When it Comes to the Future, it’s All Material

Dr. Andrew Dent of Material ConneXion.Dr. Andrew Dent of Material ConneXion.

NEW YORK – On the eve of a week devoted to fabrics, constructions, picks and piles, HTT devoted its second semiannual ConText session to a wide-ranging look at developments in materials of all kinds on March 4.
     The morning event took place at Material ConneXion on Madison Avenue at 27th Street, a global materials consultancy and library that tracks and compiles innovative materials and processes. The company was acquired last year by HTT parent company Sandow Media.
     Dr. Andrew Dent, vp of library and materials research, circulated a number of unusual items through the gathering of attendees. ConText-goers handled a fabric made from peacock feathers, another made from stainless steel, and yet another made from the Pacific Hagfish, which resembled a lightweight, supple leather. They passed around mock pony skin, a polymer panel embedded with lace and laser-cut horse hide.
     “Not every fabric is [about] thinking: ‘What can I make of it?’ ” Dent said.
     It’s more important to decide what properties a product needs to have, then find a material or process that already offers those properties – which may require looking to other industries.
     “Everyone is taking from everyone else. It’s a big mash up,” said Dent, who earned his Ph.D. in materials science from the University of Cambridge in England.

A ConTextA ConText attendee gets his hands on a sample board for a cow stomach — one of several interesting and unusual items passed around to the audience during the presentation.

     From his perspective, there are five key trends now occurring in materials development.
     ● Finishes: The merger of handmade and industrial techniques is creating products with unique properties and visual effects. Dent is seeing “explosive” strides in digital print, which he said has the potential to eventually replace dyeing.
     ● Textures: New methods of creating materials from untapped natural materials – such as fabric rolls made from salmon skin and leather made from cow stomach – are also introducing textures into the design lexicon.
     ● Environmental control: Here, Dent discussed new developments such as functional materials that address Sick Building Syndrome by absorbing toxins from the atmosphere, recently developed self-cleaning fabrics and a new range of super hydrophobics (i.e., water repellants) that repel just about everything.
     ● Sensory: “There are now fabrics that look translucent, almost diaphanous, but can still absorb sound,” Dent said.
     ● Sustainability: The trick with sustainability, he noted, is that there’s always a tradeoff. He pointed to the Boeing Dreamliner, which is mostly plastic. The process used to make the plastic “is awful,” he said. But the lightweight airplane is also 20% more fuel efficient, making it more environmentally friendly than traditionally constructed jets in its class.
     Although there are a slew of new products, treatments, coatings and the like in the pipeline, what is most critical remains the performance attributes needed for a particular product.
     “One cannot be an evangelist when one has clients,” Dent said.