Wearable Technology: The New Frontier of Apparel

Hi-tech fashion is moving away from tracking our workouts to reading our thoughts. Let’s discover how pioneering brands are making smarter, trendier and greener garments today.

Companies are now rethinking their approach to tech-based clothing and accessories. Today’s digital adoption and consumer readiness are fast-tracking the wearables industry to hit 6.5 billion USD by 2027.[1] That’s three times what it is today. With the metaverse on the horizon, should brands reconsider science with contemporary design and garment engineering?

“If they’re smart, they will,” supports futurist author Peter Diamandis. “If not, they’ll give up market share to Google and Apple and Amazon the same way most other retail industries have done,” he explains.[2] Let’s break down the phenomenon and understand its future relevancy.

What is it made of?

Smart garments contain advanced fibers, sensors and artificial intelligence (AI). Apparel and tech firms work with textiles (such as nylon and cotton), metallics and optical fibers to provide sensory capabilities and data transmission. Sensors allow hi-tech clothing to detect stimuli and react to them. AI recognizes the incoming data and spits out relevant information to the connected device.[3] Ultra-smart fabrics currently lead the way in material innovation. They function similarly to the human brain with cognition and reasoning capabilities to perceive, respond and adapt to any external shift. This includes adjusting to thermal, mechanical, chemical, or magnetic fluctuations.

Can we make it fashionable?

To reach a wider audience, functionality and style must go hand-in-hand. The greatest challenge for wearables — from the Apple Watch to the Fitbit and beyond — is retention. Dropout rates for these devices are at 30 percent within a few months after purchase. Recognizing such obstacles, tech companies are teaming up with major fashion brands to create elevated and curated pieces for longer lifespans.[4] Google recently joined American apparel company Levi’s to launch Project Jacquard, a smart jacket collaboration with touch-sensitive sleeves to control smartphones.

Is it here to stay?

The Covid-19 pandemic prompted a resurgence in wearable technology. From lifestyle to remote work enhancers, hi-tech apparel detects sleep cycles and performance levels with little human interference. Projects such Sensoria, a fitness tracker in the form of a sock, and Intel X Chromat, a sports bra that responds to real-time body changes, continue to gain popularity.

However, the rise of virtual is expected to drive the highest growth for wearables. Meta Watch is developing NFT (non-fungible token) watches for the metaverse to operate between 3D platforms. Aria Labs recently partnered with AGENT 33 to release limited edition sunglasses available in digital and physical dimensions — bridging the gap between our virtual avatars and the real world.

Does it harm the planet?

As wearables follow fashion trends to gain commercial success, the link between smart clothing and sustainability comes to light. The concern is that if wearables are widely adopted without factoring in the environment, fashion tech becomes another short-lived, mass-consumed, and waste-generating product.

However, if designed with the planet in mind, smart apparel could usher in opportunities for greener living. For example, combining reusable fibers with transient electronics — which are dissolvable at the end of their lifecycles — could achieve eco-chic solutions.[5] The fashion brand Ministry of Supply recently launched Mercury, an intelligent heated jacket made of 90% recycled garments. Controlled by the wearer’s voice or an app, the jacket maintains the ideal body temperature in real-time. Functional and machine washable, Mercury’s planet-friendly design extends the product life beyond just a few novelty wears.

The future of smart fashion will become more widespread. Nine out of ten industry leaders predict that 10 percent of people will wear tech-based clothing by 2025.[6] This offers fashion brands limitless opportunities to blur the line between the real and the not, leveraging sustainable design for a brighter, better future.

References

[1] Statista (2022). “Market size estimate comparison for the global smart clothing/fabrics market from 2018 to 2025” Available at: www.statista.com/statistics/302735/smart-clothing-fabrics-shipments-worldwide/

[2] Vogue Business (2020). “Smart glasses: Should fashion buy in?” Available at: www.voguebusiness.com/technology/smart-glasses-should-fashion-buy-in-facebook-ar

[3] Retail Insight Network (2021). “Smart Clothing: Technology Trends.” Available at: www.retail-insight-network.com/comment/smart-clothing-technology-trends/

[4] Business of Fashion (2017). “What Happened to Wearables?” Available at: www.businessoffashion.com/articles/technology/what-happened-to-wearables/

[5] Gurova, Olga et al. (2020). “Sustainable Solutions for Wearable Technologies: Mapping the Product Development Life Cycle.” Sustainability. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.3390/su12208444

[6] Analytics Insight (2021). “Smart clothing is the new realm of wearable technology.” Available at: www.analyticsinsight.net/smart-clothing-is-the-new-realm-of-wearable-technology/

Author: Naomy Gmyrek

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