A winter dilemma that almost everyone has experienced: the quandary of taking a jacket versus not taking a jacket. It’s freezing cold outside. You are decked out in thermals, a vest and multiple jumpers, all of which are underneath your respectable work clothes and puffer jacket hoodie. These are the essentials needed as you endure the arctic chill on your walk from the train station to your workplace. As soon as you enter the office, the heater is working overtime and you find yourself having to acclimatise to the sweltering, stuffy environment.
You then have to strip off your umpteen layers of clothing before you stew into a perspiring, sticky mess. You would never have survived the Siberian trek from the station to the office without all these layers, but you would suffocate in a hot sweat like a menopausal woman if you wore them in the heated office for the day.
What if your clothes could adapt to the change in temperature? This could mean that you wouldn’t have to coat up and coat down several times throughout the day. The concept of clothing that changes its own thermostat could soon become a reality.
San Francisco-based company, Skyscrape, has invented clothing that naturally adjusts to the temperature of the environment as well as the wearer. The company, which consists of a team of scientists, engineers, knitters, designers and inventors, has developed a clothing line in which the fabric changes shape in response to a change in temperature.
Wearing this fabric would mean that as you transition from the cold outdoors into a warm heated building, the fabric will modify itself accordingly to ensure you remain at a comfortable temperature. The way it works is that the active yarns in the fabric expand and contract, increasing or decreasing the thickness of the fabric. As you re-enter a cooler temperature, the thickness of the fabric increases, causing a greater layer of insulation and keeping you warm.
Heating and cooling
The initial vision of the start-up was to develop a line of clothing that is thermally comfortable, with the aim of reducing the energy used in heating and cooling buildings. The Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E), a US government agency that funds research of advanced energy technologies, provided funding for Skyscrape’s initial start-up.
“The government’s motivation was really borne out of a recognition that a small change in how people heat and cool buildings can lead to a pretty large change in domestic energy use,” CEO and founder of Skyscrape, Brent Ridley, says.
The Skyscrape clothing line is designed for long-lasting wear, with the aim of helping people buy fewer clothes. This may address the fast-fashion crisis that is seeing increasing amounts of clothing in landfill each year.
“Hopefully what we’re going to make is an heirloom piece that will last for a long time and will justify that higher price point,” Brent says. “A single garment might take the functional role of two pieces in somebody’s closet.”
Since February this year, Skyscraper has been collaborating with manufacturing partners with the view of beginning large-scale productions. It is expected that designs will be finalised for a product launch late in 2020. So maybe now you can think twice about purchasing a bulk pack of thermals and three puffer jackets for your winter wardrobe. It might not be long until just a single jacket will be your one-stop shop, keeping you as warm as toast and as cool as a cucumber.
Controlling body temperature
Back home, Australian-based company Nikki G’s Temperature Control Clothing is also leading the way in temperature-controlled apparel. By using genuine Outlast® technology, a fabric that was originally developed for NASA to protect astronauts from extreme temperature fluctuations by absorbing, storing and releasing heat, the company manufactures a clothing range for children with special needs. As the difficulty of gauging whether a child with special needs is too hot or cold, the clothing range was developed to help solve this issue.
Emma Young is a freelance writer based in Melbourne. She is currently studying a master’s in teaching and is in the process of writing a children’s picture book.