Wearable Technology and Fashion is at a tipping point; how fashion companies and brands will meet consumer demand in the future.
The wearable technology landscape continues to evolve in its complexity. From design and aesthetics to the technical specifications of products and accuracy of data, companies and product designers must understand these aspects if they want to successfully enter the wearables market. Not only must consumer behavior remain constant, but also companies need to develop products that cater to the shifting market demand.
Wearable Technology Predictions Are Profitable
Juniper Research recently released “Smart Wearable Devices: Fitness, Healthcare, Entertainment & Enterprise: 2013-2018.” The study anticipates that the retail revenue from smart wearable devices, including smart watches and glasses, will reach $19 billion by 2018. High price points, combined with anticipated strong demand, will drive the growth of the wearable industry. According to another Juniper Research study, the smart wearables market is expected to generate $53 billion hardware revenues by 2019, compared to $4.5 billion in 2014. Further, Juniper Research predicts that more advanced technologies will first be created for the enterprise and healthcare segments, which have clearer use cases. These segments will drive the wearable tech trend forward, and the technology will then be adapted for consumer use. While it is expected that wearables will remain companion devices for smartphones, Juniper Research also believes that smart watches will replace fitness wearables by 2017.
Credit Suisse analysts currently predicted that within the next two or three years, the wearable technology market will balloon from the current $3 billion to $5 billion range to $30 billion to $50 billion. In the next four years, an estimated 300 million wearable devices will be shipped. “Wearable devices represent a new threshold in aesthetics,” says writer Bill Wasik in the February 2014’s issue of WIRED. “The tech companies that mastered design will now need to conquer the entirely different realm of fashion. Technologists could be required to unlearn a great deal of what they think they know,” he adds. This will be the only way to make products people want.
In order to achieve profitability, the key issues wearable tech companies are reviewing include:
- Functionality: Does the wearable meet our wants or needs?
- Price: Is the product appropriately priced?
- Style: How will fashion designers impact wearable tech?
- Privacy: How will users allow their personal information to be utilized?
As financial investors and VC capital firms advise venture-stage wearable companies, as well as established fashion companies and business services providers, they are working with these startups to ensure that they protect their intellectual property and use capital raised wisely in order to expedite these products to market.
Wearable Tech, Fashion Weeks and Conferences
The fashion set has been slow to hop on the wearable tech bandwagon. Model Alexa Chung labeled it “dorky,” while global fashion director of Harper’s Bazaar, Carine Roitfeld, called it “cold and sharp.” In the world of fashion weeks, New York Fashion Week has been a leader in wearable tech, with brands like DVF, Rebecca Minkoff and Tory Burch showing covetable pieces which marry fashion and technology. While Europe has been slower to incorporate the wearable tech trend into its fashion shows, it has begun happening.
At London Fashion Week in September 2014, Richard Nicholl showed a dress made with fiber optics by Studio XO. CuteCircuit, a London-based wearable fashion company favored by Lady Gaga and Katy Perry, has been popular at past New York Fashion Weeks. There have also been progressive developments in fashion schools, encouraging students to learn about tech design innovation. Schools such as Stanford’s d:school, FIT, London College of Fashion and Woodbury University encourage design students to look at technology and software more deeply. “Innovation is hugely important for brands to showcase,” says Matthew Drinkwater, head of the fashion innovation agency at London College of Fashion. “There is recognition that the technology industry needs to engage with fashion lifestyle,” he adds.
Consumers Are Gravitating Towards Wearable Technology
According to Accenture’s Digital Consumer Tech Survey 2014, more than half of surveyed consumers (52%) are interested in buying wearable technologies such as fitness monitors for tracking physical activity and managing personal health. The survey polled opinions from more than 6,000 people across six countries–Australia, Canada, India, South Africa, the United Kingdom and the United States–and showed that consumers are also interested in buying smart watches (46%) and internet-connected eyeglasses (42%). Device capabilities are another key factor in influencing purchase behavior. Within the study, consumers expressed interest in purchasing smart watches, wearable smart glasses and eyeglasses (40%) despite these devices’ lack of commercial distribution.
Great Attention to Design and Aesthetics Required to Drive Consumer Adoption
In another study, Forrester Research surveyed more than 4,500 U.S. consumers and found that more than 25% would wear sensors on their wrists or clipped on to their clothing; 15% of respondents said they would embed technology into their clothing, 4% would wear smart contact lenses, and 3% would tattoo sensors on to their skin, but only if they thought they would see enough benefit from them. The following themes must be present in order for widespread adoption of wearables to take place:
- Aesthetics: They have to make you look beautiful. The aesthetic design and product quality should appeal to consumers to the degree that these devices extend into the projection of their self through their personal fashion choices.
