Fashionista recently attended the FashTech “Silicon to Silk” event about the latest developments in wearable technology. The insightful panel was made up of Nancy Tilbury (Co-Founder and Creative Director at Studio XO, an innovative and well known wearable technology player), Matthew Drinkwater (Head of the Fashion Innovation Agency at the Centre for Fashion Enterprise) and Rachel Arthur (Global Senior Editor, WGSN).

How would you describe the wearable tech market at the moment?

The panel expressed its frustration that development was not moving fast enough, although Nancy was quick to add that new brands will be emerging in this space. All agreed however that there was a growing appetite for wearable technology and a basic curiosity of what it is about. Matt prophetically stated that this year will be “huge” for wearable technology but that there is still a lot of work for brands to do, in order to create something credible and real.

What is “wearable tech?” Is it a fashionable device with a purpose?

At the moment, “wearables” is a catch all term, encapsulating everything from fitness bands to beautiful clothes. Rachel stated that different schools of thought exist about what wearable technology actually means, and questioned why wearable tech has to be functional; why can’t it simply make us look better? Matt’s interpretation was that wearable technology will do different things to different people; everyone expects it to be a new device that will replace mobiles, but in reality it is a huge variety of products. Matt even questioned what would happen when we combine our wearable technology with The Internet of Things and sensors (“If clothes could talk to each other, what would they say?”).

What was the story behind the revolutionary Tinkerbell dress?

Matt attributed Richard Nicoll’s Tinkerbell dress, created in collaboration with Studio XO, with giving people a glimmer into the future and possibilities of wearable technology. CFE do a lot of work with Walt Disney to increase consumer engagement and Disney asked whether CFE could create something based on the Tinkerbell character.tinkerbell The two potential projects were a traditional designer collaboration or a wearable tech dress. Disney originally wanted to see the traditional Tinkerbell image portrayed onto the clothing, but in reality it was about working the theme into Nicoll’s collection. Nancy explained that the dress was not about need, it was about Nicoll’s inspiration (light was incredibly important in his collection) and having accessories which subtly referenced Tinkerbell. Ultimately the Tinkerbell dress was about creating something which people could fall in love with.

From a consumer’s perspective, Rachel revealed that she was fed up of tweets on t-shirts and “flashing lights that Katy Perry would wear”, and was relieved to finally see an example of clothing that genuinely looked great and showed the possibility of technology and fashion.

How far away are we from a true consumer friendly wearable technology product?

“Without giving anything away – really close!” The panel recognized however that, currently, most items were couture pieces, and manufacturing was cited as the key obstacle for designers, with Nancy revealing the inexistence of a “fashionable laboratory” and “digital haberdashery”. Only when we can scale up, at an affordable price, will “conversations start to get interesting.”

Studio XO are currently focusing on generation digital (the “swipeable generation”) and are looking forward to how the Apple smartwatch will impact the market. Fashionista notes that Apple’s iWatch is launched today so it will be interesting to see whether sales match the level of press and PR attention.

The panel were unanimous in their opinion that technology companies should stop interpreting wearable technology as a fashionable product with a technological component added on at the end; instead, it should be about a designer working with a technology company from the outset, avoiding the end product simply becoming a concept piece. Greater investment and more high profile collaborations were needed to get consumers excited. Matt noted the FIA’s recent collaboration with Casely Hayford to create a belt with a battery, due to launch in Summer 2015, as an inexpensive piece of wearable technology that serves an everyday problem.

wearable techThe panel were all in agreement that brands are still fearful of the leap required to enter the wearable technology market, although progress is being made with Intel and CFDA engaging new designers. Nancy concisely described the issue as a “vocabulary problem”, as companies think the solution is as simple as just putting engineers together with designers. However these are two distinct skill sets and ways of working. Instead the way forward is to build internal teams of engineers and designers, and encourage these skills at grassroots level, starting with universities.

Who is the front runner in wearable technology?

Rachel tenuously answered “New York” but firmly stated that London is more energetic and “bubbling”, and has a greater commercial angle. Dublin and Israel were also mentioned as up and coming locations. However Matt boldly stated that “what will happen in [London] in the next 6 months will be astonishing!”

What are you excited about?

“Digital skins!” which explore the interface between the human body and programmable, printable matter. The ways in which companies will get the public excited about their products (“even my dad is aware of the Apple Watch”) and “how fashion brands will take technology and integrate it across an entire technology.” Fashionista will be watching the development of this new product category very closely.

 

By: Emily Dorotheou
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