Commentary: Why Wearables Tech Is The Future

See The Future And Embrace It

Dave VagnoniBy 2016, the wearables technology market is expected to be valued at $10 billion – about half the size of the ad specialty industry. Major brands like Nike, Samsung, Apple and Disney are investing enormous amounts of dollars in wearables development and adaptation, while smaller research startups – focused on smart apparel and accessories – received a combined cash injection of $600 million last year alone. The smart money of the next decade is clearly on wearables tech.

Yet, some ad specialty suppliers don’t see a market – in the promotional products world at least – for the really cool wearables stuff anytime soon, if ever. Things like smart watches that talk, T-shirts that measure vital signs and safety glasses that include video interface, they say, are too pricey and elaborate for an industry full of freebies. One Top 40 supplier exec told Counselor recently: “This is all a little like a fantasy.” Another said: “We’re looking more at apparel features like moisture-wicking. That’s the technology people want.”

Fair enough. Making money today is more about offering a comfortable, customizable hoodie than it is about producing temperature-gauging socks. But here’s a newsflash for those who think wearables tech is a bit too futuristic for promo campaigns: Millennials love gadgetry and they are the end-buyers of tomorrow. Need convincing? Just do a quick Google search and witness the changing demographics of the U.S. It isn’t a gradual shift – it’s more of a two-by-four-to-the-forehead kind of trend.

There’s an argument to be made as well for wearables tech having already arrived in promotional pitches. With the not-so-subtle rise of health care costs, countless companies are launching wellness programs. Why can’t distributors suggest branded fitness trackers for kick-off events or incentives instead of simple pedometers or $0.50 wristbands? Distributors should be asking suppliers for these types of products and ideas.

Also, just because an item is a touch exotic doesn’t mean it’s impractical. An enterprising PhD student in Brazil is designing what she calls “beauty tech.” In one example, she’s applying radio frequency identification (RFID) tags to fake fingernails – any of which can be decorated to a user’s taste. RFID readers can recognize tags at close range, allowing the tech-inspired fingernails to open doors, just like a swipe card. That’s the direction wearables technology is headed in, and a small thing like a fake fingernail can absolutely become a customizable promotional item.

Admittedly, this forward-looking view is a bit daring. And don’t be mistaken, the advice here isn’t for suppliers to take a hard right turn away from what’s working. But wouldn’t it be a stroke of industry genius for a supplier to introduce a “futures apparel line” that incorporates smart technology into a few wearables items? Imagine the marketing run that launch would get, followed a few months later by a similar product line debut from a dozen other suppliers. In the race to the next big thing – whether it’s a jog or a sprint – don’t be a follower. See the future and embrace the future, or you might find yourself running a business from the past.