Electronics can be embedded in textiles in the form of digital components. The garment then becomes a smart garment, smart clothing, electronic textiles, smart fabrics or smart textiles.

Smart textiles can be broken into the following categories:

  1. Aesthetic - examples in this category include fabrics that light up and fabrics that can change colour. Some of these fabrics gather energy from the environment by harnessing vibrations, sound or heat and reacting to these inputs.
  2. Performance Enhancing – examples in this category are intended for use in athletic, extreme sports and the military. These fabrics here are designed to regulate body temperature, reduce wind resistance, and control muscle vibration – all of which may improve athletic performance.

Electronic textiles can also include wearable technology where components are integrated into the garment. The technology is used to monitor athletes’ performance – this is the seamless integration of textiles with electronic elements like microcontrollers, sensors, and actuators.

Embroidering circuits into fabric or transparent sensor material are recent advances. These can also be printed on to textiles, and are helping to create a range of technologies that bring together the clothing, technology and the textile industries to create fabrics for users as varied as athletes, patients, the military and ordinary consumers.

By using smart fabrics, a fire-fighter’s heart rate can be monitored, an athletes’ core body temperature, respiration rate and activity levels can be monitored, and a rugby players performance and activity can be monitored and tracked throughout a match.

Materials ranging from traditional cotton, polyester, and nylon, to Kevlar can be used to produce Smart textile fabrics.