Since the beginning of the year I have been writing about advancements in the broader technology landscape with an eye toward potential impact on the textile and apparel supply chain and retail environments. As mentioned in my last post, I will be switching gears to examine technology advancements a little closer to home. On that note, I recently travelled to Charlotte, NC to attend the International Conference for AATCC (American Association of Textile Chemists and Colorists). This event provides concurrent educational tracks for the association’s Chemical Applications, Concept 2 Consumer (C2C) and Materials interest groups. Though a range of topics were addressed during the conference, my primary focus was the C2C track which included sessions on sustainability, aspects of domestic textile production and export, international apparel labeling requirements, wearable technology, social media, textile technology trends, lighting in regard to color viewing, color standards and color accurate inkjet printing. From a technology perspective the discussions around color and lighting were of particular interest. Sessions touching on wearable technology and social media were also notable. The following is a brief summary of key points from these sessions.
Retail Lighting Sources & Color
Color development is a critical activity within the textile industry that requires clear and accurate communication of color requirements among supply chain partners and the ability to objectively measure and assess color in reference to a color standard. Brands and retailers typically drive the development process with consideration for a selection of lighting conditions in which the consumer will view the end product. Given the range of lighting technologies available, the scenario becomes somewhat complex. The challenge was highlighted by Ann Laidlaw of X-Rite who demonstrated the variety of lighting sources used in a typical retail environment. She noted that within a single store location sources often combine so that the consumer is viewing product color under two or more sources simultaneously rather than via a pure (single) light source. Additionally, although a retailer may issue specifications for store lighting, it’s not uncommon for actual lighting conditions to vary among stores. Furthermore, store lighting that initially adheres to a specification may change over time as maintenance personnel change bulbs, fixtures and sources for these items. Thus, the use of multiple lighting sources as part of color assessment procedures is very important for ensuring the specified product color is well represented at retail.
As part of this discussion Laidlaw provided a brief overview of the characteristics of various lighting sources. This information was reinforced by Nick Lena of GTI Graphic Technology Inc. during a later presentation. Collectively the speakers described the spectral distribution of natural daylight conditions and in comparison, the characteristics and level of energy efficiency offered by incandescent, incandescent halogen variations, and a selection of florescent light sources. The speakers also addressed the emergence of LED (light-emitting diode) technology as a growing source of lighting at retail. Lena pointed to the development of LED technology in response to advancements in the semiconductor industry and the technology was described as a relatively energy efficient solution. Laidlaw indicated that the light output for individual diodes is fairly low. Thus, diodes are often combined to produce sufficient lumen. She also indicated that more powerful LEDs have entered the market over recent years. Although LED lamps generally have a higher purchase price, the source typically supports a long service life which adds to the overall efficiency story.
In the context of this discussion it was noted that when LED technology initially entered the market the spectral distribution was greater along the blue portion of the spectrum which resulted in a “cooler” appearance of colors. This characteristic is in comparison to natural daylight which offers a more even spectral distribution and incandescent which has a distribution that is heavier on the red/yellow end of the spectrum and offers a “warmer” appearance. Today it’s possible to produce diodes that emit a variety of colors and white light is often created by combining red, green and blue diodes (RGB light). Even though LED solutions with improved spectral distribution are available, the speakers emphasize that the technology is still developing. In that regard, it was suggested that settling on an industry standard for LED light sources in regard to color assessment remains premature.
A few side notes on color…
In addition to the discussion of LED technology, attendees also had an opportunity to hear from former AATCC President, Roland Connelly who provided a brief update on changes to current international color standards. He spoke to advancements in color technology and also pointed to potential changes to standard formula for calculating color difference. At the close of the conference, attendees heard from Julian Mussi of Spectraflow Inc. who described the development of a strategy for calibrating and optimizing color output of inkjet printers used within the design process at Old Navy. He highlighted the development of a software solution that provides an iterative method of color correction. The strategy was designed to address variations in color that occur from one printing device to the next as well as color drift that occurs over time for a single printer. The strategy was also developed with an eye toward reduction or elimination of time consuming and inefficient color matching activities and the need to supplement inkjet prints with fabric samples for accurate representation of color during the design phase.
Wearable Technology and Social Media
Travelling beyond the realm of color and lighting, participants also learned about the Shima Seiki Haute Technology Laboratory established at Drexel University to support exploration of knitted strategies for the development of smart textiles and wearable technology. Genevieve Dion spoke about the inter-disciplinary nature of research undertaken in the wearable technology area and pointed to the lab as a central resource for co-development among researchers at the university. She also talked about the value of weft knitting for manufacture of smart textiles for medical and other purposes. Dion demonstrated the three dimensional visualization capabilities of Shima Seiki’s CAD technology in regard to knitted structures and products and she emphasized the benefit of 3D visualization to the product development process.
Since my recent coverage of technology trends touched on the subject of social media, I thought it important to mention a presentation by Mary Brannon from the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising (FIDM). Brannon described a selection of social media, apps and web-based solutions that are providing marketing opportunities for companies large and small. Sources identified include Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, YouTube, Foursquare, Flickr, Instagram, Etsy, WordPress, Yelp and Google places. Brannon also pointed to blogs as an important avenue for customer service and QR codes as a method of linking to web pages from print material. Readers that find social media particularly intriguing should checkout “The Social Media Revolution 2012”. This YouTube video clip emphases the cultural and business significance of social media solutions and echoes some of the points I’ve made in previous posts.
Readers should be aware that the full conference proceedings provide greater insight into topics presented including those covered within the Chemical Applications and Materials tracks. The full proceedings are typically made available for purchase via the AATCC website. Look for my next post in short order. I’ll be digging into textile finishing technologies for cotton with an emphasis on performance attributes. Toward the end of April I will be travelling to Atlanta to attend the Texprocess show. Look for my technology summary in response to this event toward the end of the month.