What’s it like to wear dynamic fabric?

October 27, 2021

Angella Mackey explored the wondrous possibilities of shapeshifting designs

Angella Mackay demonstrates the greenscreen app
Angella Mackay demonstrates the greenscreen app

What would it be like to have garments in your wardrobe that can change colour or show videos like a computer screen? In her doctoral thesis, researcher and designer Angella Mackey takes this idea and runs with it. As it turns out, it is nothing like we imagined.

Over the past twenty years we have seen LEDS, electroluminescence, thermo-chromic inks, e-ink, and other special materials dynamically animate and change the appearance of a garment’s surface. However, research into dynamic fabrics, as this kind of fabric is known, has been mostly at the technical level, concentrating on technological innovations or prototypical exemplars.

Mackey, who is part of the Future Everyday lab at the department of Industrial Design, does not technologically develop the fabric per se. “Instead, I wanted to understand the everyday experience of it, by wearing it––as part of a wardrobe, how it might make one feel, look and act. Why would one want to change the pattern of a shirt? How might this change our relationship with our garments and each other?”


Using herself as a case study, Mackey wore green every day for one year in conjunction with a greenscreen app on her smartphone in order to change the colours, shapes and patterns on her clothing, documented here on Instagram. “I did this to mimic the daily experiences of having garments in my wardrobe that could digitally change their surface decoration.”

The researcher found a myriad of surprising ways one might decide to blend with their surroundings, wear images of grass and sky from the environment, navigate between digital and physical fashion experiences, or fend off her fabric from being hacked by others.

Fictional fashion

Moreover, she created a fictional fashion brand called Phem to explore designing with this dynamic fabric (as can be seen in the Vimeo-clip on the left). She examines and articulates the struggles a fashion designer could encounter when adapting their practice to working with a mix of physical and digital materials which can be helpful to engineers, wearables designers, textile designers, or fashion designers alike.

“My research offers a collection of intimate, first-person accounts of wearing dynamic, colour-changing fabric that I hope will be valuable to companies developing such fabrics now and in the future.”

By blending strategies from research-through-design, autobiographical design and speculative design in order to ‘create’ the dynamic fabric she wears and designs with–– Mackey gives other researchers a unique way to explore the experience of a future-based technology, without that technology existing quite yet.

Angella Mackey will defend her thesis research on Wednesday 27 October.

Title of PhD-thesis: Rethinking Dynamic Fabric through Wearing and Designing. Supervisors: Ron Wakkary (SFU, TU/e)], Stephan Wensveen (TU/e), and Annika Hupfeld (TU/e). Other main parties involved: Koen van Os (Signify), Oscar Tomico (ELISAVA, TU/e), ArcInTex. This research has been supported by the H2020 Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions grant agreement No. 642328.



Henk van Appeven
(Communications Adviser)

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