Ever wish you could use your pants to check your credit score? No? Well, put it on your list, because it’s only a matter of time until you can do just that—as well as watch Netflix, take medical exams, and submit job applications.
Six years ago, a World Economic Forum study predicted that 10% of people would be wearing clothing that connects to the Internet by 2025. And the study was hardly far-fetched. Since then, three generations of smart textiles have emerged: passive, active, and ultra. First-generation garments featured discreet wiring sewn directly into the pieces. Google and Levi’s, for example, collaborated to build a Bluetooth-connected denim jacket that wearers can use to get directions, change songs, and answer calls.
Digital Doctors & Eyewear Spyware
Developers leading the second, “active” generation of smart clothing weave sensors directly into fabric, enabling the collection of real-time biometric data. The broader implications of this health-focused wearable technology could be life-changing, and even life-saving.
Diabetes-focused startup Siren Care, for example, created Siren Socks to detect potential health issues early and accurately, greatly decreasing the odds of amputation. Sensors are woven directly into the yarn itself, yet the socks are still machine-washable and don’t even require charging. Owlet Smart Socks for babies come in smaller sizes but pack an equally impactful punch. Designed to provide peace of mind for parents, the socks monitor a baby’s heart rate and oxygen levels to alert caretakers of potential issues. Apparel brand Athos even makes athleisure pieces that monitor “muscle activity, heart rate, calorie expenditure, and performance during rest time and active time.”
Although Google eventually cut its losses and left its failed computer-eyeglass hybrid Google Glass in the Land of Lost Tech, its successor Snap Inc. still introduced wearable concept Spectacles. After taking an almost $40 million loss, it scrapped its direct-to-consumer strategy and now partners exclusively with AR creators to “fuse fun and utility through immersive AR.”
Fortnite or Fort-nightgown?
The global gaming industry’s astronomical growth is creating the ideal landscape for wearable tech to thrive by leveraging the potential for immersive, realistic digital experiences. The industry saw a 12% increase in players in 2020 and is expected to grow at 12% over the next five years. Still, virtual reality headsets have already permeated gaming culture in a major way: 70% of consumers who own VR headsets have purchased a game on it, and 77% say they want more opportunities for VR social engagement.
Japanese brand Teijin took virtual reality clothing to the next level with its full-body Synesthesia Wear. The garment imitates physical touch in virtual reality and monitors players’ movements through a “specially designed fabric that conducts electricity and communication signals, letting users place the battery and haptic modules wherever they choose.”
Combine touch-based virtual reality apparel with gaming conventions like PAX, and there could be a booming market for branded gaming outfits. Real-life Agent Peely skins could be here before we know it. Get into it, Fortnite fans.
The future of high-tech textiles lies in fiber-level, functional yarns. The Advanced Functional Fabrics of America (AFFOA) is spearheading these developments, reimagining fabrics as a service rather than a product and creating garments that “see, hear, sense, communicate, store and convert energy, regulate temperature, monitor health, and change color.” The organization is backed by the US military and has secured investments from several large corporations. Enhanced military attire has been fodder for comic books and anime for decades, but its real-life introduction might be closer than we think.
Fashion 3.0 concepts might seem like overkill in a culture already dominated by screens, but fashion trends based on function rather than form tend to stick around. From sweat-wicking athletic wear to no-iron dress shirts, once we get used to a function, it's hard to go back. As lifestyles become increasingly tech focused, it's only natural that humans will look for more ways to integrate essential digital activities into an assortment of clothing and accessories.