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
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.
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
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.
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 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.