Pratt’s work on smart fabrics just got a boost from the Brooklyn borough president

The $500,000 grant to the Brooklyn Fashion + Design Accelerator is one plank in Borough Hall's $2.75 million economic development initiative. You gotta see these “smart swatches.”

A Tek-Tiles concept for gesture-sensing fabric.

(Photo via BF+DA's blog)

Swipe right on your sweater to phone home. Rub the fabric between your hands to reveal a hidden pattern in the knit.

Those were two possible applications of high-tech fabrics demoed on Tuesday at the Brooklyn Fashion + Design Accelerator. The accelerator, run by Pratt Institute and housed in the Pfizer Building, received $500,000 from Borough Hall to further the development of those high-tech fabrics, as well as its other programs. Borough President Eric Adams was on hand to present the check, sweepstakes-style, in a press event.

The money will primarily go toward the purchase of additional equipment for knitting, weaving, digital cutting, ultrasonic seaming and technical embroidery, BF+DA director Deb Johnson told Earlier this year, the accelerator launched a project called Tek-Tiles, which aimed at developing a library of “smart” fabric swatches that designers and apparel companies can browse in order to develop their own garments. The goal, Johnson said, is to develop 200 Tek-Tiles swatches in the next two years.

We had a chance to test out some of the Tek-Tiles fabric concepts. One knit swatch, for instance, is programmed to detect directional gestures. For now, a finger gesture merely syncs to an arrow display that indicates the direction of the swipe. But in the future, swiping in a particular direction on your sweater might trigger an action such as, say, dialing a preset contact on your phone.

Another Tek-Tiles concept involves thermal fabric, which changes color as it warms or cools and can be activated simply by touching the fabric. One possible application, Johnson told, could be a hidden badge or identifier — say, one that allows a plainclothes police officer to reveal identification if necessary.


The BF+DA’s $500,000 grant from the borough president is part of a $2.75 million economic development initiative for the 2018 fiscal year. One of the goals of the borough president’s office, Deputy Borough President Diana Reyna told, is to ensure a healthy balance of residential and industrial development in Brooklyn.

After the main press event, discussion turned to what is assuredly a hot topic in local government right now: the bidding war for Amazon’s new office. The New York City Economic Development Corporation recently announced its intent to submit a proposal, and Reyna spoke of one advantage the borough may have in courting such development: the sheer availability of space.

“In Manhattan, there’s been so much residential development that there’s nowhere to go,” she said. “We’ve preserved our industrial spaces.”

(Indeed, Bloomberg recently laid out the case for why Brooklyn may be the ideal spot for Amazon’s new office. The company’s first full-scale fulfillment center in New York State, however, will be in Staten Island.)

The economic development initiative is only a small step, however, in addressing the real estate–related concerns of Brooklyn entrepreneurs, as evidenced by our stakeholders meeting last month. Brooklyn has a wealth of programs for new startups, many of which are producing cutting-edge work, but the prospects for more established companies in the borough remain less clear — which is likely why the notion of Amazon setting shop is so tantalizing.

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