The potential for wearable fashion is endless and exciting. But brands promoting these web-connected wearables had better address consumer concerns and preferences.
Recent months have seen an influx of wearable devices sashaying their way down the technology catwalk. A host of large retail players including Nike, Samsung and Apple are scrambling to find that magical intersection of function and fashion, with arguably limited success to date.
To say that there has been no interest from consumers would be unfair. The hard-core “lifeloggers” and fitness fanatics have delighted in the latest gadgets and gizmos designed to unobtrusively capture data about their life passions. But is that enough? What about the chic masses out there, still waiting to be wowed by apparel that is both useful and beautiful?
Already some are gracefully bowing out of the wearable market, perhaps realizing that there is much more to be done to achieve this goal. It’s plain to see that if these players want to create a wearable product that captures our hearts and wallets on a more permanent basis, there are a few areas they need to address.
Anything that I wear on my body tells a story about me. It communicates to the world who I am and what I care about. It stands to reason, therefore, that I would rather die than be seen in the clunky and conspicuous products that have dominated the wearable realm. But we are beginning to see a much-needed collaboration between tech manufacturers and fashion designers. Wearers want to forget that the piece is functional, and just enjoy how it looks and feels on their bodies. Instabeat founder, Hind Hobeika, has invested a great deal of time and effort in reducing the size and weight of her wearable swimming device by half its original dimensions, understanding the impact of size on wearers.
It is worth exploring gender differences here, too. Belinda Parmar, CEO of Lady Geek, believes women will be the biggest market for wearable tech, and yet there are few examples where gender has been deliberately taken into account in designing these products. The makers of the MEMI smart bracelet claim to be the first wearable technology made by women, for women, building on the fact that they have focused on what women want, which is to wear jewelry and not big, black, bulky tech devices.
Apple appointed Angela Ahrendts, former CEO of Burberry, to design wearable tech that people actually want to wear, and FitBit has followed suit with Tory Burch to create a chic accessory that can work for business and pleasure, week days and weekends.
Above: Wearables such as the Jawbone Up have been a hit with fitness fanatics. But will ignoring the chic masses be the demise of mass adoption?
Fashion is by definition fickle. It’s about engaging in the latest styles, wearing what’s hot, and dropping what’s not. In an industry of ever changing trends, pricing is a huge consideration. Established luxury brands can price higher, knowing that consumers will pay for a certain image, but wearables aren’t playing in that space just yet.
Throw into the mix that technology is constantly improving and iterating over design, and it becomes obvious that steep pricing won’t cut it in this market if widespread adoption is the goal. No consumer wants to spend big on an item that will be obsolete in a matter of months. They want to wait until the core product is stable with the features that they want. This waiting period deprives retailers of valuable product feedback that would have ideally been incorporated in future versions.
Current price points are fairly high, constraining wearable devices to a more affluent market segment. Market research firm, GFK, discovered in a study of 16- to 24-year-old consumers that purchase intent for wearables drops by at least 50 percent when price is introduced. To encourage a larger number of consumers to embrace wearables and make them part of day-to-day life, they must become affordable to the masses.
When it comes to wearable fashion, shoppers need to understand why they should wear the piece in the first place. What does it give them that their smartphone doesn’t?
Availability is also a factor. If the wearable needs constant charging, it is instantly less practical, so companies like Ineda Systems have developed processors that could allow wearables to last for 30 days without charging. Bluetooth is also evolving to provide a low-energy solution that takes advantage of the increasing number of Bluetooth-enabled smartphones and devices through which wearables can connect, and still enjoy prolonged battery life.
Always on: privacy and distraction
We’re constantly plugged in, and one has to wonder about the impact of introducing yet more ways in which we can be constantly distracted. Retailers need to give serious consideration to these issues as people start to backlash against ‘screen suck,’ the phenomenon of heads being constantly stuck in phones and tablets. Google Glass, for example, was designed to be deliberately non-distracting, and yet, as new features are added, the risk still remains a significant one.
And what about privacy? Worries on data security feature high in the minds of consumers today. This will only magnify as we move beyond the web and data comes directly from our physical person in a constant stream.
As a user of mobile and wearable devices, I want to understand what data is being collected about my identity, habits and whereabouts. When I share on social media, I want to know who has access to that information and what they are using it for. Pedro Oliveira and Xuedi Che of New York University have unveiled a smart dress that becomes more transparent with the amount of data that a user shares, designed to show how much we share without realizing it—an answer to our over-sharing on Twitter and Facebook.
When we look at the wearable world, it might appear that the separate pieces of data collected are not particularly valuable to anyone beyond the individual user, but a collated view of aggregated data combined with personal information might be very telling about lifestyle, daily patterns and routines. It’s important to make visible exactly what data the wearable is collecting, and to give the power back to consumers to control exactly what and how much they share with the outside world.
Hot or not?
As we shift towards a world where computing becomes ubiquitous, the possibilities for wearable fashion are endless and exciting. There are certainly constraints to consider, but the companies blazing the trail in the wearable market understand that from constraints come the greatest innovations, and they aren’t ready to give up just yet. Once these challenges are addressed, there will be no stopping the retail giants from attracting just the kind of attention they are after.