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On the cutting edge of fashion technology

Smart clothing is the next big business idea that will see innovations in the field of fashion

brunch Updated: Sep 03, 2016 19:25 IST
Rajiv Makhni
Rajiv Makhni
Hindustan Times
Smart fashion,Smart shirt,Hexoskin
Typical examples of what is deemed as Fashion Tech are dresses that light up with hundreds of LEDs, but that is not the case

Fashion and technology. Frankly, whenever someone mentions them together, I try and suppress a deep desire to laugh. Not because it doesn’t make sense (it actually does and the smart clothing business is predicted to get bigger than the wearables business in the future) but because there is such a disconnect between these two industries.

Till now most of Fashion Tech has been typical of how two industries that should be sleeping together haven’t even had their first date. Typical examples of what is deemed as Fashion Tech are dresses that light up with hundreds of LEDs, a haute couture fashion garment that changes colour when you enter a party supposedly in sync with your mood, pieces of jewellery that are bluetooth-enabled, accessories that have all kinds of lights in them and can pulsate to our heartbeat or music and about a dozen other such niche and, frankly, absolutely ridiculous creations.

Think about it – would you really want to walk into a party with your dress emitting 1000 watts of light or a pair of pants that turned a bright red when you saw a very attractive person, or a ring that seems to have lost its marbles as it’s constantly blinking purple and green? How much of an attention seeking errr... let’s go with ‘person’ are you? Fashion Tech has been a disaster till now, but when billions of dollars are up for grabs, some people do get them right. Here’s some Fashion Tech you will be wearing soon.

Lonely in the wardrobe

Walk up to your cupboard and you hear loud screams and calls of anguish. Nope, it’s not your favourite low-budget horror movie, it’s just your future. The wails and screams will be silent and digital and will be coming from your clothes with each of them shouting ‘wear me, wear me’. This is the ultimate solution to wardrobe woes. We all have clothes we don’t wear for months, we all have stuff that is buried under, that we have forgotten about and we all have things that we promise we will wear one day, but that day hasn’t come in years! Clothes of the future will have a voice and an identity. As you buy them, sensors within will add them to your collection and tag them visually – by colour, by season, by occasion and by material. Don’t wear them and in a few months they will reach out to you with a message. They’ll try and get your attention by suggesting what you should wear, suggesting themselves when you take out something else and imploring you to remember that they exist and haven’t got a try out from you for months.

They will attempt a few times and if you still ignore them, they’ll send out a message to charitable organisations to come and pick them up so that someone more appreciative and deserving gets to wear them. It’s actually a very smart solution to one of the biggest problems that every one faces. Coming soon to a cupboard near you!

Arrow’s ‘smart shirt’ has a NFC chip embedded in its cuff

The smart shirt

The term ‘smart’ has become almost as abused as the letter ‘i’. Companies use them everywhere and that has led to a plethora of smart products that do some very foolish things. There are smart forks, smart cups, smart cuff-links and even smart bathrooms (don’t ask)! But just adding a sensor or a chip to something doesn’t really make it smart. It needs to actually be simple to use and must do something useful in our daily life. Arrow’s ‘Smart shirt’ claims to be the first global smart shirt and it was invented right here in India. A simple Near Field Communication (NFC) chip is embedded in the cuff and it’s water-proof (thus washable), heat-proof (thus iron-able) and needs no battery power (thus no wires or chargers). You can add functions to your cuff whereby tapping it with a phone transfers your business card, launches an app, puts your phone on DND or even starts a playlist. Coming up are payments, identity recognition and even using it as your airline ticket. Samsung already has a ‘Smart Suit’ and a British Company has a work blouse that works similarly.

Smart clothing

Smart clothing (above) will be big business soon

The biggest business in Fashion Tech will come from the Smart Clothing business. Fabrics that have smart tech built in. Fabrics that clean themselves, repair a tear on their own, change properties to be cool in summer and warm in winter or eliminate the need for a deodorant by being smell-proof (yes, deo companies need to start sweating).

The OMsignal Bra records breathing and heart rates

On the other hand, companies such as Lumo Run (smart running shorts that can monitor speed, cadence, ground contact time, pelvic rotation and stride length), Hexoskin Smart (to monitor heart rate, breathing and movement), OMsignal Bra (it records distance ran, breathing rate and even tells you when you’ve recovered enough to go back for a run), Athos (it has micro-EMG sensors that detect which of your muscles are actually working), are offering options that have everything embedded within the garment.

Hexoskin Smart will monitor the heart rate, breathing and physical activity too

That’s the future and you’ll see new innovations coming at you at a furious pace. Not every one of them is going to be jaw-dropping. For instance, a European company has a smart underwear in the works. Not sure why I would need a chip in that area and what I would be tapping there!

Rajiv Makhni is managing editor, Technology, NDTV, and the anchor of Gadget Guru, Cell Guru and Newsnet 3

From HT Brunch, August 21

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First Published: Aug 20, 2016 18:42 IST