MIT and the Fashion Institute of Technology have joined forces to create advanced functional fabrics such as biodegradable footwear and active textiles.
For the second consecutive year, students from MIT and the Fashion Institute of Technology teamed up for two weeks in late June to create product concepts exploring the use of advanced fibers and technology.
The workshops were held collaboratively with Advanced Functional Fabrics of America (AFFOA), a Cambridge, Massachusetts-based national nonprofit whose goal is to enable a manufacturing-based transformation of traditional fibers, yarns, and textiles into highly sophisticated, integrated, and networked devices and systems.
Fiber-based solutions can address today’s challenges
“Humans have made use of natural fibers for millennia. They are essential as tools, clothing and shelter,” says Gregory C. Rutledge, lead principal investigator for MIT in AFFOA and the Lammot du Pont Professor in Chemical Engineering. “Today, new fiber-based solutions can have a significant and timely impact on the challenges facing our world.”
The students had the opportunity this year to respond to a project challenge posed by footwear and apparel manufacturer New Balance, a member of the AFFOA network. Students spent their first week in Cambridge learning new technologies at MIT and the second at FIT, a college of the State University of New York, in New York City working on projects and prototypes. On the last day of the workshop, the teams presented their final projects at the headquarters of Lafayette 148 at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, with New Balance Creative Manager of Computational Design Onur Yuce Gun in attendance.
From biodegradable shoes to active textiles
Team Natural Futurism presented a concept to develop a biodegradable lifestyle shoe using natural material alternatives, including bacterial cellulose and mycelium, and advanced fiber concepts to avoid use of chemical dyes. The result was a shoe that is both sustainable and aesthetic.
Team CoMIT to Safety Before ProFIT explored the various ways that runners get hurt, sometimes from acute injuries but more often from overuse. Their solution was to incorporate intuitive textiles, as well as tech elements such as a silent alarm and LED display, into athletic clothing and shoes for entry-level, competitive, and expert runners. The goal is to help runners at all levels to eliminate distraction, know their physical limits, and be able to call for help.
“It is critical for design students to work in a team environment engaging in the latest technologies. This interaction will support the invention of products that will define our future,” says Joanne Arbuckle, deputy to the president for industry partnerships and collaborative programs at FIT.
Intersection of design and engineering
To facilitate the intersection of design and engineering for products made of advanced functional fibers, yarns, and textiles, a brand-new workforce must be created and inspired by future opportunities.
“The purpose of the program is to bring together undergraduate students from different backgrounds, and provide them with a cross-disciplinary, project-oriented experience that gets them thinking about what can be done with these new materials,” Rutledge adds.
The goal of MIT, FIT, AFFOA, and industrial partner New Balance is to accelerate innovation in high-tech, U.S.-based manufacturing involving fibers and textiles, and potentially to create a whole new industry based on breakthroughs in fiber technology and manufacturing. AFFOA, a Manufacturing Innovation Institute founded in 2016, is a public-private partnership between industry, academia, and both state and federal governments.
Applications beyond fashion
“We were very excited to participate in the program from a multitude of perspectives,” says Chris Wawrousek, senior creative design lead in the NB Innovation Studio. “The program allowed us to see some of the emerging research in the field of technical textiles. In some cases, these technologies are still very nascent, but give us a window into future developments.”
“The diverse pairing and short time period also remind us of the energy captured in an academic crash course, and just how much teams can do in a condensed period of time,” Wawrousek adds. “Finally, it’s a great chance to connect with this future generation of designers and engineers, hopefully giving them an exciting window into the work of our brand.”
By building upon their different points of view from design and science, the teams demonstrated what is possible when creative individuals from each area act and think as one.
“When designers and engineers come together and open their minds to creating new technologies that ultimately will impact the world, we can imagine exciting new multi-material fibers that open up a new spectrum of applications in various markets, from clothing to medical and beyond,” says Yuly Fuentes, MIT Materials Research Laboratory project manager for fiber technologies.