Image: Plastic Logic / E Ink

Although it might not seem to be directly correlated, the fashion industry is terrible for the environment. Clothes that get thrown away decompose into microfibers and microplastics that pollute the environment for years to come.

The obvious solution for this is simple—stop buying so many clothes. However, that won’t happen for a variety of reasons. That’s why researchers are looking for new ways to make clothes more environmentally friendly without compromising people’s sense of fashion.

Flexible, color-changing e-paper displays could be an ideal answer. They would allow people to change the look of their clothing on a whim, reducing the amount of fashion waste that enters the landfill.


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E-paper Clothing

When e-readers like the first Amazon Kindle were released, the world went crazy for e-paper. Many believed that it would replace traditional displays to make technology easier on our eyes. That (obviously) isn’t what happened.

Instead, e-paper—sometimes referred to as e-ink—has fallen out of favor. While it is still popular in e-readers, its uses don’t extend much beyond that. Even so, the technology has been advancing in recent years.

A startup called E Ink is now working with Plastic Logo to design flexible e-paper panels that could be used in clothing. E Ink is responsible for a new tech called Advanced Color ePaper (ACeP) that could help revitalize the alternative display industry. It is an extremely low-power option compared to traditional displays and is capable of creating up to 32,000 colors. That’s a major advantage over most types of e-paper, which only show things in black and white.

The duo has created a glass-free organic panel that is lighter, thinner, and more durable than normal e-paper displays. The so-called Thin Film Transistor (oTFT) displays could be ideal for wearables like clothing and smart jewelry.

Making it Work

Designing a flexible e-paper panel is one thing. Making it in a way that is practical for the fashion industry is another. That’s where Plastic Logic comes in. The company is helping design a panel under the brand Legio that is easy for manufacturers to incorporate into their clothing.

The first version is 2.1 inches wide and features a 240 x 146-pixel display. This gives designers the flexibility to integrate panels over an entire piece of clothing or just part of it. For instance, several panels on the front could create fluid designs. Or, it could theoretically cover an entire item so that its color can be changed at will.

Plastic Logic’s first Legio panel has support for six colors, including black and white. While that isn’t as impressive as the fully-fledged e-paper display from E Ink, it is the tradeoff necessary to make it flexible and ultra-low-power. The panel runs on an Ultrachip UC8156 controller.

It will be interesting to see how this development pans out in the coming years. Although it’s easy to see e-paper clothing becoming a staple on the runway, it might be a bit too novel for most consumers. Of course, more surprising things have happened. Perhaps this will be e-ink’s time to shine.

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