Fashion and Wearable Technology: Can They Work Together?

The fashion industry knows what consumers want to wear, often before they do. Recently, fashion houses have been predicting that we soon will be using our clothing not only to look good, but to communicate and to learn from our behaviours. Integrating wearable technology into a wave of new designs offers everyday consumers the opportunity to interact with fashion.

New trends are the result of cultural shifts, cyclical attitudes and lifestyle changes. The industry continues to innovate and influence consumer desires and buying habits, and now the worlds of technology and fashion design have begun to merge. Smart textiles and wearable technology are becoming widely used and recognized by the fashion industry.

A number of clothing companies have been established exclusively to exploit these developments and create increasingly innovative designs. As a result, there is growing consumer interest in using smart textiles in fashion, giving designers new methods with which to grab attention and stand out from competitors.

Will this new wearable technology market be led by tech giants or by fashion houses? Will we soon be wearing gadgets instead of carrying them around with us?

Following the arrival of the Samsung Galaxy smart watch and a host of other similar wearable gadgets last year, technology has increasingly become a part of the very fabric we wear.

The lines between fashion and technology have been blurring for some time and examples have leaked into popular culture: from Fergie's LED dress on the Black Eyed Peas tour, to Nicole Scherzinger's Twitter dress which received and showed tweets in real time. Scherzinger's dress was created by wearable technology pioneers CuteCircuit and commissioned by mobile service provider EE, demonstrating the potential of a successful fusion of fashion, technology and celebrity.

However, there are issues regarding the full integration of wearable technology into sartorial designs. Fundamentally, both fashion and technology need to avoid sacrificing the very thing they promise; fashion shouldn't forgo aesthetics for the sake of being cutting-edge, and technology shouldn't get away with poor functionality just to be wearable.

Wearable technology is still overcoming some major challenges. Take, for example, fashion designer Fyodor Golan's and creative house Kin's mobile phone skirt, debuted at this year's London Fashion Week. Created using Nokia Lumia 1520 and 1020 handsets, the phones each display different parts of an image to give the illusion of a larger image.

However, combining the heavy technology with fragile fabric proved problematic, and the designers experienced difficulties with battery life of the phones. Could this be form over function? The key to success in this area is creating something because it is needed, or desirable, not simply because it is possible.

Wearable technology has seen more commercial success in consumer adoption in the sports and fitness industry. Technology has been used to track biometrics like heart rate, speed and oxygen levels. This data gathering is designed to provide consumers with the information they need on their health and fitness. Another major application and development area for wearables is in the medical sector; garments which can track vital signs and produce alarms in emergencies are just the beginning of the potential present in this market.

In these sectors, the look of the technology is arguably less important. In the fashion industry, a product has to look impressive before many consumers will even consider wearing it.

Learn more about the relationship between wearable technology and fashion at the Smart Fabrics & Wearable Technology 2014 conference, held in San Francisco April 23-25 this year. These collocated conferences will bring together over 250 of the world's top professionals in the smart fabrics and wearable technology industries.

If you need to know more about what's next for the smart fabrics market in coming years, check out our market report, The Future of Smart Fabrics: Market and Technology Forecasts to 2021 now.

Editor’s note: Smithers Apex provides events, market research, publications, strategic and technical consulting to niche, emerging and high growth industries. Markets covered include lighting and displays, clean energy, home and personal care, industrial biotechnology, performance materials and chemicals.
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