, which wouldn’t be out of place in a superhero movie, is designed to make the wearer feel like they are actually experiencing whatever virtual world they’re watching. While it mostly targets gamers who want to feel like they are in the game they’re playing, ARAIG can also be used with other forms of entertainment (at-home theatres, for example) or in training simulations where tactical decision-making is required. The idea for ARAIG came to its inventors — father-and-son duo Michael and Brodie Stanfield — when they were playing a favourite video game. While they were hooked up with rumble controllers, which was an added layer of interactivity, it struck them that an explosion on the screen didn’t feel like much IRL. Immersion became the goal. The prototype was funded by the Stanfields’s own savings as well as a number of private backers. In 2017, Michael and Brodie appeared on Dragon’s Den and successfully secured a $500,000 deal with dragon Manjit Minhas. The battery-powered haptic suit is comprised of three components to deliver a truly immersive experience: an exoskeleton that provides surround sound and sensory feedback to the shoulders and torso; a transmitter, which updates the auditory and sensory features of the suit based on the material on-screen; and a stimulation shirt (or Stims, as the company calls it) which provides coverage and motion control, as well as a variety of sensations. The suit also easily pairs with myriad gaming systems and devices, entertainment sources, virtual reality and augmented reality.
ARAIG and other immersive wearables are the way of the future. With every year that passes, this tech gets more cutting edge, more realistic and more accessible. We bet Marty McFly would be proud.
The battery-powered haptic suit is comprised of three components to deliver a truly immersive experience.
Every day we layer our clothes and our technology. We get dressed for the day, perhaps add a coat, stick a pair of earbuds in our ears, slip on a pair of shoes. Every item of clothing and every accessory features an advancement in technology, as evidenced by just how far these items have come over the last century. Myant Inc. takes this idea a step further with technology they’ve termed “textile computing,” which essentially means they knit sensors and actuators that sense and react to the human body into fabric. “Textiles are an ideal medium for interaction with the human body,” Myant Inc. says of their work. “While many technological advancements necessitate radical change in behaviour to be widely adopted, textiles have the benefit of being familiar to all people across society, inconspicuously integrated into our daily lives and pervasive across all environments.”
In other words, everyone wears clothes or has regular uses for textiles at home and work. Integrating a Myant Inc. product isn’t a stretch. And with research partners that include the Mayo Clinic and Ryerson University, and tech partners that include Stoll and Carlisle Interconnect Technologies, the company is well-positioned to create helpful items across sectors, including health and wellness, fitness and leisure, workplace safety, automotive and aerospace, and more.
So how does it work? When these fabrics are made into everyday items, there’s an opportunity to monitor activity and potentially use the data to identify issues before they cause harm. For example, Myant Inc. launched Skiin this past fall, after five to seven years of development work, which is a line of undergarments (bras, t-shirts, chest bands and underwear) that can monitor cardiovascular activity. The products were debuted to 10,000 GTA clients at an unnamed clinic in Toronto. As Milad Alizadeh-Meghrazi, vice president of research, development and partner integration told the Toronto Sun about Skiin in October, “We can monitor cardiovascular [health] pretty well, and we can get a proper ECG — electrocardiogram — as opposed to the fancy Apple watches and Fitbits that just map your heart rhythm to an optical sensor. This is not an Apple watch in your underwear. This is a medical device in your underwear.”
The opportunities for Myant Inc.’s computing textiles are endless, with exciting partnerships and products on the horizon. If their current success is any indication, we’ll be seeing much more of Myant Inc. in years to come.
Anyone who has ever put on a pair of pantyhose only to notice a run in them ten minutes (or less!) later should thank Katherine Homuth for fixing the problem. The Sheertex founder and CEO, who was named to both Forbes’ 30 Under 30 and Canada’s 40 Under 40, has revolutionized hosiery with her company’s “nearly indestructible” line of tights, stockings and socks. (It’s true! Five editors from Glamour magazine put a selection of Sheertex products through their paces and there was nary a hole or ladder to be found.)
