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Print Tech: Fashion + Solar Energy

(April/May 2017) posted on Fri Jun 02, 2017

Solar energy has long been a symbol of progressive technology; these days, it’s also pushing the boundaries of fashion.

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By Kiersten Feuchter

“Technology is not a mere tool, but rather one of aesthetics.”

Dutch fashion designer Pauline van Dongen outlines this philosophy on her website, emphasizing the value and meaning that technology can bring to fashion. “It’s never about technology for technology’s sake,” the statement reads. Nevertheless, technology is what stands out the most about van Dongen’s apparel, blending distinctive fashion statements with deliberate elements of convenience and function.

You certainly wouldn’t find styles like hers at Macy’s. From FysioPal – a top for improving posture that vibrates when the wearer slouches – to Skynfeel – a bodysuit designed to maximize airtime for long jumpers – her designs are adventurous and purposeful. Vigour is a cardigan that utilizes stretch sensors to monitor upper body movements in geriatric patients; an accompanying app gives data to the wearer and his or her physical therapist on the patient’s movements throughout the day. Mesopic and Phototrope emit light to keep night runners safe.

Van Dongen’s solar collection is a little closer to “everyday” wear. By integrating thin-film photovoltaic cells, her line of jackets, dresses, and shirts allows the wearer to charge their smartphones and other mobile devices via USB cable. For example, the Solar Shirt prototype produces roughly 1 watt of electricity in bright sunlight – enough to charge a phone for a few hours. Indoors, the shirt produces enough wattage to keep a device charged. It can also store electricity in a battery pack for later use, and it’s washable.

Collaboration Is Key
The photovoltaic cell modules for the Solar Shirt were developed by Holst Centre, a research center dedicated to innovation in the field of flexible electronics. Margreet de Kok, senior scientist, stresses the company’s emphasis on open collaboration: “Our partners – for instance, material suppliers and users – join forces in a pre-competitive state,” she says. It’s a unique environment that encourages the flow of ideas.

For the Solar Shirt project, the van Dongen-Holst partnership was a perfect example of how open collaboration can bring out the best in all parties involved. “We develop technology, and to the best of our expertise, we try to imagine what this technology can bring in application,” says de Kok. “But the design of it, we realize, is not our cup of tea.” That’s where van Dongen came in.


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