Wearables Double Down on Fashion at CES to Cling to Relevancy

The new wave of wearables could be smart clothing, from posture vests to GPS bike jackets, which are on the runway at the Fashion Ware Show at CES.

Jan 6 2017, 12:00pm

Image: Kittibowornphatnon/Shutterstock/Shutterstock

As tech searches for the next big thing, wearables, besides items like Fitbit, really haven't caught on as some companies had hoped. Certainly smartwatches haven't gained much traction and according to tech consulting firm Endeavor Partners, over 50 percent of wearable users ditch their gadgets six months after they get them.

But as some wearables are dying out, smart clothing could very well be the next big thing. Nanotechnology and electronically-embedded fabrics which can communicate with electronic devices, are estimated to sell over 18 million pieces of clothing by 2021, according to the ABI Research firm. And it's more than just fitness windbreakers and socks, smart clothing is actually becoming stylish—brands like Ralph Lauren and Levi's have jumped on board, so have independent designers. The Fashion Ware Show brings the smart clothing runway at this year's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, featuring the latest in smart clothing at three runway shows kicking off today, January 6.

"Smartwatches and fitness trackers have dominated the wearables industry," said Robin Raskin, founder and president of Living in Digital Times, which produces The Fashion Ware Show. "In the coming year, we'll see wearables expanding to clothing and headwear, making our bodies the new habitat for technology and freeing our hands from clutching a phone."

A trend taking the runways this year is smart jackets. Tapping into the healthcare and biometrics market, the Xenoma's "e-skin" is a black zip-up jacket which monitors your breathing, motion, body temperature and posture. It looks futuristic, but that might be its novelty, it looks a bit like you're wearing a Matrix-esque motherboard over your back, as the silver wires are composed of 14 sensors that glide over the shoulder, down the biceps and over the pecks. They monitor bending and stretching movements, transmitting information from a circular, plastic button over the heart to your smartphone via Bluetooth. The Japanese startup plans on selling the men's version of the jacket (only available in size small) on February 1. The women's version is still in the works.

One household name in the world of high-end smart clothing is Dutch designer Pauline van Dongen, who always seems to bring an artsy, European vibe to an otherwise tacky market filled with ghastly sportswear. This year, she'll be featuring several items on the runway, including the Solar Windbreaker, which is built for hikers and nature-borne tour guides. It's a baby blue, waterproof smart coat with angular zippers and three solar panels striped over the waist. But why would anyone need a solar-powered jacket? In the same vein as Joe's Jeans' skinny jeans that charge smartphones in their pockets, this coat allows its wearer to charge portable devices on the jacket for two hours maximum, as well as navigate their location with GPS, apparently in all types of weather. Antarctica, anyone?

This is the same designer bringing out a new smart shirt called the FysioPal, a tank top that tells you when you're slouching. It has haptic signals in the neck, shoulders and back vibrates when the wearer is slouching as a reminder to sit up straight. The electronic nodes are laminated into the machine washable, stretchy fabric, eliminating the need for wires. The data connects to a smartphone app which shows the wearer's daily performance, and is meant to be worn under work clothes at the office, potentially replacing the ergonomic chair.

Also featured on the runway will be jackets by Lumenus, a Los Angeles-based company which specializes in smart clothing and accessories. Their smart jacket, which looks like the type of motorcycle jacket one would wear to Burning Man, is fitted with glowing LED lights on the wrist and shoulders. The Bluetooth-paired processor uses your phone's GPS to light up the wearer so they can be seen by cars, as well as guide them to their destination by blinking which direction to follow, as the software connects to a smartphone app and runs on Google Maps. It helps the wearer get to a location through bike paths and roads that have less traffic than main streets, all the while your smartphone is in your pocket.

While smart clothing is essentially nothing new (AiQ has been combining fabric with technology since 2009), it still has a lot of potential to take off beyond the same old health and fitness market. There is still time for the start of what could potentially be a booming market that takes tech from our wrists and is put literally, on our backs. "Garments are now including location trackers and signalling to keep us safer, and today's hottest high-tech designers are creating fashion-forward attire and accessories for everyone from the business executive to the sports devotee," said Raskin. "Overall, these products are offering consumers an impressive wow factor with real-world uses."