The Real Reason Your Clothes Aren’t “Smart”

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It’s something I’ve been thinking about since the whole “Back to the Future Day” thing that happened this week on October 21st, 2015 (which was the day that Doc and Marty arrived in the future in the classic film: Back to the Future, Part II). What did the movie predict right? What the did the movie get wrong? Yada, yada, yada….


I hope Lemmy’s still around in 3033, seriously…

Not a whole lot of it really means much to me (though I did find the Chicago Cubs doing well this year–a prediction from the film–to be rather impressive, admittedly). Yes, the hoverboards in the movie are cool. No, we don’t really have hoverboards today (despite what some would say). So when looking back…on Back to the Future, Part II…ahem…what does come to mind for me?

That 2015 sucks.

No, no, here my out. Yes, there are million little amazing developments–many of which few science-fiction properties could predict–and there’s smartphones (honestly, that’s the only advancement, and even that’s not an advancement, it was really the iPod that created the mobile revolution), but really, there’s nothing that different. Yeah, yeah, the World Wide Web has pervaded our lives, and GPS, okay…fine…but some of our most basic needs haven’t advanced, and that’s what great science fiction was always showing.

How do you advance food? How do you advance transportation (no flying cars, no flying cars…and I think that has to do with national borders, because as long as they exist, no one is going to be able just “take off and fly” wherever they want to)? How do you advanced–and here’s the best one–clothing?

Ah yes, that’s kind of the big one, and one that Back to the Future, Part II highlighted very impressively. A lot of science fiction never even touches on how the clothing of the future will be technologically “disrupted” (I hate that word, too, don’t worry). But this little movie from 1989 took that challenge head-on. From Marty’s auto-fastening sneakers, to the auto-drying jacket, and even the idea that wearing jeans inside-out as as a fashion statement were all here. I can’t begin to tell you how rare it is for clothing to be so intricately touched on in film. And me personally, I’d love to have a jacket that auto-drys. And while supposedly the auto-fastening Nike’s are now a reality, that’s child’s play as far as what clothing could be when even the most pedestrian of thinkers stops for a moment to fathom the possibilities.


Clothing made out of solar panels to charge our devices (someone is trying to make this work right now, I know), different pocket styles, built in sensors perhaps for skiing and other activities, pants that auto-dry, self-cleaning and self-healing clothing materials, hoods that work as antennae for greater communication range in the woods, heat-masking anti-drone clothing (this one is kind of in development), or jackets that have bluetooth device controls built into them…there are endless things that could be done with the clothes we wear. Not all of them have to have the addition of some technological gadgetry of any kind, but that’s an interesting direction to think about (provided that “wearer” privacy is considered first and foremost). It could also be as simple as making clothing practically indestructible.

Whatever you think of, I think there’s a reason why our clothing hasn’t caught up with the times, and hasn’t been “technologically disrupted” like so many other industries when said clothing finally gets to the consumer, and it just hit me the other day.

If you wanted to put in auto-drying features (however that would even get done), or solar panels and chargers, or communication features, all of this would cost the clothiers quite a bit of money. And that cost would of course trickle down to you. Which is fine, really, if something costs such-and-so-much, then that’s what it costs. But if the average clothing–what’s largely considered fashionable or trendy–started costing into the hundreds or even thousands of dollars, I think everyday people would find a way to pay for such technologically enhanced clothing, but then they’d probably hold onto that auto-drying jacket or whatever advanced article of clothing for years.

And that just won’t do well for clothiers bottom lines.

Much like the gadget industry (which includes smartphones), whose large companies require you to buy a new gadget or gadget model every year or two (or pay a subscription fee like people can for their iPhones now), the clothing industry really counts on your buying new clothes…often.

Yeah, yeah, you’ve had your clothes for a decade or something (kudos, seriously), I get it, but that’s a whole other argument (I can barely get shirts to last me two years these days, as to where shirts from the 80’s and 90’s seemed to last forever). But I’m talking about the average and slightly above-average person here.

Really, the clothing industry has its own “planned obsolescence”. Noticed how “80’s fashions” came back for a little while for a couple of years? Then the 90’s fashions will come back? Then the 60’s fashions will make a comeback again like they did in the 90’s…and it goes on and on. The clothing industry has no incentive to sell you clothing that is “timeless” (unlike the watch industry, which is a different animal). And I think they know the economic ramifications of created enhanced clothing that people would readily see the utility for, but would hold onto such clothing forever, or never buy into it at all.

I mean, maybe the subscription model would work like it now does for the iPhone, but “subscription clothing” is a thing being tried right now, and it appears to be failing out of the gate (a subscription for new ties, seriously?). Clothing comes with some very old human stigmas and mental concepts that I think clothing companies are very aware of and are terrified to mess with too much. It’s a fine line they’re walking when it comes to pushing out clothing styles and prices to people that aren’t celebrities or models.

So please, don’t expect to see anything major happen in clothing any time soon, if ever. Levi’s has no interest in making jeans that adapt to our tech-savvy cultures, nor does any other clothing company. It’s well outside of their best interest in a corporatist world that allows lobbying businesses and governments to set the rules in opposition to new, beneficial ideas. And that’s a pity, because I think there are small companies that are trying to bring our clothes up to date with the rest of our possessions, but these companies will never be able to play in lobbyist controlled, government-backed big clothing ponds…and thus they’ll never become fashionable either, and most people will see these genuine advancements in such a crucial thing as clothing to be nothing less than odd, and perhaps even laughable.

To some degree, what I’m laying out here is theory, but what isn’t theory–unfortunately–is that like so many other industries, we’ll likely never have all of that “cool”, futuristic stuff until the corporatism we live under falls away. We will likely never have “smartclothing” (and some sadly even argue that with wearables and smartphones, it’s not needed or wanted, but that’s being shortsighted, in my opinion). Not until we have truly freed markets.

If only I had a DeLorean with a flux capacitor and a Mr. Fusion built-in to find out when that will finally happen, because I really want that auto-drying clothing…

Carpe lucem!