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The Future of Apparel

Columbia’s innovation expert, Woody Blackford, discusses smart technology in apparel.

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Columbia’s innovation expert, Woody Blackford is the prime mover of one of the most promising technologies in ski apparel: electronically heated garments. Blackford envisions a future when smart technology will be embedded in skiwear to maximize heating and cooling—and help you communicate on the go.

SKI › What will skiers wear in 75 years?


WB › Ski apparel, and all clothing for that matter, is dominated by “the costume.” We all wear clothing to send a personal projection to the world that tells something about us, our status, our identity. That has been true throughout history, from tribal chiefs to modern hipsters. Only now are we waking up to the possibility of how clothing can be used to manage our physical state for all sorts of conditions. Clothing will always have a costume component, but in the future it will have infinitely more climate control and functionality.

SKI › What technologies and materials will these functional garments use?

WB › Our “smart clothing” will sense our body temperature, internal humidity, external humidity and temperature, and make continuous adjustments on the fly as we move, relax or recreate. Clothes may even have a weather-forecasting function to prepare for these adjustments. Pores in these smart textiles will open and close, working like microscopic pit zippers. Clothes will operate without us noticing, helping us perform at a higher athletic level. Intelligent textiles will have the ability to absorb energy from their surroundings, such as from sunlight. That power will run a “brain” embedded in the textiles. This brain will continuously collect information from our surroundings and decide how to optimize our comfort and performance.

SKI › Digital technologies are starting to be incorporated into our garments today. How will that change in the future?

WB › Your phone or “communicator” could be wherever you want it to be. You could touch your knee or a sleeve on your textile and an interface will pop up right there. In the future, you could watch a movie on your sleeve, or replay your last run on your back or on your pant leg.

SKI › Customization is one of the great trends in modern design. What happens to style in 75 years?

WB › The costume will always prevail. But today this desire for fashion is at odds with performance. There is no performance advantage to having spiked heels; that’s fashion. Tight comes and goes. Puffy comes and goes. So how do we not all look the same in our Star Trek suits? This is where customization comes in. Clothing will be able to morph while you wear it. Perhaps you’ve been wearing orange with black stripes and a Jimi Hendrix image on your jacket, but then you go to the pub and want a different look. You’ll have the ability to change colors and textures and images on your garments to suit your mood and setting.