The challenges and barriers in making fashionable clothing with wearable technology
By Robert Tu, founder of MeU, a wearable technology company
Wearable tech is a hot topic these days, especially with the release of the Apple Watch. But most devices on the market today are focused on fitness, health or gaming and are not considered fashion pieces (with the exception of the Apple Watch). So what about fashionable clothing and wearable tech? When are we going to see that?
There are companies that are exploring fashion and wearable technology. Most of them are embedding LEDs in textiles such as Cute Circuit in the UK, which makes video dresses for celebrities and other high end clients. There’s also Switch Embassy that is developing a social t-shirt that can display tweets, photos and other social media data on your shirt. And finally there’s MeU, which has developed wearable digital signage for advertisers and experiential marketers.
Getting the average consumer to adopt this kind of clothing has proven difficult. One of the major reasons is social acceptance. People are not ready to wear flashing lights as a fashion statement yet. And even if they were, the price of these products is not accessible to the average person.
This is because the fashion industry and the tech industry are from two completely different worlds. Getting them to collaborate to make an affordable product will take time as each needs to learn the other’s cultures, customs and processes. Another major challenge is the product life cycle of the two industries. The fashion life cycle is seasonal whereas hardware electronics is annual, and we haven’t found a way to resolve these two differences.
That said, a recent announcement by Google and Levi’s sounds promising. Google announced a partnership with the iconic jean company wherein they’ll make clothing out of Google’s new smart fabric material. The possibilities are interesting. You could answer your phone by swiping on your sleeve, or take a selfie by touching your pocket.
It will be a while before we see fashionable clothing with embedded technology at our local clothing stores, but it will happen. It’s just a matter of when.
You can learn more about wearable tech — and make your own — by registering for Robert Tu’s Introduction to Wearable Media course as part of OCAD University’s Continuing Studies.
Robert Tu is a graduate of OCAD University’s Graphic Design program. He also has a degree in electrical engineering from the University of Waterloo, and worked as an engineer for a number of years before transitioning into business development at IBM. Since graduating from OCAD U he founded MeU, a wearable technology company that is developing socially interactive clothing. As a designer, entrepreneur and engineer, Tu is interested in exploring the way we perceive clothing and how wearable technology can change our behaviours and interactions with each other and our environment.