The development of sensor technology has launched many different technology devices in the past decade. From FitBits to iWatches, the technology we see in these small devices is, simply put, incredible. As the technology becomes more accessible, we are seeing more and more industries getting involved with not just smart wearable devices, but smart apparel.
One of the fastest growing industries within smart devices is apparel. As more companies become involved in smart clothes, the industry is expected to reach $10 million in five years. Here’s a look at some of the main sectors that are pushing smart clothes right now.
For many companies, it’s not that smart clothes are useless, it’s that smart clothes don’t always look high fashion. But now, there are items, such as jewelry, that alerts you when you get a text message and even motorcycle helmets that provide views of what’s behind you. But, the general consumer consensus is that smart fashion is only great if it’s discrete.
Consumers like the idea of smart devices being built into their lives separate from their smartphones, but they want it all to be less "techy" and more fashionable, even invisible. For many smart apparel start-ups, it’s more common to move to New York City than to Silicon Valley. Fashion is going to play a key role in the future of smart apparel for the everyday consumer.
The U.S. is one of the largest markets for athletic apparel and footwear in the world. In the past decade, more people have become willing to spend more money on the clothes they wear during workouts, sports, or even just lounging around the house. The U.S. market has seen an increase in the different product categories for athletic apparel, and one of the fastest growing segments is smart apparel.
The technology for smart clothing basically centers on using embedded sensors to track physical data such as heart rate, breathing, muscle activity, and other traits that fitness bands cannot currently track. Currently, the price for this type of technology is dropping, which allows more companies to jump into this new sector of apparel.
According to Gartner research, fitness-focused wearable devices will top $68 million this year, and that is not just from step-trackers and running bracelets. Smart clothing is expected to reach 26 million units in 2016, up from 100,000 in 2014.
Because of the increased accessibility, more companies are moving their research towards developing new smart apparel for their athletic customers. Some of the newest companies to enter the market include Athos and Lechal. Athos introduced their antithetic tops and bottoms that track muscle activity, heart rate, and breathing patterns. Lechal promotes their footwear that track distance, calories, and steps. Both of these companies offer apps with their clothing to help customers keep track and manage their goals and overall fitness.
According to Stephanie Tilenius, founder of the app Vida, this type of technology can potentially help patients that suffer from serious or chronic medical conditions.
Currently, this type of clothing cannot fit under the category of “wellness” because of regulatory reasons. When it comes to claiming things as medical devices there are stricter rules set in place by the Food and Drug Administration. As of now, smart clothes are not reliable enough for patient care, but they could be in the future. Wearable-tech makers will have to work alongside physicians to determine how to best develop clothes that can gather reliable information about patients.
No matter what the industry is, it’s clear that the implementation of wearable-devices isn’t going to be easy. The technology is present, but all industries are going to have to work hard to make sure it is used correctly so the consumers want it – either to be stylish or to get the information they need accurately.
To learn more about wearable devices and smart apparel, check out some of our reports.
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