- Serving Unmet Needs: In order to drive adoption of wearables, we need to look at how people will use them. The device should serve some underlying, unmet need.
The Technical Specifications of Wearable Design for Fashion Designers
In the current marketplace, many of the technical specifications are painfully complicated. Circuits, sensors, connectors and batteries have yet to be designed to fit on the human body, creating an opportunity for innovation. There are four key areas that need innovative improvements in order stimulate and sustain the wearables industry:
- New Materials/Material Science: Materials will need to become more flexible in order to align with the dynamic shapes of the body.
- Power: Innovations in batteries, energy harvesting and power will be vital to fuel the wearable future.
- Infrastructure: Data and functionality will be everywhere. Networks will need to be faster, more powerful, predictive and ubiquitous.
- Data and Interface: Interfaces will be contextually driven. They will be more intuitive and eventually begin to disappear.
“Stability and accuracy is another important component of design,” says Mahin M. Samadani, vice president and executive director at Fjord. “Many wearables are returning 20% variances in results. Bad sensors or components will ultimately lead to customer dissatisfaction.” Winning in the specifications of wearables will likely be a two-blow knockout when it comes to design. It will be the RIGHT product that also has the right solution for battery power. These go hand-in-hand. Also, user experience and design need to evolve. There are currently no standards for gestures, interactions and other movements. As all of these companies are building proprietary systems, it makes it difficult for people to cross over from one device to the other, and the speed of adoption will be slowed until those standards are set.
The Role of Design and Aesthetics
For consumers, the term “wearable” is synonymous with “fashionable” and “stylish.” For most consumers, current products in the market do not meet the aesthetic criteria for products that they would deem acceptable to wear on their bodies. According to the NPD Group’s new Wearable Technology Study, 50% of consumers surveyed said the look and design of these wearables are “extremely important” when choosing to purchase them. These devices allow fashion to intersect with functionality, a seemingly important priority of fashion consumers who focus on both the look and fit of what they wear. Misfit Wearables founder and president Sonny Vu said, “Wearables need to be either exquisitely gorgeous or invisible altogether.” Vu’s company conducted consumer market research and found that 30% of women would never wear a device on their wrist because they already own watches and bracelets or they refuse to wear anything on their wrist at all.
How Retail and Tech Companies Are Approaching Wearables
In the past two years, there have been several notable examples of technology and retail companies partnering together to address the challenges of product aesthetics. Here are nine examples that really stand out:
- FitBit and Tory Burch developed a collection of stylish accessory wristbands and necklaces for Fitbit Flex. The accessories collection will include pendants, bracelets and wristbands designed to hold the Fitbit Flex tracker.
- Intel launched Make It Wearable in conjunction with a partnership with Barney’s, Opening Ceremony and CFDA in order to facilitate an understanding of technology and fashion design as it relates to products that consumers will want to purchase. Intel has committed $300 million in wearables development in the next 10 years. An example is the late-2015 release of the Intel Curie Module, a button-sized, low-battery, data-collecting piece of hardware that can be used to help manufacturers adapt fashion to be smart.
- San Francisco-based startup Cuff just launched a new line of wearables with a goal of making technology you will actually want to wear and show off.
- eBay and American designers like Michelle Smith (Milly) and Rachel Zoe unveiled the results of a collaboration in 2014 on $25 bracelets that function as USB cords, an initiative fostered by eBay and the CFDA.
- Shapeways, a maker of 3D-printed jewelry, has partnered with Victoria Secret, Kimberly Ovitz and Neiman Marcus, to create a 3D printed jewelry collection, retail sales and fashion runway events.
- Nike currently leads in wearables, from smart textiles to collaborative fitness efforts with Apple, Nike is driving leading in the marriage of wearables and apparel.
- Apple hired key fashion industry execs to run the retail division. The Apple iWatch offers unparalleled stylistic options and personalization, and syncs across the user’s Apple ecosphere. It is touted as the most sophisticated, customizable product on the market.
- Pebble’s smartwatch drew massive public and media attention when their Kickstarter campaign brought in over $10 million. They have sold over 85,000 watches.
- Ralph Lauren seeks to combine fashion design with health tech by building sensor aware performance apparel.
What The Future of Wearables Looks Like
Though wearable technology has been around for many years, it is only in its infancy. Those involved in this revolution will need to make a significant investment into research and development. Mattias Lewren, global managing director of Accenture’s Electronics and High-Tech Industry Group, says, “companies should consider investing in wearable product innovation and building ecosystems that connect wearables to the broader array of interactive digital networks.” Success in the wearables markets will be driven by companies that continually put consumers’ needs first. These companies should consider why consumers want technology connected to their bodies and how it could augment their lives. By adding information accuracy and device stability into the overall experience, companies can successfully create beautiful, intuitive products that consumers will want to buy.