20 Jan 2016

The Love affair between Fashion and Technology – The Future of Wearable Tech

Wearable tech burst on to the scene back in 2012 with the introduction of the Google Glass, presented by the tech giant bizarrely at New York Fashion Week. But despite the initial excitement with the funky focal gadget being sold on high-end retail site Net-a-Porter, sales halted in early 2015 and Google returned to the drawing board.

Another example of an underwhelming forage into wearable tech is the well known and well marketed Apple Watch. Much like the Google Glass it looked like it might take off, with big players like Raf Simmons (Creative Director of Dior) and Anna Wintour (Vogue editor-in-chief) both sporting the watch. But the big name hitter’s brief support of the watch wasn’t enough and now the fashion world has fallen out of love with the product.

According to Vanessa Friedman of the New York Times, the problem with such products is that no matter the aesthetics they will always be gadgets. Smooth edges and stylish features will not convince the fashion-driven consumer to purchase a piece of technology as a fashion item.

This issue of contention doesn’t mean the end of wearable technology, but rather a new way to approach the area in which fashion and technology overlap. As material science and nano technology develops we will start to see growth within the sector from so-called ‘smart fabrics’.

Although watches and smartbands, such as ‘fitbit’, represent a significant portion of the market the largest and fastest growing category is expected to be these new smart garments which are estimated to grow extensively in 2016.

Major fashion brand Ralph Lauren is leading the charge in this area, skipping the gadgets and going straight to integration of tech into fashion. The company unveiled technology-enabled tennis shirts that monitored the heart rate, breathing and stress on ball boys and girls at the US Open in 2014, which if you ask us is awesome.

As Amanda Parkes of Manufacture New York suggests, ‘clothing should be our partner in getting through life’ and those tennis shirts were a clear step in that direction. Afterall everyone loves something that makes their lives easier, our credit cards becoming contactless being a prime example. Will ‘smart fabrics’ which are designed to make our lives easier be as widespread?

Again the success of the tennis shirts shows that some are ready to move away from the gadget approach which has allowed and will allow companies to focus on the aesthetic considerations.

Even Google has caught on to this and teamed up with Levi’s for ‘Project Jacquard’ to create a fabric made up of yarns that can interact and communicate with smartphones and other personal digital devices.

How ‘smart fabrics’ will develop remains to be seen but the current focus on wearable gadgets is limiting the potential integration of fashion and technology.