For Homuth, the impetus for Sheertex was the desire to use technology to solve a problem: “I started my career in the world of consumer electronics. After years of working on connected devices, I couldn’t help but wonder why so much of what I was working on seemed like technology for technology’s sake. I knew on my next startup, I wanted to focus on a problem first and let the technology come second.”
Homuth found her way to hosiery in 2017 after researching the apparel industry, discovering that the entire sector was in need of innovation and a renewed focus on sustainability. “I felt like there was a way we could use technology to take a bite out of that problem by making clothing more durable,” says Homuth. “When you think of what clothing is the most wasteful, pantyhose is a pretty fast leap!”
This inclusive brand with sizes from XS to 3X also has their eyes set on the environment.
But developing a sheer knit that didn’t break or tear wasn’t easy. “They told us it would be like turning peanuts into lemonade,” says Homuth. Even when the development team did make a breakthrough and discover the right polymer, there were many obstacles to overcome — the fibre was too thick, it was white and non-dyeable, the fibre didn’t stretch, it was so strong it was breaking knitting machines. It took years to develop Sheertex’s proprietary knit technology, and years to get the manufacturing right. Today, all of Sheertex’s knitting machines are retrofitted to work with the world’s strongest yarns. Plus, Sheertex is the only connected knitting factory in the world (which makes sense, given Homuth’s early career learnings). “Every part of the production process is tracked in real-time using our proprietary operating system developed in-house,” says Homuth.
Like any tech company worth their salt — because at the end of the day, technology is at the core of Sheertex — the product is always evolving. “From day one, [our customers] have been instrumental in helping us to evolve our product line. When we started Sheertex, we called 20,000 of our customers to make sure they were happy with their purchases…through their feedback, we’ve gone through many iterations of our tights, making them softer, changing the waistband, etc. until it became the product we sell today.” Homuth goes on to say that they are still constantly listening to their customer base and making improvements.
This inclusive brand with sizes from XS to 3X also has their eyes set on the environment. “We’re working toward not only continuing to disrupt the hosiery category,” says Homuth, “but also advancing fashion and apparel’s transition to sustainable manufacturing and a zero-waste future.”
FrÈre Du Nord
When you hear the story of their childhood, it may not surprise you to learn that brother and sister Milena Holmes and Duey Vlajic are the force behind the Oshawa-based clothing brand Frère Du Nord. As children, the founders were clothed in wool from their family’s sheep — sheared and spun into yarn by hand by their aunts and grandmothers — reports their website, alongside a photograph of the pair as kids in 1988. One of them grew up to be an engineer, while the other became an artist. But happiness came in the form of starting a clothing line together.
In a world of fast fashion, Frère Du Nord is a breath of fresh air. With a focus on integrity and innovation in design, sustainable materials and taking care of the people who make their products, the company aims to create more than just apparel.
This is clear from the way the company responded to the pandemic, devoting time, energy and resources to producing PPE — masks and isolation gowns — and to the way they structure their manufacturing. Recognizing that it isn’t good to have a sewing operator do the same repetitive motion for eight hours a day, one person makes a garment from start to finish, rather than in assembly-line format. This gives people a sense of doing meaningful work, the founders believe, lovingly creating clothing at a fair salary, rather than churning out piecemeal parts.
Frère Du Nord, which launched in 2016, now occupies a former pool hall in downtown Oshawa, which is fitting for a company that prides itself on being Canadian-owned and operated, as well as producing items sourced from environmentally-conscious fabric and accessories made in Canada. The physical business is described as “business in the front, party in the back” as the manufacturing is completed on-site in a bright and airy space in the rear of the retail store.
Frère Du Nord is the epitome of why we need to shop local, from companies with heart. Because without this focus, the next generation will never figure out how to take the memory of homespun yarn and turn it into a successful, sustainable clothing line.