How Fashion Can Use Tech to Tackle Physical Effects of Climate Change

Climate change is heating up the fashion industry. 

With average global temperatures steadily rising 0.55 degrees Fahrenheit every 10 years since 1979 and the hottest years on record happening in the last decade, consumers are beginning to seek out apparel that’s ready to adapt. At the same time, they’re still driven by style and environmentalism. This means it’s now up to clothing manufacturers and designers to find a way to present apparel that looks good, does good, and feels good no matter how hot it gets. It’s a challenge, to be sure, but it’s also a reality of living on a planet that’s generally trending toward stickier summers and balmier winters. 

The demand for climate-adaptive clothing isn’t entirely new. What has changed is the type of clothing likely to be in demand. Traditional cold-season gear from various outdoor brands is facing a downturn in favor of clothing designed for more temperate or changeable environments. This shift is partly due to predictions of warmer winters, leading to decreased demand for heavy winter apparel. 

How do those in the apparel industry solve the challenges of providing climate-control clothing in a shifting climate? Embrace technology. 

Technologically Advanced Textiles Are Rising Along With Temps

Multiple technological advancements affecting textiles have enabled the creation of upgraded fabrics with exactly the properties needed now and in a hotter future. These properties include moisture wicking, breathability, and UV protection, among other attributes. Textiles that promise such high-level performance and functionality will be better positioned to appeal to consumers living in climates that necessitate climate-adaptive clothing. 

It’s worth mentioning that some of these textile characteristics, such as moisture wicking, have been on the market for decades. However, these properties are generally associated with performance apparel rather than fashion apparel. Today, a gym enthusiast might purchase a workout T-shirt made from a breathable, cooling fabric but might have other T-shirts made from less adaptive materials. Tomorrow, it will be just as likely that the same gymgoer will look for exceptional comfort and breathability in their everyday wear. 

This is a major shift in the relationship that the typical consumer has with clothing and fashion. “Bearability” is set to play a huge factor in deciding which brands to buy from, meaning people will begin to choose clothing items that make life in warmer climates more bearable. Again, this is where technology can be a huge asset. 

Many brands are anticipating this major upheaval in the fashion industry due to climate change and extreme weather patterns. As a result, they’re partnering with manufacturers of tech-forward ingredients that can be integrated into cloth fibers. 

Three ingredient types have taken center stage in the last several years. First is graphene, a flexible and lightweight layer of the crystalline substance called graphite. When incorporated into fabrics, graphene augments superior thermal conductivity, making the material more effective at regulating the wearer’s temperature. Because graphene optimizes heat disbursement, it is valuable in both hot and cold climates. 

The third ingredient type getting a lot of press among modern fashion manufacturers and clothing houses for climate apparel is shape memory alloy. This is a kind of tech that “remembers” specific shapes. Garments containing shape memory alloys can automatically change their structures to adapt to changing temperatures. Though still in somewhat of an experimentation phase, shape memory alloy has great promise as part of a broader desire for clothing fundamentally designed for both the fashion industry and climate change. 

Situations Where Climate Change and Fashion Are Meeting

Everyday wear is starting to reflect changing climate conditions. However, certain industries and occupations are leading the way in their search for climate-control clothing. 

Take the outdoor recreational marketplace, for instance. Professional athletes, outdoor enthusiasts, weekend warriors, and fitness and nutrition buffs are all clamoring for climate-adaptive clothing. Because they’re encountering diverse weather conditions routinely, they’re driving up a need for contemporary climate apparel. 

Military and defense personnel aren’t far behind, though. It’s hardly unusual for members of the armed forces to be stationed in areas with varied climates and terrains. For them, being able to move freely while remaining as comfortable as possible allows them to achieve more productivity and effectiveness during their missions. Space explorers can be included in this category, too. Astronauts benefit from climate-responsive gear that’s thermodynamic and protective. 

A final category of workers that can benefit from climate clothing encompasses healthcare and first responder workers. Both have to deal with indoor and outdoor climate changes that warrant the use of apparel that prevents delayed responses, offers no physical distractions, and promotes unfettered movement. 

Are there other verticals that could gain advantages from climate apparel? Without a doubt. That’s why manufacturers and designers need to start addressing and overcoming the challenges in producing effective, stylish, sustainable, and adaptable clothing. 

Solutions to Marrying Climate Functionality and Aesthetics

There are two main challenges for manufacturers and designers determined to succeed in addressing consumers’ climate change and fashion expectations. Each is solvable but takes some investment and the right partners.

Challenge 1: Incorporating advanced technologies into fabrics without compromising performance or style.

This issue can be a head-scratcher because climate-adaptive features like temperature regulation, moisture management, and UV protection often involve the integration of sensors, special coatings, or phase-changing materials. Unsurprisingly, these add-ons can negatively impact a garment’s perceived feel and appearance.

To address this problem, manufacturers and designers must conduct ongoing research and development focused on creating technology that seamlessly integrates with textiles. As an example, designers are exploring unique ways to discreetly embed sensors and other functional elements into clothing. Collaboration between them and material scientists is critical to completing this complex task.

Challenge 2: Balancing the performance features of climate-adaptive clothing with eco-friendly materials.

Unfortunately, some advanced materials require manufacturing processes that have unwanted environmental impacts. This creates a dilemma for designers: Should they compromise sustainability in favor of functionality? Or vice versa? 

The answer is that it’s possible to get everything “right,” but it takes more effort. Case in point: Recycled fibers, organic fabrics, and sustainable production processes are making it easier to keep carbon footprints low while producing premium apparel built for any weather. Designers are assisting in this journey by incorporating holistic approaches into their garments and considering a piece of apparel’s entire lifecycle, from sourcing to disposal. 

The Future Looks Warm — But Also Bright

The fashion industry can be at the forefront of reducing climate change. At the same time, clothing brands, manufacturers, and design teams can lead the way into a more comfortable tomorrow. 

Apparel leaders will play important roles in helping the global population experience fewer unpleasant physical responses to a changing environment through climate-adaptive clothing. At the same time, they’ll continue to leverage innovations like emerging ingredients to promote next-gen-level trendiness, collaborations, and solutions. 

Is the future of our planet heading toward more extreme and hot weather? Signs say yes. But thanks to technological advances, clothing industry players can respond in a way that’s effective, needed, and stylish. 

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Lucas Tyson is a Senior Business Developer for Hologenix, a materials science company dedicated to developing products that amplify human potential and improve health and wellness. CELLIANT®, its flagship technology, is an infrared ingredient brand that enhances textile-based products with health and wellness benefits across performance, recovery, and sleep. This article was originally published on Just Style.