08 Mar 2016

The Challenges Wearable Tech Poses to the Fashion Industry

As wearable tech becomes more widely adopted, the lines between fashion and technology will undoubtedly become blurred. But the wearable tech industry is facing huge social, cultural and linguistic challenges to mainstream adoption in various regions around the world.

‘Wearable tech’ is a catch-all term for gadgets worn on the body. At present, devices that monitor health and fitness have emerged as a key vector of growth but this is an innovative market.

Health and fitness wearables include things such as the popular Fitbit and Jawbone gizmos, both of which offer activity and body monitoring technology such as heart rate monitoring. But wearable tech isn’t limited to health and fitness. If you like your wearable tech even more space age – according to wareable.com, you can expect to be able to make a phone call by sticking your finger in your ear. There are also developments on the horizon in the field of human brain interface technology that could one day enable you to interact with your devices telepathically.

Wearable tech presently on the market is opening avenues for self obsession as the gadgetry offers new possibilities for monitoring aspects of your health and environment.

One person that’s already taken this to extremes is American Chris Dancy, who uses various wearable gadgets to monitor up to 700 aspects of his life. This includes his heart rate, sleep patterns, elements of his mood, and aspects of his home environment such as temperature and humidity. Whilst not everyone yearns to know how many steps they take each day, how long it takes them to fall asleep, or the CO2 levels in their home, there’s a growing ‘quantified self’ movement of people who are extremely passionate about self monitoring.

Datafication of the body

Wearable tech is a trend that’s engaging the more innovative end of the fashion industry.

The language of fashion has always been one of personal identity and self expression. With the introduction of wearable tech into the mix, fashion is moving into new areas.

The fashion industry has always embraced innovation and technology; historically that’s mostly been innovation in fabric production but in recent years, designers have also experimented with technologies such as 3D printing. Business minds in the industry have been developing new eCommerce solutions to staying ahead of the game. Fashion moves fast and is always at the cutting edge when it comes to trying new things.

Although fashion is seen by some as an entirely frivolous industry, it’s responsible for many of the practical improvements in what we wear. Thanks to the fashion industry, we no longer climb mountains and visit Antarctica in natural fabrics such as wool and canvas. Materials such as Gore-Tex swept away the sweaty old waterproofs in the seventies and we now have a host of innovative performance wear to choose from using newer fabrics such as synthetic microfibre. Modern manufacturing techniques such as Direct Injection Production have been developed, meaning we can use moulding technology to make shoe soles without the use of glue or stitching, so they are more durable and watertight.

There’s always been an interest in the world of fashion in the practicalities and possibilities of new ideas.

New wearable tech trends that are being explored by the fashion industry include space age concepts such as flexible solar panels being incorporated into clothing so you can charge your smartphone on the move.

Fashion designer Asher Levine has included Bluetooth enabled tracking chips into his range of clothing so that wealthy fashionistas can more easily catalogue their huge wardrobe (a kind of GPS for your clothing). This kind of practical wearable will require the mainstream, high-street fashion industry to start using the kind of language that’s previously been the domain of the technology industry.

Wearable tech’s language challenge to the fashion industry

Brands trying to describe their products frequently make the error of writing about the features rather the benefits. It’s really easy to fall into the trap of describing items in relation to the GPS system they use or the battery power they offer, rather than inspiring the customer to understand how this fits into their lifestyle.

Fashion brands are going to have to remember their roots in aspiration and inspiration in order to marry describing the practicalities of this new technology with providing the experience customers want.

This is going to provide a challenge to many brands. Add the new body datafication trends into the mix and fashion faces a second challenge: incorporating new areas of understanding that cover health and fitness and marketing these messages alongside their apparel.

Fashion brands are actively getting involved in the growing fitness tracking app sector. US sports apparel brand Under Armour recently spent over $700 million on fitness apps MapMyFitness, MyFitnessPal, and Endomondo. Apple and Hermès have teamed up to offer a pricey smart watch that combines luxury apparel with technology. It’s likely to lead to a new set of creative and brand partnerships as fashion and the wearable tech industries collide. It will be interesting to see which brands respond most effectively to this futuristic new challenge in the apparel market.

There’s some emerging evidence that consumer interest in wearable tech products may not be evenly distributed across the globe.

According to research by GlobalWebIndex, the Far East seems to be adopting wearables at a faster rate than the rest of the world.

The same report found that consumers in Africa and Latin America own wearable technology in higher numbers than Europeans. These markets are certainly very different, and characterised by very different needs for wearable technology and clothing. These trends will pose an interesting localization challenge for brands marketing wearable tech across the globe. Finding a way to communicate the benefits of a new product will need to happen at the interface between fashion and technology and take into account the cultural nuances of the local market.

Wearable tech ownership may be relatively low at present, confined to early adopters – it seems likely that ownership of these products is likely to increase in the future. Brands that are working at the interface between wearable tech and fashion will find many challenges ahead as they localise their offering and cope with the demands of marketing these new products across all of their markets.


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