When tech meets fashion you get smart garments

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In the fast-moving world of technology, new innovations can flare up and die before they have had time to take off properly. This seems to be the case with wearable electronic devices like smart wristbands and chest bands for athletes. These snappy devices seem destined to be replaced by wearable smart garments embedded with a variety of technology to keep athletes abreast of their physiological condition while exercising and competing.

Analyst firm Gartner predicts that smart garments will outperform all other types of wearable electronic devices, including smart sport watches by 2016.

The drop in shipments in 2015 of wearable electronic devices for fitness shipments is due to an overlap in functionality between smart wristbands, other wearable fitness monitors and smart watches. All the devices, bar the chest trap, will rebound in 2016 but smart garments with hardly any presence in 2013 will have increased to 26 million units in 2016.

Worldwide wearable electronic fitness devices shipments forecast 2013 -2016 (Millions of units)

Device Category2013201420152016
Smart Wristband30201719
Sports Watch14182124
Other Fitness Monitor18201215
Chest Strap1112.187.3
Smart Garment0.010.110.126
Total Market73.0170.268.191.3

Source: Gartner

Up to now, the technology has been limited to the sports arena in the form of compression shirts for athletes. These shirts have sensors woven into their fabric that can measure heart rate, respiration and stress levels. The data is sent via transmitter modules to a smartphone via Bluetooth. Ralph Lauren is the first major luxury brand that is putting resources into wearable tech. The company envisage merging technology with all kinds of clothing, including outfits for children that will note if they are getting enough exercise, jackets that tell wearers about their blood pressure and tops that change colour with the wearer’s moods.

What about smart garments for everyday wear?

Ralph Lauren may be the first major fashion house embedding technology in its garments, but the fashion house, like the rest of the fashion industry, is trailing private fashion designers like Amy Winters. Her creations under the label Rainbow Winters illustrate the startling possibilities when fashion meets technology.

Her Thunderstorm dress is a dramatic creation which uses electroluminescent technology to illuminate panels of the dress like lightning in response to sound. The 28-year-old London-based designer began to experiment with wearable technology when she was a still a student at college. She has also created a bathing suit that reacts to light, with the center panel changing into purple dots in the sun.

Gartner01

Using photo-luminescent thread and imbedded eye tracking technology Canadian fashion designer, Ying Gao, has made a series of dresses that move when someone is looking at them. The dresses also glow being covered in photo-luminescent thread or having glow-in-the-dark threads that make up the base layer of the fabric.

While the work of Amy Winters and Ying Gao functions in the terrain of ‘tech as fashion art’ other designers are using tech to enhance the look of their designs. Berlin-based luxury fashion label Moon Berlin uses soft-circuit LEDs integrated into the garments and connected to an electrical circuit attached to rubber-like materials that are integrated into fabrics.

While these futuristic creations are exciting, at this point they are accessible to the wealthy and not the mainstream consumer. It will be interesting to see how long it will take fashion brands to bring wearable technologies to clothing for mainstream consumers so you and I can buy a top that changes colours or textures when it suits us.