Toronto Exhibit Explores How Sports Synthesize Fashion and Function

Toronto Exhibit Explores How Sports Synthesize Fashion and Function

Words and Photography by Amanda Rebecca Cosco

For more than a hundred years, sports have been synthesizing fashion and function to offer garments that stretch the limits of what we demand from our clothing. At the same time, sport signifies lifestyle and inspires fashion well beyond the track or the tennis court (think Polo Ralph Lauren, Lacoste, and even Lululemon.)

On the heels of the Pan Am Games, which are set to take over the city of Toronto beginning July 10th, an exhibition invites us to consider how the relationship between fashion and technology comes into play in sports and performance.

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Smarter. Faster. Tougher: An Exhibition on Sports, Fashion and Technology” is curated by Marie O’Mahony, the woman who literally wrote the book on technology and textiles. The exhibit features everything from 3D-printed bikinis to smart garments that measure your biometric data to wetsuits designed to repel sharks.

Marie O'Mahony, professor of Digital Futures at OCAD University, walks the first exhibit visitors through each of its zones. Behind her to the left we see the Future Tripe Surf sunvestswimsuit apparel from the iconic Australian brand Seafolly. To the right in the display case, Seafolly's Block Party Sunvest and bikini bottoms, which uses UV protective fabric to guard against the sun's harmful rays. The zip neck detail shows the surfsuit inspiration for the design.

Marie O’Mahony, professor of Digital Futures at OCAD University, walks the first exhibit visitors through “Smarter.Faster. Tougher: An Exhibition on Sports, Fashion + Tech.” Behind her to the left we see the Future Tripe Surf sunvest swimsuit apparel from the iconic Australian brand Seafolly. To the right in the display case, Seafolly’s Block Party Sunvest and bikini bottoms, which uses UV protective fabric to guard against the sun’s harmful rays. The zip neck detail shows the surfsuit inspiration for the design.

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Housed just a short sprint away from the Athlete’s Village at 39 Parliament Street, the exhibit is one in a series of Design Exchange satellite events that aim to provide unique and accessible programming to the public. Shauna Levy, President and CEO of the Design Exchange, remarked:

If we can demonstrate how design and innovation are relevant to the world of sports, than we’ve accomplished demonstrating how design is important in everyday life.

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Shauna Levy, President and CEO of the Design Exchange gives opening remarks at the media preview of “Smarter. Faster. Tougher: An Exhibition on Sports, Fashion + Tech”

The exhibition is made up of four main zones, each with its own focus. Zone One hones in on performance, and how clothing supports the wearer by providing smartness, strength, and ergonomic support (think wetsuits, ski jackets, and running shirts).

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Works in Zone One ranged from lightweight but highly insulated wetsuits to wearable electronics for gathering biometric data.

Zone Two (the “fashion zone”) explores the ways leading fashion designers are influenced by the aesthetic and performance of sport. For example, Alexander Wang’s collaboration with retail company H&M, which drew inspiration from scubawear.

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Fred Perry is a British heritage brand that successfully blends sportswear with streetwear to create its iconic style. His Bradley Wiggins collection is inspired by traditional British sailing wear and vintage and contemporary cycling.

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A look at prototypes from the collection of Dutch designer Marloes ten Bhömer. Marloes ten Bhömer produces highly sculptural shoes using a combination of advanced technologies, industrial, and natural materials, such as polyurethane, stainless steel, leather, and fibreglass. Central to her design ethos is an investigation of ergonomics.

FOC Electirc Light Shoe

Freedom of Creation’s Electric Light Shoe. The Dutch designers created a giant, illuminated shoe containing a miniature city for Japanese footwear brand Onitsuka Tiger.

Continuum Fashion's N12: 3D Printed Bikini, a ready-to-wear swimsuit. The circle pattern was achieved through custom written code that lays out the circles according to the curvature of the surface.

Continuum Fashion’s N12: 3D Printed Bikini, a ready-to-wear swimsuit. The circle pattern was achieved through custom written code that lays out the circles according to the curvature of the surface.

Zone Three showcases nature and the impact of the natural world on sportswear. Perhaps the easiest example of this is camouflage, a pattern developed to disguise military personnel in an attempt to make them blend in with their surroundings.

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Curator Marie O’Mahony shows off the Maharishi reversible recycled quilted tri-border parka, made from military surplus camouflage fabrics. Maharishi has a mission to create environmentally sound, fair-trade produced, long-lasting, high-quality, utilitarian clothing.

Shark Attack Mitigation Systems (SAMS) is a technology company that develops solutions to help protect ocean users. They design wetsuits and water sport products with shark deterrent technologies developed based on studies of sharks and shark attacks. The Elude Wetsuit (left) uses a disruptive pattern and coloration that makes it difficult for the shark to see the wearer in the water. The Diverter surf wetsuit (right) uses a pattern based on the striped pilot fish that makes the wearer an undesirable option for the shark.

Shark Attack Mitigation Systems (SAMS) is a technology company that develops solutions to help protect ocean users. They design wetsuits and water sport products with shark deterrent technologies developed based on studies of sharks and shark attacks. The Elude Wetsuit (left) uses a disruptive pattern and coloration that makes it difficult for the shark to see the wearer in the water. The Diverter surf wetsuit (right) uses a pattern based on the striped pilot fish that makes the wearer an undesirable option for the shark.

Last but not least, Zone Four looks at ethnography and ponders the relationship between culture and design. An example that’s close to home for Canadian audiences is the Canada Goose jacket, a high-performance parka that has almost become like a winter uniform amongst urban Canadians. 

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Multimedia artist Eric Chan (a.k.a. Eepmon) poses in front of the parka he designed in collaboration with Canada Goose. The Eeomon Synthesis Parka is a limited-edition, high-performance parka ideal for urban exploration.

Beyond high-performance fabrics, the exhibit includes a number of pieces that highlight the relationship between digital technology and fashion, such as the below display, which was a collaboration between U.K. digital creative studio Holition and Lacoste.

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Tommy Howard, Head Creative for Holition, speaks on the future of “augmented retail” in front of the Lacoste #LS12 Projection Map. To celebrate the revival of the iconic shoe, Lacoste commissioned Holition to create a 3D projection mapping onto a supersized version of the LS12 shoe.

The exhibit also featured a number of wearable technologies, such as OMSignal’s Adventure Fitness Long Sleeve, and considered how fashion tech developed for professional sports penetrate into the mainstream.

“These kinds of technologies, they’re not just for the elite athletes,” says O’Mahony, “They may start off in that sense, but they’re also coming into stores so that everybody can wear these materials.” (Case in point: Hexoskin’s biometric smart shirt, which is now available to Canadian consumers via Best Buy Canada).

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Designed by students at the Royal College of Art, the bruise suit is a wearable technology that enables athletes with sensation loss to instantly detect and assess the severity of sporting injuries.

“The sportswear market is valued at almost $800 billion” says O’Mahony. “But sportswear is valuable beyond its financial contribution; it touches everything from innovation to culture to well-being.”

Smarter. Faster. Tougher: An Exhibition of Sports, Fashion + Tech opened July 8th and is on thru October 12th at 39 Parliament in Toronto, Ontario.

Amanda Rebecca Cosco is a Toronto-based freelance journalist focused on the intersection of fashion and technology. Follow her on Twitter @AmandaCosco. Third Wave Fashion has been your fashion tech think tank since 2011. We publish the first ever printed fashion tech magazine, Third Wave.  Follow us on Twitter or subscribe to our newsletter to stay on top of the latest in fashion tech + wearables.

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