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As a scientist, entrepreneur, and someone who enjoys spending my free time on fashion, sometimes it’s hard to integrate those worlds. I hope this series of posts will give you some insight and create a discussion in the current trends of wearables and future integration of high tech into fashion.
Every year, a few trends emerge at South by Southwest (SXSW) Interactive conference, where the startup community comes together to present the latest technology. One big trend of this year was wearable technology. Most are probably familiar with fitness tracker technologies like Fitbit and Nike Fuelband. Other impressive companies like BioNym, who showcased Nymi (biometrics and security on your wrist, tied to your unique heartbeat), introduced a world of changing paradigms in security and health. Now all these gadgets compete for “body real estate”.
Besides fitness trackers, integration of common technology into clothing is starting to rise. However, the wearable technology, when mixed with the fashion world, is often just for show. See Pharrell’s fiber optic dress challenge on Project Runway: All Stars, Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show 3D printed wings and corset, or Alexander Wang’s heat sensitive fabric during F/W 2014 Fashion Week–they looked gorgeous, but they didn’t enhance the user’s experience in any way.
Pauline van Dongen pitched a real integration of fashion and function with her collection of wearable charging clothes. First, the body real estate issue isn’t a problem. The solar cells are built into these prototype items. Second, the designs themselves are very rock ‘n’ roll, which I love. (My black jeans are arranged by leather content percentage.) While the technology is very cool and advanced (many academic groups are focusing on increasing solar cell efficiency), how many of us will change our entire wardrobe to be able to charge our phones all day? I’m willing to bet the average dressed.so user will not adjust his or her lifestyle for wearable technology. The sales of a wearable charging dress is not a solid business model, especially since the item is very runway-esque and not machine washable. It can walk any Fashion Week in Paris, Milan, and New York and blend in. No one will question the designer’s aesthetic or message, but it’s not a ready-to-wear line.
Wearable Solar 2013 collection – Dress and Coat, via http://paulinevandongen.nl/
More interestingly, the panel had no idea what to ask her. Why was no one on the panel in fashion technology, or even knew that fashion week was an event? The questions that needed answering:
1. The focus is fashionable women who don’t like hanging out by the wall charger – however the solar cells will only charge in the daytime. Is there charge storage? The most dangerous time for a phone to die for a woman is when out at night. Outdoor music festivals are a fine user situation, but at the same time, you won’t be wearing runway ready dresses while just trying not to sweat on everything you get near.
2. Do you see every item in a wardrobe being functional, or will these become special occasion items?
3. The top fashion houses are said to have responded “positively” – what does that mean? Did they like the look of the clothes? What if you told them, instead of selling the dresses, you will sell them a solar cell fabric. Will they integrate it into their designs? The top fashion houses are set in their fabrics and patterns – things that are difficult to change because they symbolize the heritage. Perhaps better feedback would come from mid-range wearable brands that sell ready to wear.
From these presentations, it was easy to see that fashionable, customizable accessories will lead the wearables battle due to easy integration into our daily lives. However, the real coup would be a hidden technology that wouldn’t be bulky and in the way–technologies integrated in fabric. Personally, I toss a portable charger in my clutch when going out. How about biometric or solar array belts for men and women? There’s a reason that Under Armour became a household name (besides a really well timed ESPN The Magazine advertisement). The technology within the fabric – the sweat wicking – built a new standard of technology for workout clothing. Will biometrics be possible with technology within the weaves of your textile, instead of living on your wrist?
Check out http://paulinevandongen.nl/ for more information on her solar panel collections. The site includes links to the SXSW Accelerator finals in which Wearable Solar competed, a wearable technologies documentary, as well as the latest collections from Pauline van Dongen. – Photo via
Intro Photo via Creative Commons
I’m Anastasia, a physicist, entrepreneur, and amateur fashion hobbyist. Check out my twitter @amarchenkova for my random science, startup, style, and silly puppy tweets. Got some fitbit/fuelband/wearable fashion fit pics for my next article? Post on dressed.so or tweet me!
BONUS: Anastasia created a guest Pinterest board with Dressed.so to accompany this post: