Government and industry players gathered in Washington, D.C., 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.
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.
IFAI president Mary Hennessy made a similar point, emphasizing 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. Officials from the Federal Trade Commission, Dept. of Homeland Security, Federal Communications Commission and the Dept. of Defense’s Manufacturing Technology Program were 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. 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.
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 wearables expert Despina Papadopoulos, founder of Principled Design/Studio 50/50. 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.
Janet Preus is senior editor of Advanced Textiles Source.