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Most people know how much biotech has changed the world, leaving the laboratory to give us home DNA-testing kits, genetically modified vegetables and (soon) meat grown in petri dishes. And it’s easy to see how computers have changed daily life, when they left our desks behind and melded with all our tools—from phones and cars to refrigerators and vacuum cleaners. Now comes the next big stage: a converging of both the digital and biological revolutions, which are showing up, of all places, in clothes and accessories.
Indeed, the line is blurring between tools that track our health and productivity and garments we wear to express who we are. In the future, both those kinds of items will be fashionable, electronic and biological all at once.
Already in stores are designer clothes and accessories whose “leather” is made by converting specially cultivated mats of mushroom roots, or by genetically modifying yeast to produce the same protein fibers that form animal skin. One gadget monitors your sleep and wakes you up at the right moment with a zap of electricity, while another tracks your health by analyzing your sweat then beaming the results in real time to your smartphone.
And, as some of the bolder experiments in wearable tech show, this is only the beginning.
Stella McCartney Falabella bag
This purse’s sturdy “leather” is made of mushroom roots, which normally form tangled underground mats. Biofabric start-up Bolt Threads grows the cells, then compresses, tans and dyes the sheets into a leather substitute
The wrist-worn Pavlok device interacts with your biology in the most direct way possible: It zaps you with a jolt of 50 to 450 volts. It’s designed to help you break bad habits.
Zoa by Modern Meadow
Leather accents in this T-shirt were made by yeast, which start-up Modern Meadow genetically engineers to make collagen. That’s the protein that gives animal skin its structure and feel.