(Source: Christopher R. Wilder)
Advances in sensor capabilities, batteries, form factors, and fabrics are making it easier for clothing manufacturers to seamlessly integrate garments with monitoring and electronic devices. Fitness equipment manufacturers have been developing devices and solutions for many years that monitor heart rate, pulse, body temperature, etc. But, only recently has the cost to manufacture, integrate, and miniaturize electronic components been reduced enough to make the accelerated growth of this smart garment industry a reality. While the above dynamics have made it feasible to bring to market smart garments, there are many more challenges such as integration, privacy, and data analysis of collected information that increase the overall complexity of the solution (see our market segmentation of the Internet of Things (IoT) here and here for more context). Each of these factors is not a simple task on its own, but combining all three is a considerable barrier to entry for most brands. Further, the explosion of interest in intelligent and health data by predominantly younger and more affluent users has created a very compelling prospect that cannot be ignored. Brands can open a whole new world of data-driven revenue opportunities across the entire clothing supply chain. And, by improving value directly to their customers, these companies will enjoy deeper relationships, brand loyalty, and an increased share of wallet from the consumer. Additionally, insight gathered about their buyers from the sensors their customers wear can improve the way they bring solutions to market to support them over time.
Brands like Adidas AG, Under Armour Inc., Ralph Lauren Corporation, and Victoria’s Secret Sport (L Brands) are releasing smart products for fitness apparel. Likewise, in the healthcare sector, companies like HealthWare and McLaren Applied Technologies have made considerable advances in developing e-textile solutions to help monitor the health and wellbeing of their patients. Smart garments are being introduced to track and monitor athlete’s performance in sports like American football, rugby, soccer, and Formula 1 racing.
In June 2015, Jabil Circuit acquired Finland-based textile electronics manufacturer Clothing+. Developer of the first commercially available heart rate sensing shirt more than a decade ago, Clothing+ develops smart textile solutions for the sportswear, sports electronics, and the healthcare marketplace. The combination of Jabil and Clothing+ brings considerable economies-of-scale, extensive added manufacturing and electronics capabilities, and improved manufacturing supply chain capabilities. The first Clothing+ solution offering is an end-to-end reference design called Peak+. Initially, Peak+ includes partnerships with transmitter and application company Suunto Oy and research-based analytics firm Firstbeat Technologies Ltd. but will eventually include support for smart textiles that measure everything from heart rate to bioimpedence (body mass), thermal, light, haptic (touch), and other requirements. Eventually, garments will go beyond just reading biometrics or environmental conditions; they will also be able to react to signals and changes in conditions. For example, clothing that can reduce body temperature or dispense medicine promise interesting new applications for smart textiles.
What brands choose to do with collected information has the potential to make or break the relationship they build with their customers. Consumer defection is a critical challenge for most companies, as consumers are becoming more and more fickle with the growing number of alternative choices. For brands leveraging smart textiles, the relationship with the customer comes down to trust, comfort, quality, value, and value-add. To establish the basis for trust, value, and value-add, companies must ensure their users are in control of what data they choose to share and with whom. Designers pursuing this path must ensure they combine integrated data transmission capabilities that drive greater usability and seamless interaction with powerful, contextually relevant data. They must ensure accurate analytics that users can track, adjust, and optimize from the sensor information collected. Finally, they must have an easy-to-use application interface that is supported and optimized for how consumers choose to collaborate with the solution, whether it is from a smartphone, watch, tablet, or desktop display.
Over the next few years, the smart textile market will become more and more connected and interactive. Brands must develop more meaningful, information-based relationships with their customers. Consumers and businesses alike are leveraging data to make informed decisions. As these markets change, businesses must become more agile and responsive to real-time consumer demands and customization. The numbers of devices and technology solutions have exploded, and for many companies it is difficult to choose the right solutions to align with their customers’ needs.
For more information about the smart garment or e-textile market please download our free research paper here.