While at Munich Fabric Start, I heard a common theme in conversations about the lack of communication between traditional fashion houses and wearable technology innovators. Long standing fashion houses have yet to embrace technology implementation into their age old designs, typically claiming their heritage doesn’t support it. Maybe they feel adding technology to their collections would be too far outside their brand identity, and they’d lose their core clients.
Even if they do allow one or two devices within a collection, it’s not never new enough for the wearable tech space to care. Likewise, wearables innovators are so far ahead of the fashion houses of the 20th century, they aren’t looking back.
As sustainability, alternative materials, and technologies continue to merge, maybe mainstream fashion houses are beginning to feel guilty about the amount of environmental degradation brought on by their obsession with fast fashion, so they group these spaces together and cast them off collectively.
Yet I don’t want to point a finger at these mega brands for their lack of trust in the start ups creating new ways to dress people. For every successful start up there’s many more that lost their way. Any investment needs a great deal of return to be produced, and there must be some amount of proven results from the beginning of any partnership. So majority of European fashion investors are not looking for wearable tech designers. But the fact is, many luxury brands are graying, and losing touch with the reality of the state of fashion. In America, Ralph Lauren is trying to remain relevant by promoting sportswear, and their new iteration of the Ricky handbag featuring an LED light and USB cord for charging. It debuted in 2014, and we haven’t seen much in the way of technology from the retailer since. (In fact, they still want us to rave about it nearly 4 years later.)
In the U.S., we are now seeing a retail apocalypse, with 100s of retailers closing stores nationwide. The entire industry is changing course, and most brands don’t know what to do about it. Consumers are buying online, or right from their Instagram feeds, and no one seems to want to put effort into walking into an actual bricks and mortar store. New brands are finding it easier and cost effective to remain in e-commerce, and rarely need more than a pop up shop to reach their fans. Millennials actually care a lot less about materialism and much more about experiences. Many of us are much more willing to wear last seasons trends if it means we can spend Spring Break in the Bahamas.
Although, as China continues to hold their leadership in technology, as well as recently taking the spotlight away from the U.S. on efforts to “green” their industries, we are now seeing much more funding into fashion labels. (Any wearable tech designer looking for funding should be connecting with Chinese investors, instead of troubling themselves with the Europeans who have their noses in the air.) Maybe the Chinese are just so used to having the best technologies, with cutting edge innovations always exploding out of Shenzhen like popcorn kernels over an open fire, that they wouldn’t bat an eye at tracking your health with your bra or embedding a chip under your skin.
As it’s close to many of our hearts to see less waste and useless consumption, sustainable designers must take it upon themselves to bridge the gap between traditional fashion merchandisers and wearable technology. Wearables are more central between both schools of thought, and have a better chance at impacting the fashion industry as a whole. More channels of communication need to be implemented between these industries for sustainability to ever become mainstream. Less demonizing of fashion is necessary in order to do this. Of course, as a long-time promoter of sustainability and an environmentalist, it’s hard for me to write this perspective. Yet I believe it is partly the cause of the lack of connection between wearable start ups and the deep pockets of the fashion industry.
But when any industry is divided, it will never be as successful as it could be.
It’s up to everyone in the technology space to facilitate this communication for everyone’s success. Only with collaboration will we create lasting change, to impact generations to come.