The thought that clothing should give something back to the wearer—the ability to keep track of athletic performance or store energy that can be used for electronics—is fairly new. The concept of clothing that can help keep the wearer healthy, well, that still sounds like pseudoscience. Celliant, a company that wants to be "Intel Inside of responsive textiles," aims to change that.
Celliant has been around for a decade, but it’s only in the last year that it has teamed up with major sportswear companies like Reebok, Adidas, and Saucony to spread the responsive textile gospel. These companies all sell athletic apparel containing Celliant technology—or, as Reebok calls them, "performance-driven Celliant fibers."
Celliant’s technology sounds like something out of a sci-fi flick—it consists of minerals embedded in a synthetic polymer that interact with the body’s electromagnetic emissions to induce increased oxygenation and blood flow. As Celliant explains on its website, the technology "modifies visible and infrared light, recycling them into energy that the body can use more effectively. When Celliant is worn as clothing, or placed near the body (like in a bed liner or a blanket), it redirects this recycled energy back to the body, increasing blood flow and blood oxygen levels in the tissue." That translates to increased athletic performance, better strength, and faster healing (wounds recover most quickly when they are receiving a lot of oxygen).
There is actual science behind this, says Celliant CEO Seth Casden. The company has completed one clinical trial showing that Celliant clothing increases blood circulation and oxygen levels for diabetics. Celliant also has ongoing clinical trials, including one that is testing tissue oxygen levels and circulation of healthy subjects who are wearing Celliant shirts, and another exploring how Celliant mattress covers can enhance sleep.
"As we become more and more successful, there’s more and more criticism. People try to find faults," says Casden. "I want to build the science and publications to the point where the medical community unequivocally understands our technology and supports it."
There are competitors in the responsive textile space. Casden believes that Schoeller’s Energear is the biggest—but while Energear is a coating on top of a fabric, Celliant embeds its secret sauce (minerals) into polyester when it’s still a liquid, ensuring that the blood flow and oxygenating properties don’t disappear over time.
If this still all seems a little strange, that’s because Celliant may just be ahead of its time, according to Casden. And he might have a point—10 years ago, before there was even an annual Smart Fabrics Conference, the idea of "smart textiles" containing solar cells, sensors, and transistors seemed far out. Now, our clothes are just another place to add improvements to our lives.