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Are consumers ready for smart clothing?

2 March 2020

Apparel Resources

While smartness can be introduced in the garment by introducing sensors that monitor the physical and/or physiological conditions of humans, intelligent pattern engineering in sync with human anatomy can also make a garment smart. Smart bra is one of the fine examples of a challenging garment that demands support and shape of breasts in dynamic condition (especially bouncing). A lot of companies are trying their hands at smart bra including renowned names such as OMsignal and Maaree.

Skiing is another area where smart garment companies are focusing at. It is a sport that has all in it – speed, style, adventure and thrill. Along with these exciting elements, skiing is also quite dangerous and can be a life-threatening sport for the skiers. There are companies such as Dainese, which have found out a way to protect skiers against such incidents through their D-air system. Besides, companies like Under Armour have also come up with intelligent garments that tend to relax the body during sleep after heavy workout. Such garments are closer to mass appeal as one can wear them in daily routine but what one can see in mass market of apparel, there is no such product easily available.

Why smart garments are on low growth

Amanda Cosco, Founder, Electric Runway, Canada

There are a number of factors that can explain why smart garments haven’t been adopted by mass consumers yet. Amanda Cosco, Founder, Electric Runway, Canada, says the first and foremost reason is price and, in the age of fast fashion, smart garments cost more significantly than regular clothes. “Usability, availability, privacy and use cases are few more strong reasons. While some smart garments can be washed, many of them require special care which a regular consumer avoids. Besides, consumers are becoming increasingly anxious about their data privacy and what kind of information they’re uploading on the cloud,” avers Amanda, adding, “Perhaps the most important reason is that there’s no strong use case for wearing smart garments daily. Consumers are hesitant to change their habits unless there’s a good reason, and connected clothing hasn’t made a good enough case for itself.”

The challenge for brands wanting to work with embedded electronics right now is cost, as producing such garments is expensive as well as there is lack of expertise inside the fashion industry. Most fashion brands don’t have wearable technologists in their team or smart fabric manufacturers in their supply chain. 

Mohan Kumar, Director, Digital Fashion Factory, India, opines that the fault lies in the manufacturing side. There is a massive disconnect between traditional textile manufacturers and conventional electronics manufacturers. “Standards that need to be there for large scale manufacturing and certification are not yet available, especially smart garments that are meant for healthcare use cases,” asserts Mohan strongly.

However, this whole scenario is set to change soon. IEC, an international standards body, has a separate technical committee (TC124) to enable standards in the smart garments space. “Once this is done, industry adoption would be faster,” informs Mohan, who represents India at IEC.

Looking forward

In order to understand what might be coming in the realm of smart wearable tech in clothing sector, let’s take a look at a few solutions that can be worked upon. Conferences focused on wearable technology and smart fashion raise awareness about the opportunities and innovations in the market. Mohan suggests, “Events like ISPO and conferences like wearable technology are really helping boost this category to reach the masses. They are really good to showcase not only big manufacturers and brands, but also start-ups that are doing exciting stuff in this category.”

The industry also needs to look at diversifying the applications of smart clothing segment, which is largely considered just an athletes’ category. Big brands have shown interest in this category but have stayed away from investing big time, as they feel that the price-conscious Indian customers may not buy. “So, in some sense, it is a chicken-and-egg situation now. They also look for maturity of the technologies before executing in mass scale,” asserts Mohan, whose DFF is notably working to combine the best of smart textile technology with digital expertise to offer solutions for healthcare and wellness, high performance sportswear, industrial wear and quirky fashion.

On similar note, Amanda elaborates that adaptive fashion is a market estimated to be worth US $ 50 billion by 2022. “Adaptive garments aren’t necessarily embedded with digital technology, but they’re innovative in the sense they’re designed for people who are seated (in wheelchairs), wear prosthetics, or have trouble with buttons, for example. The fashion industry has been slow to consider people with different abilities and experiences, but now it’s catching up,” avers Amanda.

Indeed there are a lot of opportunities for smart clothing to take off in the medical field (monitoring patient’s biometrics) as well as in sports in order to understand the body of an athlete. “I also see an opportunity for embedded electronics in apparels and accessories to help retailers with inventory control, as well as to provide ongoing value for the consumer. Having said this, we still have to overcome issues of data privacy and provide a killer incentive for consumers to want smart fashion in the first place,” concludes Amanda.

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