Wednesday, April 20, 2016


By Guest Contributor

6 Scientific Inventions
that have revolutionised fashion

Alexander McQueen Spring/Summer 2010 (Photo courtesy of

Fashion, as we know, is constantly changing. Its unpredictability is what has led to the development of the thriving fashion scene we know now. This dynamism also means that what is trendy now can cease being so after a few seasons, while what might have been sensational and ground-breaking in the past is probably something we take for granted as the norm now.

Countless innovations have been made over the centuries to shape the fashion industry into what it is today. Some crucial inventions in the past gained mainstream appeal and usage, and ended up as essential apparels such as the bra and bikini. Others helped to make the production of apparel much more efficient - easier, faster, and cheaper. And the effects of the science of fashion continue to be seen and felt in the envelope-pushing designs marketed around the world every season.

Here are some scientific experiments that have resulted in significant advancements in fashion:

1. Chemistry X Fashion = Synthetic Fibres

Photo courtesy of ZALORA Community

What we know as rayon and nylon, polyester, spandex, and acrylic are in fact textiles made from man-made fibres instead of natural ones. Rayon was invented as a type of artificial silk (although it was not until 1924 that it was name as such), while nylon was invented in the 1930s, blazing the way for many other types of materials.

For their greater durability and strength, as well as lower production costs compared to natural fibres (between silk and nylon stockings, the latter does lesser damage to your wallet), it is safe to say that synthetic fibres have revolutionised the garment industry. Just look at the sporty designs made of technical fabrics that wunderkind Alexander Wang sent down the Spring/Summer 2015 runway (above)!

2. Biochemistry X Fashion = Artificial Dyes

Up till the mid-nineteenth century, people had derived dyes solely from natural resources like shellfish or the sumac plant. It wasn't until 1856 that the first man-made dye was created, when an 18-year-old British chemist called William Henry Perkin unwittingly created mauveine, a purple dye that became so popular in Great Britain that British postage stamps were dyed with it and Queen Victoria later wore mauve to her daughter's wedding!

Perkin's mentor, a German scientist named August Wilhelm von Hofmann, took inspiration from his student to create his own dyes. Within a few years he created rosaniline, a reddish-brown dye. A few years later in 1868, another German chemist Carl Graebe created a synthetic vegetable dye called alizarin

Photo courtesy of ZALORA Community

Even till today, dyes are still widely used by designers, such as Aigner's printed shift dresses at its Spring/Summer 2013 runway (above).

3. Biochemistry X Fashion = Air Dyeing

Air dyeing is a method developed by Colorep, where the brand's proprietary dyes are heat-transferred from paper to fabric in just one step. This not only saves between seven to 75 gallons of water that is required to dyeing a pound of fabric, it also saves energy and doesn't produce any harmful by-products. Plus, this technology uses much less water and energy, and emits less greenhouse gases compared to traditional printing and dyeing methods.

4. Computer Science X Fashion = Digital Prints

Photo courtesy of ZALORA Community

Digital printing is an eco-friendly technique that has been used by designers like Alexander McQueen, Basso & Brooke, as well as Mary Katrantzou (see her Fall/Winter 2013 design above), whose watercolour designs she sent out on the runway have wowed industry experts and fashion insiders alike. It involves using printers to directly apply prints to fabrics. This reduces water and energy usage, and minimises textile waste.

5. Computer Science X Fashion = Smart Tailoring

Smart Tailoring, also known as Direct Panel on Loom (DPOL) technology, was first created by Indian designer Siddhartha Upadhyaya. He wanted to increase fabric efficiency and shave off lead-time to manufacture more high-end garments for his eco-fashion label, August Fashion.

By using a loom attached to a computer, data such as colour, pattern, and size of the garment is entered, allowing the loom to generate made-to-fit garment pieces that are then woven, cut and patterned all at once. So not only does Smart Tailoring reduce fabric wastage, it also helps to save energy and water.

6. Computer Science X Fashion = The Internet

Photo courtesy of ZALORA Community (Click to enlarge)

No list of scientific inventions that revolutionised fashion and retail can be complete without the Internet.

With the advent of the Internet in 1991, the retail landscape has been greatly altered. In 1995, business-to-consumer websites such as and eBay started appearing, providing consumers with a different shopping experience that enable ease of transaction, greater convenience, as well as larger and more catalogues to shop from. Even regular brick-and-mortar stores are realising that an online shopping site is a necessary companion to their physical stores. With lower overhead costs and wider variety, online stores are gaining traction and radically transforming the retail scene and, in turn, the fashion one by changing how we view mainstream fashion and couture.

Despite being such polar opposites, fashion and science can meet to create boundary-pushing creations. What are some other scientific inventions that you think changed the fashion scene? Share your thoughts in the Comments section below!

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