Intel…Inside of Fashion?
6 Min Read
In 2012, when Diane Von Furstenberg’s models strolled down the runway of her New York fashion show in Google Glass eyewear, it seemed like wearable computing technology was about to explode onto the scene as The Next Big Thing.
But instead of a bang, there was barely a whimper, and Google found itself labeled “so last season” long before its accessory line was even due to hit the mass market.
Since the DVF show, Vogue has devoted pages of imagery to the gadget, it’s been featured in the Times’ Style section, Marie Claire’s creative director, Nina Garcia, livestreamed #NYFW Spring 2014 with a pair, and trend setting celebs like Sarah Jessica Parker have been spotted wearing them. Google Glass has indeed become popular, but that popularity isn’t a result of street cred; it’s a byproduct of the device’s ability to inspire social media jokes.
Can Glasshole be transformed into Glashion? The revenue predictions look amazing on paper. Big players like Samsung and Apple are getting in the game, bringing some major names in fashion aboard. (Last July, Yves Saint Laurent’s former CEO, Paul Deneve, left the famous label for Apple. And in October Burberry’s then CEO, Angela Ahrendts, jumped ship to Apple as well.) Yet, despite best efforts to the contrary, the wearables industry has largely been a non-starter in the fashion sector thus far. With few exceptions, smart accessories have been scare on New York’s catwalks this past week and all we’ve been seeing on the sidewalks is an occasional Nike FuelBand. For a niche market with the potential for massive growth, why the face plant?
The reason behind the failure to launch is simple: A total lack of fashionable appeal. Tech is useful, serviceable, pragmatic. Fashion has never been about practicality and utility. It’s about beauty, art, desire…pure creativity that showcases an individual’s unique style. If I am going to wear technology, then function absolutely must meet form. Not only does the product need to be useful, it needs to provide opportunities for self-expression; and it better look incredibly good while doing so. As the wearables industry has now learned, that’s a tall order to fill.
Google Glass has been trying to reinvent itself ahead of its release date, developing more attractive prescription frames and sunglasses; but it’s still missing the mark. The frames have improved the tech components have not. They remain a fashion disaster, each identical to the next, and each painfully clashing with its associated eyewear.
It’s not just Google Glass that’s been struggling; it’s wearables in general. Let’s face it, despite the catchy word; tech has been anything but wearable so far. Fitness bands, heart monitors, kitschy USB jewelry, and ultra-utilitarian wristwatches are unlikely at best to find favor with fashionistas. Neither are monikers like Jawbone, iWatch and Galaxy Gear.
Most of what we’ve been seeing lacks aesthetic value. Even worse, it all seems devoid of authenticity. So, the question is, can high tech really become high style? Is anyone getting it right?
The buzz around wearables suddenly got a whole lot…well…buzzier at January’s International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Intel’s CEO, Brian Krzanich thrilled the crowd with his announcement that the tech giant was creating a smart bracelet, designed by fashion brand, Opening Ceremony, and available exclusively at Barneys New York this fall. Remember that scene in The Last Mimzy where scientists discover Intel’s trademark technology inside the rabbit? It’s like that. Only it’s real. And it’s fashion. Flash in the pan? Not likely. It’s the first in what will be a multi-year series of collaborations resulting from a strategic partnership between Intel and the Council of Fashion Designers of America.
Look a little deeper, and you’ll discover that beneath the recent big name buzz, a consumer-driven, crowdfunded roar is building. If you weren’t paying attention to New York this week, you might have missed the debut of RingBlingz at the Raul Penaranda fashion show on February 8. RingBlingz is a crowdfunded, smart jewelry brand targeted at teens. The rings are fun, they’re useful, they look amazing, and consumers want them.
The idea that wearables might just be the coolest fashion fad since the trucker hat is finally catching on in the mainstream. The wearable computing technology niche market is breaking wide-open. Innovative, crowdfunded, wearable tech companies are everywhere. MEMI, Erogear, Netatmo, Pebble, Misfit Wearables…the list is long and it keeps on growing.
The big names would be wise to pay attention to what the people really want. Crowdfunding inherently provides a competitive advantage going into a new market. The fund raising process itself is a form of cut-throat, in-the-moment, consumer R&D. People tend to support projects that hold personal appeal; products that they want to see, experience, own. Ideas that don’t catch on, don’t receive money.
A start-up launching from a socially-sourced platform has already typically developed a potential customer base complete with brand loyalty, a social media following, press coverage, even revenues in the form of pre-orders. That’s a whole lot of forward momentum coming out of the starting gates. The business already knows their product is desirable to consumers. In other words, they have street cred, and they are right on trend. And for wearable tech, it’s a trend that should continue to spread. Throughout 2014 more and more brands will be rolling out wearables that successfully merge original style with ingenious technology; and that have genuine consumer-appeal.
But does this new trend have staying power over the long-term? Once the novelty wears off, will wearables still be alluring? Another hallmark of fashion is the oftentimes drastic change in look and style from season to season, fad to fad, trend to trend, multiple times per year. Not so for tech. Almost every smartphone looks like every other one. Apple’s iPhone looks essentially the same as when it first launched back in 2007. Plus, it looks just like an iTouch, which looks just like an iPod, which looks just like a smaller version of an iPad. The only real differences seem to be color and dimension. That crucial element of constant reinvention that makes fashion so exciting is markedly absent.
So, how will wearables overcome what stands to be the industry’s next big hurdle? How will they stay in season and in style? 3D printing might just be the answer. Check out a couple of our other fashion ecommerce blogs: Futuristic Fashion: 3D Printing for Fashion Week; and 3D Printing and the Future of Fashion + Commerce; for more food for thought. As for Google Glass, partnering with style-savvy start-ups, such as Protos Eyewear, could be exactly what they need to help them figure out how to finally get it right.
Photos via The Chiefly, Business Insider/Frazer Harrison/Getty Images, Los Angeles Times, Swarovski, Facebook/RingBlingz, MEMI, Netatmo, Erogear, Next Bank