Is spray-on clothing the next big thing?
When news broke a few years ago that an experimental spray-on liquid fabric could become wearable clothing, people were wowed by what sounded more science-fiction than fact.
Fast forward a few years and that same technology is on the cusp of being introduced into our daily lives in the form of a host of applications that could very well change the face of art, consumer products and even conservation.
The company behind this technology is Fabrican. Developed by clothing-designer-turned-chemist Dr Manel Torres, who was originally looking for a faster way to produce clothes, the idea came to the self-proclaimed fashion doctor when he went to a friend's wedding and saw someone getting sprayed by silly string, the popular 90s-era toy.
That's when Torres got his "aha" moment and decided to pursue an instant, non-stick fabric. The result was the creation of instant garments you can remove and even wash.
But the real value goes far beyond fashion. Commercial applications stretch to household products, factories, industry, healthcare, transportation and art. Right now, the first Fabrican aerosol cans, aimed at arts and crafts consumers, are on their way to being marketed to the public.
Los Angeles based artist Aaron Axelrod calls the cans a mobile studio. Axelrod, who's done installations for The Tonight Show, Coachella and Disney, says he wished he had a tool like this years ago. Instead, he's had to use less malleable products such as tile, plastic, paint and cotton, often heavy to carry and time consuming to apply.
"I wish I had that for those projects," he says. "I'm always looking for a universal material that I can do many different things with, and compact too, where I don't have to lug around lots of material in a car. I basically get this one material that I can do so many things in one ... it's a studio in a can."
Beyond art, it's possible this substance will soon be in hospitals and emergency service vehicles. That's because the cans are sealed and sterilised, and could work as bandages or a spray-on cast for broken bones. Welcome to the first-aid kit of the future.
With the addition of nanotechnology, the spray could also become an instant nicotine patch, an oral inoculation or vaccine. Carrying other elements in the fabric is also an option, meaning UV protection, mosquito repellent, vitamin supplements and medication could all be on the cards. With additives, the fabric could be fire-proof; while fragrances could be built in, giving it another function in the fashion world.
Fabrican is currently working on crafting seat covers for the car and airline industries. The company is also testing an industrial-sized compression device that could be used to contain and clean up oil-spills. A fast acting, light, cheap liquid-forming fabric could have a huge impact on that market if it succeeds.
"Obviously we need better ways of cleaning up spills," says Richard Heinberg, senior fellow in residence at the Post Carbon Institute.
He thinks the introduction of this tech would be a positive, "assuming the fabric doesn't create its own pollution problems," which include the extraction of raw materials, the making of the product, deployment and disposal.
Fabrican's Torres says since the fabric is made from all natural ingredients, this shouldn't be an issue. But until more tests are done, it's still an unknown.
Meanwhile, Torres has big plans for his first love, fashion. Torres sees his invention on the streets, in the form of pop-up spray-booths that could create custom clothes for anyone.
"They could then purchase aerosol products that would allow them to further customise, adapt and mend their garments, as the mood takes them," Fabrican representatives said.
Wearable technology has become increasingly popular, and with so many applications, the market could be poised to explode as products like these become more commercialised, and licensed. Torres is excited for the prospects.
"Fabrican is an excellent carrier technology for carbon nanofibres and conductive materials. It's very much in tune with this trend."
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