According to a study by Trinity Digital Marketing, The Rise of the Mobile, there are currently around 6 billion mobile subscribers worldwide, that adds up to over 87% of the world’s population. With over 1.2 billion people accessing the web from their mobile devices, being connected is one of our main preoccupations today and whether you are emailing, texting, calling, networking, googling, gaming, watching videos or listening to music to stay connected you must stay charged.
Depending on how much you use your smartphone and for what type of activity, you can possibly pass the most part of a day with a fully charged phone.
However, should you venture off the grid for more than a day, be it for a festival, a camping trip or perhaps attending an all day fashion event that requires an exceptional amount of networking, a depleting battery level can quickly lead to an increased stress level. To avoid any indecent episodes of Nomophobia, let’s have a look at the stylish solutions created by today’s tech-savvy designers.
By harnessing the natural energy of the sun in newly developed flexible solar cells, designers are creating functional and wearable solutions that also meet the increasingly important requirements for sustainability. The enormous potential of this sustainable resource cannot be overlooked, to put it into context; approximately one hour of sunlight collectively shining on our planet is comparable with the quantity of energy that humanity uses in a whole year.
Thin film solar cells have long been regarded as the future of what’s known as photovoltaic solar energy technology. Photovoltaic, or PV, refers to the conversion of light energy into electricity using electronic devices called solar cells. The term originates from the Greek word for light: photos, combined with voltaic — in recognition to Alessandro Volta, an eighteenth-century Italian scientist who carried out pioneering studies in electricity. With these latest developments producing smaller and slimmer flexible solar panels or solar film, the technology can now be better incorporated into clothing.
One designer in particular who is experimenting in the field is Pauline Von Dongon. Together with her team at Wearable Solar they collectively research and explore the possibilities of solar technology. After graduating from the Academy of the Arts in the Netherlands, in 2010, Pauline van Dongen began a womenswear label under her own name. One of her latest projects in wearable technology is wearable solar power in the form of high fashion couture. The project has two prototype designs, a coat and a dress made from wool and leather. They produce sustainable energy through integrated solar cells. The coat incorporates 48 rigid solar cells and the dress has 72 flexible solar cells. If worn in the full sun for 2 hours, it can generate enough energy to recharge a typical smartphone battery. The solar cell compartments are hidden in folds incorporated into the garments design and can be unfolded when there is sun shining and folded back invisibly when they are not being used.
Speaking with Ecouterre, Von Dongen states “Solar power offers an intelligent and non-destructive way to use the planet’s resources. As a fashion designer, working in the field of technology, I see the importance of an interdisciplinary approach, In order to achieve innovation in fashion it is essential to connect different industries and fields of expertise.”
Californian based company Silvr Lining produce a line of outdoor wear called Go Collection that caters more to the adventurer and festival-goers by incorporating solar panels into the pockets of water-proof coats, pants and utility vests though at a not-so-festive high-price.
In 2012, Joe Hynek, a doctoral student in Iowa State’s department of mechanical engineering, designed this Power Purse as his final project in an experimental garment design class. After three hours of direct exposure, the purse generates enough electricity to charge an iPod, camera or cellphone. Hynek is also working on adding a small display screen that will indicate when the purse is best angled for absorbing the day’s light.
However when it comes to fusing technology with design, Jane Palmer and Marianne Fairbanks the two founders of Noon Solar have created a beautiful balance. They also have an ethos behind the concept that gives even more power to the brand’s classic designs. After meeting in the graduate MFA program at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago they decided to start the company as a kind of art project in 2002 as a response to the impending war in Iraq. They were feeling powerless in the country’s decision making process and felt the US Government was largely going to war for oil. They came up with a solution to give people not only personal power, but to integrate renewable solar power into daily life.
While Danish design team Diffus embrace the futuristic quality of the solar cells and created “Eclipse”, an exceptionally stylish luxury hand bag proudly displaying the solar panels as a design feature.
In the daytime hours one hundred small solar power stations distributed on The Solar Handbag generate enough electricity to charge a mobile device and a powerful lithium ion battery hidden in a small compartment. At night or in dark surroundings, opening the bag activates optical fibres attached to the inside of the bag that give a diffuse glow and assist in the search for keys or purse.
Another group working with solar technology is Solar Fiber, a group of four designers who met in May 2012 during “Ideas Waiting to Happen”; an initiative involving Creative Cities Amsterdam Area. Together they collaborate on solutions and possibilities of wearable solar and the development of solar fiber; a flexible photovoltaic fiber that converts sunlight energy into electrical energy like solar panels and film do. The difference is that solar fiber can be woven discreetly into the fabric meaning it has a greater potential for being adopted by fashion designers as it won’t interfere with their design therefore making the fiber most likely to integrate into mainstream fashion design. In this short clip you can see the solar fiber being woven into the cleft of the fabric:
The “silicon-based optical fiber with solar-cell capabilities” was developed in 2012 by an international team of chemists, physicists and engineers, led by John Badding, a professor of chemistry at Penn State. Their research heightens the possibility of weaving together solar-cell silicon wires to create flexible, curved or twisted solar fabrics
Badding explained that one of the major limitations of portable electronics such as smartphones and iPads is short battery life. Solar-boosted batteries can help solve this problem. “A solar cell is usually made from a glass or plastic substrate onto which hydrogenated amorphous silicon has been grown,” Badding explained. “Such a solar cell is created using an expensive piece of equipment called a PECVD (plasma-enhanced chemical vapor deposition) reactor and the end result is something flat with little flexibility. But woven, fiber-based solar cells would be lightweight, flexible configurations that are portable, foldable and even wearable.” This material could then be connected to electronic devices to power them and charge their batteries.
The “Solar Shawl” is one of Solar Fiber’s most functional and easy to wear designs, the fiber is stitched through the material and used as a design element in the line and gathering. The shawl also includes a tiny device that displays the levels of energy it’s generating.
Other designs created by the team show the diversity of working with the fiber over the panel:
Continuing their research into the development of this technology the group collaborated with an independent hand-weaver called Ank Hazelhoff who tried out weaving the optic fiber on her loom. The results were quite impressive s you can see in the photos below:
By integrating circuits and solar panels into fashion textiles designers are already creating a fashionable and energy-efficient future for wearable technology.
The technology of solar cells is developing rapidly thanks to advancements in production techniques and the use of alternative materials meaning not only more flexible, discreet and powerful solar cells but also lower costs and greater availability giving fashion designers more possibilities to work with this sustainable resource and create a brighter future for all of us.
For those who are interested in working with solar energy you can find many useful resources from the links provided.