What do you think of when you think of wearables? Do you still think of the science fiction-inspired and short-lived Google Glass? There was good period of time where the conversation about wearables was centered on things that looked cool and maybe did cool things, but were practically useless in everyday life. We, like others, saw it as a trend and not where lasting innovation was going. But the conversation seems to be shifting towards what could be considered ‘smart clothes.’ Apparel, that most importantly, looks like everyday clothing, but maybe is designed a certain way with certain materials or does things in addition to being clothing.
It is no surprise that the active-wear industry is taking the lead on this, as the clothing that athletes wear need to perform as well as they do.
Fashion Is Your Business spoke to Meg Burich, Marketing Director for Digital Sports for Adidas Group while at the Boston WEAR conference. She explains early in the episode that it is important for the brand to have clothing that was able to track data with sensors but also be something that was comfortable to wear and easy to maintain. Form and function are parts of the same package and often the same thing.
Elite athletes and their coaches have adopted the high performance gear, but the challenge is selling (a version) to the everyday person who simply wants to exercise more effectively. The idea of an “embedded” coach/personal trainer sounds appealing, but the ‘how’ of it might trip up less tech-savvy consumers. Also, the needs between the two types of people are different; the former group is looking to optimize performance and the latter group is looking to monitor health.
Some logistic barriers might initially impede these products selling beyond early adapters. There’s the issue of how to sell these items outside of Adidas stores on and offline: Are they considered clothing or electronics? Another marketing issue to be solved is education. How do highlight the features that set it apart from average activewear for the consumer?
Selling this type of smart clothing won’t be too hard, at least, not to newer generations. Millennials are coming of age with things like Fitbits and other walking tracking devices. This updated activewear is a logical next step. The rise of athlesiure also signals that people are trying to incorporate healthier activities and attitudes into their everyday life.
But what about the other type of activewear? As in, clothing for the professional who needs presentable clothing that actually moves with them. Ministry of Supply has these people covered.
Fashion Is Your Business spoke to Gihan Amarasiriwardena, Co Founder and Executive Chairman of Ministry of Supply, at the 2016 SHOPTALK retail and ecommerce event in Las Vegas, about how the brand is using tech to help the person-on-the-go keep cool and presentable.
Some of the innovation of the brand is simply design and construction choices made when making the garments which take into consideration that people need work clothes that move as much as they do. From top-to-bottom, that’s the brand’s mission. From their website:
As the lines between work, play, and downtime continue to blur, we need essential garments that keep up with our entire day. We’ve set out to achieve that versatility through capable garments that actually fit the human body and are easy to care for and wear, no matter what you choose to do in them.
The tech-y part of their items are the stretchy and moisture-wicking fabric, using NASA originated temperature regulating material or constructing products using 3D printers.
The major part of selling their products, and what similar brands might deal with, is convincing customers that these items are worth that little more than regular clothes without the tech. Ministry of Supply has been able to refine their storytelling after selling their initial products through a Kickstarter campaign. They have also have reviews of their products on the website, allowing other customers to bolster the features to a not-entirely-convinced potential customer.
Both of these brands aren’t creating clothes that just do neat things, but clothing that helps to solve problems and designed with people in mind. Adidas has created active-wear which captures data as well as it allows athletes to perform. Ministry of Supply is creating performance wear for business professionals. They don’t just have uses, they are useful. Of course, brands might have to face the hurdle of convincing the average customer about their products, especially those who might have been burned by wearables before. Hopefully, this wave of hi-tech with more human-centered design will stop being a trend and simply common place.