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Wearable Solar

What do you get when you mix technology and fashion? We have seen some results courtesy of Iris van Herpen and the likes of Daan Roosegaarde but now, fashion designer Pauline van Dongen is incorporating solar panels in het designs for a new project named Wearable Solar. 

By Cassandra Pizzey /asdf 20-06-2013

Born from the idea that our smartphones are running out of juice faster than we can charge them, Christiaan Holland of Gelderland Valoriseert initiated the Wearable Solar project. Enlisting the help of fashion designer Pauline van Dongen and solar panel specialist Gertjan Jongerden together with students from the University of Applied Sciences in Nijmegen. 

Hosting a workshop as part of the Arnhem Fashion Biennale last Friday, fashion designer Pauline van Dongen tells about her experiences incorporating solar panels into wearable items of clothing.

You created a number of prototypes for Wearable Solar, can you tell us a little about the garments?

“I created two prototypes, a coat and a dress. Both are based on the same concept in which I carefully studied the technique of solar cells and compared the layered structure of cells with human skin, which shows a similar layering. I then translated this to designs that comprise various parts which can be revealed when the sun shines, so the wearable electronics can be charged. They can in turn be folded away and worn invisibly when they aren’t directly needed. 

Can you explain how you incorporated the solar panels into the coat and dress?

"The coat contains fairly rigid solar cells, which is why I used a combination of wool and leather. These materials both provide the strength needed and are aesthetically pleasing. In total some 48 solar cells are incorporated into modular leather panels, allowing a typical smartphone to be fifty percent charged if worn in the full sun for an hour. 

For the dress I used flexible solar cells. These are less efficient but are easier to integrate and more comfortable to wear. The dress is made from a flowing lightweight wool combined with leather. The cells have been subtly integrated in such a way that it’s hardly noticeable when you wear the dress as a normal piece of clothing."  

How do you manage to combine functionality and aesthetics in these items of clothing, were you aiming for a technical appearance or rather hide their secondary function?

“My goal isn’t to give these clothes a technical look. Their wearability and aesthetics are number one! I think it’s important to combine all the qualities and functions in such a way that the end result is an appealing and wearable item of clothing and not a gadget.”

Do you think Wearable Solar could become a consumer item, and in which form?

“Wearable Solar is researching the possibilities of the technology and how it can be used in clothing, textiles and accessories. I am convinced that this could lead to a product that can be marketed on a big scale, largely because of the growing role played by connectivity in our current society and because of the enormous potential that solar energy has to offer. It is the biggest source of energy on earth and it’s important that people realize its value. Now that fossil fuels are depleting, it’s time we came up with a sustainable alternative!

For me it’s inspiring to work on this project with a multi-disciplinary team and I see knowledge sharing as a great thing and something that plays a central role in our society. Together we are creating something that will make people think and create a certain sense of consciousness.”

Now that we are talking about all these future innovations, what are your views on the future of fashion?

“As a designer I specialize in the combination of fashion and technology and find it interesting to go in search of the boundaries of fashion and where possible to change them through new materials and techniques. I think that science, biology and for instance nano technology will have a huge impact on future developments within fashion. The focus is on materials and their characteristics. 

Take the programming of bacteria in order to grow products of the creation of textiles and textures that adapt to their surroundings. There will be changes in processes, both on the design side as in the field of development and production."

Take a look at the video to hear Van Dongen's views first hand.

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