Wearable Tech – Will It Ever Be Fashionable?
Wearable tech is taking over the world, and in that sense, it’s already fashionable. As we noted last week, the sector is expected to grow from $14 billion in 2014 to $70+ billion in 2024. But what about ‘high-fashion’? The catwalks and runways of London, Paris, and Milan? Can wearable tech ever merge with traditional designer clothing? Will we ever see a pair of Gucci Google Glasses or Paul Smith fitness bands?
The idea of fashion collaborations is nothing new. Licensing deals which allow two companies to share and integrate their expertise, brand imagery, and audiences automatically create a high level of public interest, grab the newspaper headlines and, most importantly for those involved, give the companies the opportunity to sell products to customers who might not ordinarily purchase them.
Yet so far, wearable tech designers and globally recognised fashion houses haven’t made easy bedfellows. At the time of publication, there hasn’t been one serious and lengthy collaboration by companies on either side of the fence – why not?
Nina Garcia, creative director for international fashion magazine Marie Claire, believes the problem derives from a lack of innovation. “Some [tech companies] have tried to move closer into the fashion camp by borrowing the credibility of high-end and established designers through partnerships and special editions of their products,” she said. “The true marriage of fashion and technology is not just going to come from the established fashion houses and tech giants, but through the creativity of innovators and a new brand of designers”.
This a damning critique coming from a person who is well-known as a very public and high-profile ambassador for Google Glass. To construct her argument, she uses the example of several recent fashion shows and the ‘Dr Dre Beats’ headphones. Last week, Fendi displayed their Spring 2015 collection in a menswear show, going as far to dress some models in red leather-clad Beats headphones. Great – except Alexander Wang did a show a couple of weeks prior to Fendi’s where they also used Beats headphones and Oscar de la Renta did the same more than two years ago. As Garcia suggested – there is clear evidence of an ingrained and long-term lack of innovation.
Of course – this is not genuine wearable tech, Beats headphones are merely stylish headphones dressed up with fashion. Contrast that with Withings smart-watch, for which the company invested in their own product team (rather than relying on outside fashion designers), then sent them to Baselworld (a globally renowned watch and jewelry show) where they posed as undercover fashion bloggers. It is people and companies like this that Nina Garcia believes will see most success; they are cross-pollinating creators that make useful, desirable, and beautiful accessories—rather than co-branded ‘here today, gone tomorrow’ products.
For example, Apple’s new iWatch could have changeable designer wrist straps, but they are just dressing – the device itself must be designed to be desirable if it is to be a success. For wearable tech to become truly fashionable, the most important stakeholders must realise that the key to a successful piece of wearable tech is perfect form and perfect functionality. Nothing else will work.
By Daniel Price