Be a part of a projected billion dollar business: Wearable tech

- - Contest, Technology

As much as we believe in and advocate for preserving the art and craft of fashion design at the University of Fashion, we cannot help but acknowledge the economic trends in fashion. Where consumers are spending their fashion dollars is valuable information for a designer wanting to run a viable business, and may serve as a source for inspiration (and certainly innovation) for emerging designers trying to make their unique mark in a saturated market.

Case in point: The wearable tech market. Did you know that the latest statistics predict that the wearable tech industry will reportedly be worth $34 billion by 2020?

That number may represent endless opportunities for designers interested in using technology to enhance their designs – or for creative thinkers/inventors/engineers looking to partner with fashion designers to make their ideas into wearable/saleable garments.

There is no denying the impact wearable tech has already made on the fashion industry. In fact, analysts predict that the wearable tech market will reach a value of $5 billion this year alone. The 2001 launch of the Met5 Jacket, utilizing intelligent garment technology paved the way for other “wearables,” such as smart watches, that in addition to telling time, are used to communicate with friends, make retail payments, stream music and photos and run a variety of apps, such as health activity and stress tracking, sports and maps.

Digital bracelets monitor exercise routines and heart rate, promote weight loss and overall fitness. Smart t-shirts feature sensors designed to monitor a wearer’s biological and physiological information. “Intelligent clothing” include those using textile fibers that track everything from hydration to breathing to stress, as well as clothes woven with silver yarns to help wounds heal faster. Embedded sensors that can open and close doors are only some of the latest wearable tech advances on the horizon with many more to follow, that have yet to be realized.

Retailers are aware of the economic impact of wearables as well. Topshop has recently launched its “Top Pitch” program in collaboration with investment partner L Marks. International tech entrepreneurs and startups are invited to apply for an intensive four-week “boot camp” that will provide mentorship, presentations from experts and Topshop executives and workshops on topics surrounding growing a business, developing hardware and bringing a product to market. Those selected will have the opportunity to pitch their wearable tech product to Topshop and Sir Philip Green for investment consideration. Top Pitch is asking that applicants “present a product that is stylish, functional and in-demand with the Topshop customer, at a price that’s accessible.”  The application is available now via the link below, and registration will be open through May 22.

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For designers seeking inspiration in the wearable tech market, Wearables TechCon will be held this July at the San Jose Convention Center in California. The latest in wearable tech will be unveiled including the world’s first smart bra by OMSignal, which is designed to measure and report a woman’s biometrics as she works out which could lead to a potential increase in her athletic performance. Under Armour will also be introducing a running shoe with a chip inside that can track a runner’s performance without requiring a smart phone. Like the bra, the tech aspect of the shoe doesn’t trump its fundamental function – which seems to be a key factor in determining the success of a wearable tech product. Interested in attending this year’s Wearables TechCon? Click the link below:

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As designers, we can learn an important lesson from the successes and failures of the wearable tech industry. Incorporating technology into design just for the sake of incorporating technology into design rarely results in a saleable product. Sure, adding LED lighting to a gown for the Met Gala may garner press and attention, but in terms of what consumers want and need on a day to day basis, this type of wearable tech is best saved for a runway “wow” moment.

In order to create a successful marriage between fashion and technology, it is important to ask, “What problem am I solving for my customer, the market, production or the environment?” Fashion designers are good at this – part of our job is to create based on the needs of our clients. Now, what needs do our consumers have that can be fulfilled using both fashion design and technology? If you have an answer, we strongly encourage you to develop your idea and contact Top Pitch before May 22nd. Let us know how it goes – we look forward to seeing your concept at a future Wearables TechCon.

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Kara Laricks is a regular contributor to the University of Fashion. She’s also a New York based women's wear and accessories designer. As the first winner of NBC's Fashion Star, Kara has designed collections for H&M, Macy's and Saks Fifth Avenue. Her masculine meets feminine line, Kara Laricks, debuted at New York Fashion Week in 2012 and her S/S 2013 collection sold exclusively at Saks Fifth Avenue. Kara's designs have been featured on the Today Show and HBO's True Blood as well as covered in Women's Wear Daily and on Style.com. Kara holds Master's degrees in both Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Kansas and in Fashion Design from the Academy of Art in San Francisco. An educator turned designer, Kara is dedicated to supporting emerging designers and inspiring others to follow where dreams lead.