The Latest Gen Z TikTok Trend? Heat-Reactive Fashion

Italian luxury brand Stone Island announced a capsule collection of heat-reactive pieces in April. The concept was simple but full of visual payoff: Puffers, flasks, and windbreakers are treated with a thermosensitive coating, meaning the items change color in response to the slightest influx of heat from direct contact. The pieces were TikTok gold.

Suddenly and all at once, fashion creators on the app were torching their heat-reactive gear with hair dryers, capturing the ephemeral tie-dye effects for viewers. Twenty-three-year-old content creator Jack Lawrence, who lives just outside of London, invested heavily in the trend. He purchased a Stone Island jacket (more than $1,000) and a secondhand pair of special-edition Nike S.B. Dunks (which fetch more than $500 on StockX). “It’s not really my style, but I was like, Wow, this might be something that catches people’s eye,” says Lawrence. The investment paid off. There was a large audience for the content: Multiple videos indulging in the magic of heat-reactive pieces have racked up more than 300,000 views.

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“TikTok really thrives on satisfaction,” says Lawrence, who frequently uploads videos that spotlight viral fashion releases (like the Ben and Jerry’s x Nike shoe). He likens his heat-reactive videos to ASMR content. ”Watching something like that is so satisfying for viewers,” he says. “People are so fascinated by it.”

The rise of heat-reactive content illustrates the current landscape of influencer fashion. Even if the techno-fabric fails to cross over from our phones to the streets in meaningful ways, the micro-trend offers a glimpse at how visually stunning styles can motivate, and reward, creators. Algorithms on social media are governed by what catches our attention. So it makes sense then that the fashion most popular on TikTok skews toward fabrics and colors that glimmer, shine, dance, and transform. The wardrobes, and trends, popular there are built for virality.

But can heat-reactive fashion become an everyday sighting? This is not the first time the idea has been proposed.

Heat-reactive technology, more officially called thermo-chromatic ink, first captured the public’s attention in the early ’90s, when an emphasis on futuristic-feeling fashion reigned. London teen Charlie Jones—a 19-year-old who recently started Phase London, a skatewear brand made by and sold to Gen Z’ers—discovered, through product research, the former popularity of color-changing JeansWest Hypercolor pieces at raves. The short-lived line actually built its entire brand around the heat-reactive technology, selling tees printed with lines like “Touch Me.” The frenzy of high sales only lasted for a year (a lot longer than most of today’s TikTok trends). The company filed for bankruptcy in 1992.