Now that techwear is mainstream, the surface-level fan will likely unambiguously explain it as being waterproof garments with asymmetrical pockets, yet techwear by definition should be more comprehensive. Techwear should be able to better your life in some regard by allowing you to actively and passively utilize the technology it provides, ultimately improving your wellbeing. A passive reaction by the garment could be regulating your body temperature for you (or yes, simply repel water), and an active technology could be the wearer’s ability to control their phone with their jacket such as on Levi ICD+ products. But outside of making your life more convenient, there are unique applications of technologies employed by garments and materials to keep the user healthy across a wide range of niche scenarios, and today we are going to explore some of them. 

The Marathon des Sables is thought to be one of the most physically taxing races in the world, not simply because it’s 156 miles long, but because it takes runners across the Sahara Desert. The perfect shoe to attempt the race has been debated since the event started, yet a unanimous decision is that gaiters must be a part of that shoe, which are essentially tubes of fabric that partially or fully cover the shoes to keep out, in the case of MdS, sand. Just like any successfully functional clothing technology, gaiters originated from the military, to keep mud from getting in soldiers’ and labourers’ shoes. Certain shoes have been engineered specifically for the race, such as the Teva Desert Shield or Uk Gear PT-03. The Desert Shield features a built-in gaiter that goes up to mid-calf, making a detachable gaiter unnecessary and potentially minimizing weight. The PT-03 was directly modeled off of the Bundeswehr XC-09 and features a sand-proof material on the body, a heat resistant material, and a hook system to attach gaiters to. Lately a popular brand has been Hoka One One for their extra cushioning, with gaiters sewn on. Due to runners’ feet expanding over the race as they push against the unyielding ground, most will wear shoes that are slightly larger than their true size, meaning protection around the openings is even more imperative. But despite the different approaches, a form of gaiters is certainly utilized, and horror stories can be read from the failed runners who chose not to include them in their gear, got sand in their shoes, and rubbed their feet raw on the trail. 

Marathon des Sables runner

On the other end of genuinely helpful shoe technology is Furoshiki, a very underrated concept line by Vibram. Unlike the secure, built-up shoes made for MdS, Furoshiki aims to make you forget you’re wearing them. The line is named after the Japanese wrapping technique originating during the Nara period, a technique designed to carefully package valuables for transportation while using quality fabrics. The Vibram Furoshiki consists of a sole with two synthetic straps that you wrap across your feet, making them as form-fitting and personalized as you want. As your toes over time begin to push together from cinched, cushy sneakers, Furoshiki allows your toes to return to their natural position, and the lack of chunky soles allows your feet to naturally support your body and in theory, reintegrate the atrophied leg muscles that have been partially supplemented by wearing sneakers your whole life. 

By the time you read this I'm already on my way back to the hyperstealth cave
Vibram Furoshiki

Departing from niche footwear, Gore-Tex is a fabric that has likely affected your life. Despite what a marketing team somewhere has successfully tricked you into thinking, a jacket with Gore-tex is far from cutting-edge; the material is over fifty years old. What is newly impressive about Gore-Tex–or expanded polytetrafluoroethylene–are its medical applications. After it was found that the material is able to allow natural fibers to grow through it, it has been used in multiple grafting surgeries for heart patches and knee ligaments. Though organic material is always preferred, ePTFE is able to bond with heparin, an anticoagulant found in the human body, to reduce risk even further. ePTFE is resilient over time and easily accepted by the body, and can be attached to multiple other materials potentially required as frames in the surgeries. The range of Gore-Tex is responsible for its longevity, and a material that can help you both externally and internally deserves recognition.

Extreme close up of ePTFE from W.L. Gore

I’m sure that if I asked you for more examples of genuinely helpful clothing technologies, you would eventually say camouflage. There have been thousands of patterns used in militaries across the world during the last few decades, from flecktarn to woodland, and lately, digital, but they all only work on specific backdrops. Camo made for Vietnam would stand out quite a bit in Iraq, and vice versa. Recently, one of the most cutting-edge designers of modern day camouflage, Guy Cramer, finally showcased his company’s most ambitious entry yet: Quantum Stealth. If you go on Hyperstealth Biotechnology Corps website, it simply says “Invisibility is the new camouflage.” The material, which in the announcement video appears as a sheet that can be attached to clothing, ben
ds light around the wearer and renders the target invisible to the naked eye, infrared, and thermal. It will even remove shadows. As impossible as this may seem, the technology exists, and when countries begin utilizing it, the modern battlefield will experience a vast leap forward from the decades old camouflage patterns in use today. So often we see innovations only applicable in very specific scenarios, so Quantum Stealth’s ability to be used anywhere in the world makes it truly significant.  

Quantum Stealth

Successful integration of technologies into your life can get as specific as you want, whether that means a shoe attachment that protects you from sand abrasion or having the same material on your jacket as you do in your knee ligament. The idea of techwear should not end at Acronym LARPers and other ridiculous, inapplicable jackets that serve no real purpose outside of being a costume. While technologies in clothing can occasionally look interesting, the real value behind them is the ability to drastically improve their user’s wellbeing.