Connected clothing is already here. It may not be mature but there's plenty to think about.

So, what will connected apparel mean for brands and retailers?

The future is here

The future of wearables may well be crazy-creative smart fabrics – just take a look at Google’s recent announcement of a smart jacket launch with Levi, complete with Maps and Spotify integration.

In this case, however, the sensor must be removed before washing – so it will take a while before embedded, washable, and durable electronics appear in our everyday apparel and at a cost effective point (one of the things still holding back wearable adoption in general is price).

But as author and futurist William Gibson famously remarked: “The future is already here — it's just not very evenly distributed.”

The concept of ‘connected clothing’ has, in fact, already arrived; it’s ready today and doesn’t involve any additional manufacturing costs or processes.

Earlier this year, in partnership with global packaging and labels giant Avery Dennison, the EVRYTHNG team announced our commitment to connecting over 10 billion pieces of apparel and footwear over the next three years – making this the largest Internet of Things (IoT) deal yet.

By ‘switching on’ items from the world’s largest fashion and performance brands, each and every item will be provided with its own unique digital identity and programmable cloud software capabilities to draw down on.

This means products can now be ‘born digital’, with data profiles in the cloud connecting brands to consumers.

Pertinently, it’s only with a strategy of embedding a smartphone-readable software identity into products at the point of manufacture (onto existing labels and tags) that this can happen today at global super-scale.

connected clothing

The benefits of digitised products 

For brands, digitising products at their source can bring all sorts of benefits.

Already, the likes of Nike, Under Armour and Adidas have invested millions into connecting offline objects, as seen in the acquisitions Under Armour has made in the app studio space (MyFitnessPal and Endomondo) to what Nike has been doing for a number of years with Nike+ and then Fuel Band, wrapping the product with connected fitness services and community.

By making garments and footwear digital by default at the point of manufacture, it means apparel items can become direct digital engagement channels with end-consumers.

Nike’s VP of Digital Sport Stefan Olander notes: “Once you have established a direct relationship with a consumer, you don’t need to advertise to them.”

To this end, extensive Harvard Business Review research found that powerful, direct customer relationships based on data, created almost twice as much enterprise value as brand.

It’s no accident that Google, Facebook and Amazon dominate by providing services that collect and exploit first party customer data.

Nike Fuel Band

nike fuel ban

Personalisation

The brand opportunity of products born digital is delivering a layer of personalised digital services direct to consumer smartphones triggered by the product. This means more relevant content, mobile applications and assisted in-store experiences.

For example, information about the life story of the garment: how it was made. its materials and performance. Or deeply emotional brand stories about the experience of ownership and lifestyle associations. Or practical guides for how to wash, store, and style your items, even where to recycle them.

Now, products can become more intelligent, more interactive and more personalised.

Fraud protection

This #borndigital approach also solidifies brand integrity, protecting authenticity, as digital content makes loss prevention and fraud protection easier than ever.

This is because the data flowing from cloud-based digital identities for individual items can solve operational fashion challenges like real-time tracking inventory and identifying counterfeit goods. So, for example, retailers can tackle return fraud – which costs billions every year – by scanning items to access the data about where and when it was purchased and by whom.

Managing consumer data

With anything like this though, there are a number of challenges facing brands, not to mention a whole new emphasis on trust between brand and consumer. When you trust a brand there’s no need to read the small print, no need to shop around, and every reason to spread the word to others so they can believe and buy it too.

In short: consumers are more likely to prefer, pay more for and recommend brands they trust compared to similar products in the market. This loads a tremendous responsibility on brands to properly manage consumer data, keep it safe and respect individual permissions and sharing preferences.

The careful balancing act between managing enough data to provide a valuable consumer experience through personalisation, and maintaining a firm grip on privacy is the next great brand challenge.

Part of the answer is smart software systems that allow each user to specify individual permissions for how data can be shared and to know exactly how it will be used, so brands can be as transparent as they are compliant.

In conclusion

In the end, fashion is the one technology trend that will never go out of style. As well as functional duties like protecting our bodies from the elements, modern apparel is as much about culture, creativity, self-expression and personal identity.

Just like our smart mobile devices, fashion touches everyone, every day. So it’s hardly a surprise that fashion and technology are now, officially, an item.

Andy Hobsbawm

Published 25 July, 2016 by Andy Hobsbawm

1 more post from this author

You might be interested in

Comments (1)

Pete Austin

Pete Austin, CINO at Fresh Relevance

Things like smart jackets and electronic trainers are interesting in a quirky way - you're amazed that brands do them at all - but most real electronic wearables are for the head or hands.

Everything from electronic watches to hearing aids and bluetooth headphones.

This should not be surprising, as the head and hands are where most human senses are clustered too. So probably most real - useful - wearables will continue to be worn here.

over 1 year ago

Comment
No-profile-pic
Save or Cancel
Daily_pulse_signup_wide

Enjoying this article?

Get more just like this, delivered to your inbox.

Keep up to date with the latest analysis, inspiration and learning from the Econsultancy blog with our free Digital Pulse newsletter. You will receive a hand-picked digest of the latest and greatest articles, as well as snippets of new market data, best practice guides and trends research.