Dressing Smart

Have you heard of the Internet of Things? It’s a term which describes the growing phenomenon of imbuing everyday objects with connectivity. Name an object and it may already be an internet-enabled device. Mattresses. Thermostats. Toothbrushes. Coffee mugs.

Clothing of course is on that list. In fact, it’s right at the top. The infatuation with creating “smart clothing” actually dates back to 1961, when a pair of MIT mathematicians wired up apparel to improve their odds at roulette. Subsequent attempts in the decades since have been few and fitful: maybe smart, maybe wearable, but never really both.

That will change very soon. Just in the past year, wearable technology has made a sizable leap into the consumer marketplace. About 13% of the U.S. population planned to purchase a wearable tech device in 2014. Fitness trackers are starting to flood the market, smart watches are on the door step, and eyewear technology like Google Glass is waiting in the wings.

And that’s just the beginning. Forward-thinking designers are developing clothing with electronic capabilities woven right into the fibers. The potential from there will be significant. Imagine shirts that can read your vitals and tell you how to better sleep, train and structure your day. Garments that can power your personal electronics. Even dresses that change colors and patterns, all at the wearer’s choosing.

In our cover story package, we cover the technologies that are changing the face of apparel. Some tech, like Near Field Communication (NFC) and nanotechnology, is already here. Others, like smart glasses and 3D printers, are coming sooner than you think. Turn to page 32 to see what the future looks like.

These developments matter. They aren’t just lab creations for academic thought experiments. They are going to change apparel and drive consumer demand. They are going to fundamentally alter the notion of promotional branding. Take the tshirtOS, which uses LED lighting to present a dynamic branding message that can be changed on a whim. The technology works with any garment that can be embroidered. Will the standard screen print seem quaint next to a shirt that can consistently change its logo?

The wearable tech category hasn’t fully arrived yet. Manufacturing processes need to be perfected. Designers are beginning to iron out the wrinkles to make these garments mass producible. Most important, fertile minds need to unleash their creativity. If you remember the pre-iPhone era of smart phones, that’s where we are now: the relative calm before the storm. Get ready now.

Thanks for reading,