There is plenty of advice on how to avoid stress in today's high-tension world, but when muscles have become tensed up, one relaxing solution could be found in the clothes you wear (director-e News, Friday 22 November)
According to forward-looking Italian clothing designer Dr Alexandra Fede, textiles have a key role to play in keeping people happy. How a fabric feels on the skin is a key issue and Dr Fede has taken that a stage further by making those feelings very obvious - her fabrics physically vibrate.
Garments using Fede's technique effectively massage the wearer periodically during the day, because the fabric contains a series of fine, flexible elements known as vibrapads. These are energised from an electronic control unit that enables timing and strength to be pre-planned.
Dr Fede says the unpredictability of the timing, intensity and location of the stimulation gives the wearer a feeling of energy and well-being. She has used this principle in a ladies' dress called the JoyDress and a prototype was displayed at the Avantex International Innovation Forum and Symposium in Frankfurt earlier this year, where it won the prize for innovation in fashion engineering.
The European Commission is patron of Avantex, which promotes high-tech clothing textiles.
Alfredo Ibba, head of distribution development for Alexandra Fede, says there are definite plans to bring the JoyDress to market and fabrics and colours are being decided at the moment. The prototype dress has the vibrating pads sewn on, but production designs would have them incorporated in the fabric more permanently.
He would not reveal the nature of the vibrating pads, but said the company was working with industrial and medical equipment partners.
Using good vibrations as a stress buster seems very popular, judging by the number of products on the market. A quick survey shows that most devices that do the vibrating are purpose designed, depending on the application.
Many use an electric buzzer-type coil, but solid-state versions are based on a slice of piezoelectric material. This expands and contracts when a voltage is applied and vibrates when the voltage changes at high frequency.
Ideas for textile manufacturers and users come from Japanese company Omron, as one example. This company manufactures a wide variety of massagers including a pressure-sensitive pad that warms with body heat. When the heat or pressure reach a certain point, the pad vibrates to remind the user to change position or take a break to avoid repetitive stress injury.
And US company HoMedics has developed a vibrating mouse pad for computer users, while UK company Bonbon Trading offers an electric recliner with a vibrating pad that runs the length of the chair and can be set to massage different areas at several settings.
But Middle East company PMD has developed a pneumatic massage device, which it says is most like a conventional hand massage. It stimulates blood flow and relieves fatigue very efficiently.
It uses thin, lightweight tubes that are pulsed with air. This creates a wave motion rather than vibration. The tubes can be woven into seats for drivers, pilots and other sedentary workers. In hospital mattresses, the system could help prevent bedsores.
Alexandra Fede was commissioned to develop the JoyDress by DuPont Textiles and Interiors (DTI). Greg Vas Nunes, DTI vice-president apparel Europe, says the company is committed to working with other industries to bring new technologies to work with textiles.
Dr Fede's business is currently located in Rome and Milan, where she designs new apparel that she says is not only beautiful but can bring more joy and well-being into people's lives. "Alta moda, or haute couture, is nice but I would like garments to help more people to conduct a happier and healthier life", she says.
Alexandra Fede has studied and worked in Oxford, London, Sidney and Singapore. In 1993 she linked up with DuPont and, in 1999, her Gold Dress, made with Mitsubishi Aerospace Technology, was included in the Guinness Book of Records. She is an Ambassador of Milan's La Scala opera house, where she is restoring and promoting its 6,000-plus historical costumes.
Dr Fede also uses technical textiles in her anti-violence collection. This is based on a fabric that is as light and soft as cashmere but five times more resistant than steel.
It cannot be cut with conventional scissors. It is resistant to bullets and grenade fragments; protects against knife or razor attack; and is non-flammable. Its golden wire has a diameter of only 20 microns, five times thinner than a human hair, and one gram can be stretched to a length of one kilometre.
While these materials and ideas are way ahead of current products, they should stimulate the textile industry into new areas - which is precisely the aim of Avantex