The following in-depth article on fashion+tech / 'smart clothing' is a guest post by Jeremy Wall. More info on the author can be found below this post. Thanks to Jeremy for sharing his insights with us!
The Current State
The phrase "wearable technology" was surpassed only by "Big Data" and "The Internet of Things" for the biggest buzzwords of 2014.
Here we are, now over at a third of the way through 2015 and there are some trends that are clearly surfacing. Below I’ll be profiling some of the early leaders in the field currently but don’t be surprised to see some mix-ups within this list shortly.
Most people have heard the term "wearables", largely publicized and exposed to the public by the highly anticipated Apple Watch. With reviews on the watch so far all sounding fairly similar, benefits are clear but there are some kinks that need to be worked out. One sentiment, however, seems to be echoed by all—the time of wearables is upon us whether we like it or not.
One other sector of the wearables market that has seen an uptick is surprisingly not the popular fitness bands such as the FitBit and Jawbone, but instead fitness and 'smart clothing'. The focus has mainly been on enhancing the individual's, or coach's, ability to track and analyze performance and receive biometric feedback.
While this is bringing many new consumers to the market of tech-wear, there doesn’t seem to be a large deviation in the product offerings or feature sets. That, along with high price points and undetermined channels of distribution for the market, has it sitting in a state of limbo currently.
There is also a large portion of smart clothing playing heavily in the health and childcare spaces, so this list is not complete. However, for the consumer market of smart clothing it is a summary of strong products and brands you will undoubtedly hear of again soon.
Leaders in the Field of Wearable Technology
An idea that people of all backgrounds and interests have always thought would help ‘their cause’: 3d mapping of activities. Heddoko keeps track of your performance through monitoring your movements via the garment itself and transmitting that information to a smart phone application in real time. While the avatar doesn’t look like a perfect CGI recreation of you, it could help with muscle memory activities and help prevent injury through proper training.
Heddoko is on pre-order status right now and available for sign up via the website. With no price listed and the launch date not currently set it is tough to imagine what product the consumers will receive. Likely to be for hardcore athletes, trainers, and coaches to start, this technology has some serious mainstream appeal and it will be interesting to see how else it can evolve.
A much-anticipated release for 2015 is from the company Hexoskin, another player in the realm of smart health clothing.
Detecting heart rate, breathing rate, and measuring sleep patterns are the main draws to the clothing. Which leaves one asking, what’s it do that my wristband can’t now? Good Question.The Hexoskin claims a 14 hour battery life and Bluetooth compatibility with both iOS and Android via its own matching app which will store all of your workout data and target goals. Available for both adults and juniors, they offer an 'Unstoppable Pack' including 3 skins for $549, among other options.
Clearly striving for a strong brand and separating itself into the luxury tech clothing market, OMsignal will likely continue to gain relevance and market share in this young industry. With a clean and consistent design aesthetic OMsignal has stayed with a very small offering with no signs of immediate expansion efforts. Their initial product proves a balanced blend of function with fashion, and the smooth integration of the tech into the garment makes it an easy wear. I’ve personally been waiting for a month for my own order to come through, so there’s clearly a demand! The price is high, $249, but not staggering if you consider the quality of the garment plus the added benefits of biometric data—that is if that matters to you that much.
A partnership last year with POLO and the U.S. Open Tennis tournament gained OMsignal some fantastic publicity. However, Ralph Lauren is now releasing this piece through their brand, as their own Tech Shirt. Although this isn’t a significant indicator that Ralph Lauren is preparing for a massive shift in their product offering, it does give some serious legitimacy to the appeal of smart clothing with beautiful design and function in mind.
San Francisco based Athos is another biometric smart clothing company focusing on the athletic and performance markets. One thing that’s always nice for a startup or any clothing company is a celebrity endorsement - for Athos it comes by way of former NBA All Star Jermaine O’Neal. One of the company’s investors is Golden State Warriors majority owner and chairman, Joe Lacob, and partial owner Chamath Palihapitiya also serves as Athos’ executive chairman and co-founder. A true partnership, the professional basketball team practices wearing Athos.
The San Francisco Business Times reported that the NBA team has been beta-testing Athos’ smart shirts and pants in preparation for the official launch of Athos’ clothing. Palihapitiya told the Business Times, “We see these products as a more precise way to train athletes, allowing them to be more efficient and see fatigue before injury occurs.”
The benefit that Athos claims to bring to market is the ability to give you feedback on specific zones and muscle groups. Along with offering the biometric data that previous brands have, heart rate, breathing rate, and calories all sync wirelessly with your mobile device or desktop. Still on Pre-order status, Athos is selling their plastic “core” for $199, and the smart shirt and smart pants will be $99 each. Apparently, the pre-sale has been going well — the company says it’s sold “multi-millions of dollars” worth already.
Even as someone who has been in the industry for a little while now and keeps up with the latest and greatest in the world of wearables, I cannot seem to understand Cute Circuit’s market. A company that has existed in the smart garments space for a while now, most notably known for their product the Hug Shirt—allowing you to ‘send hugs’ digitally and have the other person feel the squeeze.
While not an article of smart clothing, Liber8 is creating dynamic jewelry that can be changed at the push of a button. Adaptable and customizable colors, patterns, or lighting is a trend to keep an eye out for in the wearables market moving forward. The potential that this type of engineering, paired with the coming flexible sensors, textile technologies, and nanotech are showing is that there is an ever-growing market of dynamic apparel.
A French based company that can claim to be one of the early players in smart clothing that’s still around, Cityzen Sciences focuses on a much more niche piece of the market with a focus on customization. Acting as part of a larger French entity known as Smart Systems, their commercial endeavors are a little iffy. One thing that isn’t iffy about them is their positive feedback and high praise from their existing clientele of amateur and professional athletes. The D-Shirt is their main product.
A company that got its start producing biometric sensors has now specialized in helping larger clients including Under Armour, Adidas, and Garmin, among others, incorporate new technologies into their products. Staying with their initial focus Clothing+ has continued to grow in the healthcare sector and proven largely successful for patients needing constant monitoring.
Staking claim to the running community early on, Xsensio monitors your vitals including ECG readings, body temperature, and heart rate, but unlike others, it also has the ability to alert an athlete if they’re becoming dehydrated. With a focus on low-power systems that can collect and store data, Xsensio is a research heavy company that will likely contribute largely to the technologies we will see moving forward.
A recent study asked consumers to rate how excited they’d be to experience a wearable technology product from a particular brand. Out of a list of 20, only one of the top 10 would be considered a clothing company (Nike). Seeing companies like Amazon, Pixar, and Warner Bros. all ranked ahead of the likes of Under Armour, GAP, and Patagonia surprises me; especially since the term ‘wearable’ is what denotes this as a more 'fashion-oriented' category than some existing technologies. Maybe my opinion is skewed as a creative-- but I like to have designers behind my clothing and accessories, in addition to technology companies.
About the Author
Jeremy Wall is currently working with Lumenus, a company based in Los Angeles still operating in pre-launch ‘stealth’ mode. Melding the worlds of a lifestyle fashion brand and functional wearable technology, Lumenus looks to appeal to a large audience with fashionable tech-laced garments and accessories.