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Smart Fabrics Summit draws key industry participants

Features | April 12, 2016 | By:

DuPont has developed a conductive ink that can allow electronic textiles to be more flexible and versatile than previously possible.
DuPont has developed a conductive ink that can allow electronic textiles to be more flexible and versatile than previously possible. BeBop Sensors has used the technology in a shoe insole sensor. 

Government and industry players gathered in Washington D.C. on April 11 to discuss the “nascent smart fabrics market,” as described by Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker, who moderated the final session at the one-day event.

“This room is buzzing with energy,” said David Lauren, executive vice president of global marketing and communications for Ralph Lauren Corp., who was among the panelists. According to Lauren, in the fashion industry, “People are looking for innovation,” an opinion shared by Joshua Walden, senior vice president and general manger, New Technology Group, Intel Corp. Walden admitted that at one time he couldn’t have imagined being on a panel about fabrics, but then he discovered that the description of smart fabrics closely matches what the New Technology Group is all about. “This is in our DNA,” Walden said, adding that the emerging market is “really exciting.”

The smart fabrics market was up 18 percent last year to about $1.9 billion worldwide, Secretary Pritzker noted. The U.S. claims $854 million of that, “playing a leading role,” she added, stressing that the Dept. of Commerce is committed to helping in that effort by supporting entrepreneurs and bringing market participants together. “We want to help all of you get to know each other,” she told attendees. IFAI president Mary Hennessy made a similar point, stressing that the organization’s role is bringing industry participants together and supporting their efforts to be successful.

The event was co-sponsored by IFAI with the Dept. of Commerce, which sent representatives from several of its offices to share their expertise with attendees. Government officials from the Federal Trade Commission, Dept. of Homeland Security, Federal Communications Commission and the Dept. of Defense’s Manufacturing Technology Program were also speakers and panelists at the event, in addition to leaders in the advanced textiles industry.

Business people representing markets from protective fabrics to conductive fibers to high fashion underscored the diversity inherent in the smart fabrics segment. Regardless of the participants’ areas of expertise, many shared concerns about regulations and standards, as well as protecting their intellectual property. Both areas were addressed in sessions respectively led by Jeff Weiss, a senior advisor in the Dept. of Commerce and Michael Petricone, a senior vice president with the Consumer Technology Association.

Regardless of the topic being discussed, the theme of forming partnerships surfaced repeatedly. “You absolutely have to have industry partners,” said Claire King, president of Propel LLC, which develops textile-related technologies for protective applications. “Fashion should find good partners for R&D,” said Despina Papadopoulos, founder of Principled Design/ Studio 50/50. She specializes in wearable technology. Dr. Jesse Jur, North Carolina State University, discussed a unique entity founded specifically “to establish relationships between industry and academics.” In conjunction with other institutional partners, he’s working on self-powered, wearable electronics.

A networking reception following the final panel extended the lively discussions initiated in the sessions and undoubtedly planted the seeds for future collaborations among diverse businesses. And it was clear that government agencies stand ready and willing to support their future enterprises.

Janet Preus is senior editor of Advanced Textiles Source. Additional articles on this site will cover specific topics in more depth that were discussed at the Summit.

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