Clothing is Gaining Assistive Roles

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Social Technologies reports that clothing is gaining assistive roles such as aiding performance in leisure activities, enabling tasks that might be otherwise physically daunting, and providing medical or physical protection.

Converging social and technological drivers are spurring change in attire. In a new report about assistive clothing, Denise Chiavetta, leader of Social Technologies' Technology Foresight project, explains the focus on clothing as a tool or platform for delivery of assistance as much as a basic way to stay comfortable and/or fashionable.

Social drivers include demographics, health concerns, and consumer trends:

  • Aging. Aging populations may raise the incidence of degraded physical abilities, such as speed of movement or manual dexterity.
  • Health. Beyond aging, public health issues such as obesity, infectious diseases, and environmental threats are creating demand for new means of assistance and protection for many consumers in World 1.
  • Professional amateurism. Growth of professional amateurism (pro-am) is driving desire among average consumers for "professional-grade" performance, with all attendant tools and equipment.
  • Isolation. In the area of healthcare applications, the fact that more people will be living alone in many World 1 countries in coming years will heighten the need for ways to monitor and treat more isolated individuals.

Technology drivers include improvements in applied science:

  • Materials. Advances in materials science allow new fibers and materials to be used for elasticity, electrical conductivity, strength-focusing, and other targeted capabilities.
  • Human physiology. Better understanding of biomechanics and physiology enables engineers and designers to create clothing that optimizes human movement.
  • Enhancement. The creep of technologically enabled enhancement in other spheres, from new pharmaceuticals for focus, to performance-enhancing drugs, continues to drive the spiral of demand for more assistance in human capabilities.
  • Wireless networking. New wireless technologies allow clothing to be used as a monitoring and computing platform.


"Assistive clothing will extend to more areas of life, including sports and fitness, assistance for the disabled, and ultimately, general everyday use," Chiavetta explains, pointing to several applications:

  •     Sports and fitness. Assistive clothing has made significant inroads in the sports and fitness market, arguably beginning with the dawn of the athletic shoe in the early 1900s. In 2008, assistance in sport and fitness has become much more complex and high-tech; advanced materials are being used to take seconds off performance or allow runners and cross-trainers to focus energy in certain movements while minimizing others.
  •     Disabilities. Much of the advanced research and development being undertaken in physically assistive technologies for people with disabilities currently focuses on bionic limbs and other computer-enhanced prosthetics. University of Michigan scientists are among the researchers developing close-fitting robotic exoskeletons to assist people with disabilities or temporary weaknesses due to injury or muscle tremors.
  •     Everyday use. Assistive clothing will eventually trickle down to everyday uses as innovations emerge from health and fitness areas. Already, "specialist" clothing such as athletic compression garments have found their way into ordinary wardrobes. Clothing from sports such as mountain climbing and snowboarding also has penetrated mainstream markets.

Learn more
To discuss the business applications of assistive clothing, set up an interview with futurist Denise Chiavetta by sending an email to Hope Gibbs (

Denise Chiavetta ) Futurist / Leader, Technology Foresight
Denise Chiavetta is the leader of Social Technologies' Technology Foresight project, a multiclient strategic information service that identifies and examines emerging shifts in science and technology and analyzes the business implications of these changes. Previously the head of Future Technologies at The Coca-Cola Company, Denise has a BS in electrical engineering from Clarkson University and an MS in studies of the future from the University of Houston-Clear Lake. Areas of expertise: Energy (green, renewable, oil), environment and sustainability, food and beverage, health and medicine, future of technology.

About ) Technology Foresight
The series cited above is part of Social Technologies' Technology Foresight project, the science and technology section of the company's Futures Consortium program--a multiclient strategic information service that identifies and examines important emerging shifts in science and technology, and analyzes the business implications of these changes. For more information, visit

About ) Social Technologies
Social Technologies is a global research and consulting firm specializing in the integration of foresight, strategy, and innovation. With offices in Washington DC, London, and Shanghai, Social Technologies serves the world's leading companies, government agencies, and nonprofits. A holistic, long-term perspective combined with actionable business solutions helps clients mitigate risk, make the most of opportunities, and enrich decision-making. For information visit


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