September 2, 2019

Techwear's Still Falling Short of its Vision

At its core, Techwear is all about a skew towards practicality — especially the emphasis on forward-thinking, technology-infused garments that indiscriminately enable the wearer. Put another way, it doesn’t matter what your body type is: you should be able to derive the functional benefits of this kind of garment. The problem is in the execution, as techwear keeps coming up short by over-emphasizing limited styles, fits and influences.

Current Issues

Techwear’s core problems show that its execution and the products that come from it are at odds with its purported principles of inclusion and functionality.

  • Gender: Techwear is still very male dominated in terms of its association with the term as well as its vision and execution, carrying over some faults from mainstream fashion. For instance, androgyny and unisex are marketed as “for everyone” when they’re really “borrowing from the boys.” This hard reference point naturally ignores any female and non-binary considerations that could factor into tech wear.
  • Body Type: Overlapping with gender is an emphasis on thinness. This means a body type without too many curves (“featureless,” if you will) becomes the norm and favors only a limited set of proportions.
  • Performance: Performance and functionality are similar, but nuanced. When we think performance fabrics, we might think of sweat-wicking and odor fighting properties, but functional elements like storage and zippered vents might not fit into the same garment (thus, performance remains nebulous at best).
  • Limited looks: A common issue is trying to buy and wear the functionality of techwear without looking like you’re going to climb a mountain or going to war. Your closest bet right now might be athleisure, but then again, we’re not always “on standby” for the gym, are we? It also goes without saying that there is still an imbalance between Techwear and Athleisure’s respective gender associations.

Sports brands leading the charge

While mainstream fashion is still sorting itself out, there is movement in the space; unsurprisingly, sports brands are playing a large part:

  • Adidas by Stella McCartney: Has been a leading presence in designing functional apparel for women with adidas since 2005.
  • Johanna Schneider x NikeLab: Schneider has also designed for ACRONYM as well as Stone Island Shadow Project.
  • Sacai x NikeLab: Channels Chitose Abe’s design language into garments that carry strong aesthetics in addition to being made of performance fabrics.
  • Aday: Works to create clothing that is technical, seasonless and sustainable.
  • Charli Cohen: Creates technical-wear, born out of a need for evolved clothing and progression within the fashion industry.

A Carton-ful of Chicken and Egg Problems

For techwear to reach its next phase, we might have to figure out a few cyclical issues first:

  • Culture-driven supply and demand: If a common issue is that women’s clothing doesn’t have as many pockets, for example, and designers were to say something like “women don’t need/ask for pockets since they frequently carry purses,” or “the introduction of pockets would ruin the lines,” are these reasons or excuses? Does more vocal demand for more function come first, or more designs including them by default?
  • Sizing: Similarly, designing new fits and sizes takes resources for a brand, for sure. But that doesn’t necessarily mean there isn’t a market for it—because in the States at least, there is. Again, this might be another question of whether the cultural shift (media etc.) towards representing different body types or the demand for it comes first.
  • Adjustability: Short of getting things custom made, a perfect fit off the rack is nigh impossible to be fair. This would likely be the case even if there were more diverse fits. Is there a middle-ground between extra stretchy but form-fitting and revealing and looser and adjustable but being overloaded with straps, snaps and zippers?
  • Influence-agnostic directions: The promise of techwear also lies in its shedding of tradition combined with its full-blown sprint towards the future (or what we imagine it looks like). It might take a while before we all hang up our jeans and tees for good and start wearing the latest textile tech, though.

The Takeaway

Techwear shows promise of going in bold new directions that mainstream fashion would be hesitant or slow to. Currently, the segment has made some strides through the work of certain brands, even outside of sportswear, but to reach the next level and truly embody its ideals, diversity is needed: This means more interesting explorations of what the techwear “look” can be beyond the influences of old stylistic influences, gender and physique norms and concepts of functionality.

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