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Fashion industry covets 'iPod factor'

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CAN you imagine putting your address book and photo album on in the morning along with your socks? Or how about using a "3D printer" to make your own shoes on demand? How about clothes peppered with plastic LEDs that let you change the fabric's pattern at will? These are just some of the bizarre predictions coming from an unlikely research partnership between the London College of Fashion (LCF), based in London's übertrendy Soho district, and the staid UK telecoms firm BT.

The stupendous success of the Apple iPod has proved that technology can also be fashionable. So the race is on to bring iPod-like ease of use and compelling functionality to the clothes we wear, says Sandy Black, a fashion researcher at LCF.

"The iPod has given a real kick-start to the idea of wearable technology," she says. "There are already skiing jackets with iPod control switches built into the sleeve material, for instance. So with BT and others we are investigating technologies the fashion industry can harness to meet consumers' heightened expectations."

Fuelling this effort is the fact that one of the biggest obstacles to making wearable electronics viable is about to disappear. Ian Pearson, BT's futurologist at its research lab near Ipswich, Suffolk, says advances in organic electronics - conducting and semiconducting plastics - are finally going to allow gadget-stuffed garments to handle that most violent of environments: the automatic washing machine.

Until now, clothes shot through with metal wiring to connect switches to batteries, say, have not been washable: the wires corrode in water and get crushed and snap in the spin cycle. But soon, the very fibres that fabrics are made of will be able to carry strands of non-corroding conducting plastic that's as bendy as you like.

So what will these new wonder materials be doing?

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