Clothing that measures muscle activity and thus optimises rehabilitation processes © Jessica Smarsch

As we reported in August of this year, the Re-FREAM project was created in order to design smart clothing for the digital age. Scientists and artists work together on the project. They develop innovative and sustainable concepts as well as ways of implementing them in the fashion sector and catalysing user-oriented synergies of textiles and technology. Their aim is to fundamentally rethink the way things are, redesign processes and production methods and reconsider functionality and established practices in the fashion world. By involving scientists from the Fraunhofer Institute for Reliability and Microintegration (IZM), the artists gain access to cutting-edge technologies. Microelectronics are more than just fashionable accessories; they add new functionalities to clothing. Using them makes it possible to network clothes and integrate sensors into the fabric, opening up new potentials for e-health applications.

The Italian designer Giulia Tomasello, for example, wanted her project “Alma” to break taboos around feminine hygiene and enable the monitoring of vaginal flora. To do this, she developed underwear with an integrated pH sensor that allows bacterial vaginosis and yeast infections to be diagnosed non-invasively during the wearer’s day-to-day activities. Jessica Smarsch’s project “Connextyle”, too, aims to develop user-focused items of clothing: the shirts are equipped with fabric circuit boards and laminated EMG sensors that measure muscle activity in order to optimise patients’ rehabilitation process. An associated app provides visual feedback, generates reports on the healing process and makes it easier for therapists to make changes to rehabilitative measures. The “LOVEWEAR” underwear project aims to help people with physical disabilities explore their intimate relationship with themselves and develop a greater awareness of their own bodies. Inflatable inserts in the fabric of the underwear are activated via a connected pillow that operates as an interface.

Whether through research on the choice of materials, on the reliable connection of components to ensure longevity, or on modular constructions that allow microcontrollers to be reused, the collaboration between the Re-FREAM and Fraunhofer IZM teams promotes the development of sustainable and closed-loop product design in the fashion sector. Re-FREAM is part of the STARTS (Science + Technology + Arts) programme and is supported by the European Commission in the context of the Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme.

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