How the wearable tech industry is taking the world by storm
BY MICHELLE HALIM
After a game-ending injury took former Calgary Stampeder wide receiver Johnny Forzani off the football field, he tried to think of something that would get him back in the game.
Forzani followed in the footsteps of his uncle, who is the founder of the Forzani Group, which owns many sports retailers such as Sport Chek and Atmosphere. His idea: a modern-day version of the hand warmer. Imagine those furry pockets women use to keep their hands warm, the ones that connect both hands together – just upgraded. The G-Tech Hand Warmer is an external pocket that allows you to keep your hands warm by turning on the heater that is installed inside the pocket. Forzani originally geared the design for athletes on the sidelines or on the bench, because standing outside in the cold during a football game or having your hands freeze while trying to catch a ball can take a toll on athletes.
The 28-year-old has only been in business for a little over a year, but his products have been in the making for about four years. His product has grown in the short period of time it has been around, with four of eight CFL teams and 18 of 32 NFL teams including the Carolina Panthers using them. He is also in the midst of making a heated hoodie that should be released in the fall.
“This is for avid outdoorsman and really your everyday people. Just people in really cold places. I know people who like to wear the hoodie in the house because it just feels good to have the heat,” says Forzani.
The idea of pairing fashion with technology seems to be gaining more ground. Google recently partnered with Levi’s to release a smart jacket that has technology weaved into the sleeve. With this jacket you can simply swipe your sleeve and it will do different tasks you ask of it on your mobile device. Nike recently launched sneakers that lace themselves. For people with mobility issues, this type of wearable tech can alleviate everyday struggles. There is also fun wearable tech like shirts that light up to the sound of the music around the person wearing it. Not to mention, 3D-printed fashion – also a growing industry. What remains to be seen is whether or not fashion technology is here to stay.
For New York City native Stephanie Benedetto, who is the CEO and founder of Queen of Raw, a raw material and 3D printed fashion brand based in New York, fashion technology has no limits. She dreams of the day someone will be able to go on vacation without any clothes packed, because they are able to purchase their clothes online and by the time they land in their destination the clothes have been 3D printed and put in their hotel room closet. She says that the best part about this would be that when the vacation ends, they would simply need to return the clothes so that the material can be melted down for the next person to use.
Benedetto, whose family has been in the textile business for over 100 years since arriving in New York from Austria, says textiles and fashion are in her blood. She worked as a corporate lawyer on Wall Street representing technology, fashion and start-up clients for six years, before deciding to switch career paths and follow in her family’s footsteps.
Benedetto says in the future she can see wearable technology being about more than making fashion statements. She imagines it having societal benefits.
“Imagine your clothing being beautifully designed and not look very techy at all. It would look like your everyday clothing except now it can detect breast cancer,” says Benedetto. Other possibilities she can see are things like a sleeve on a shirt alerting the wearer if their heart rate is too low, a shirt that detects a disease or even a pair of boxers that can detect signs of prostate cancer.
Of course the idea of wearable tech is exciting, but the manufacturing of these products is not as simple as normal fashion attire. Many different pieces need to come together, including the tech that will be incorporated into the fashion and also the material for the fabrics themselves. Benedetto says the different people who need to come together for wearable technology have to be innovative. “Designers are trying to be tech people and tech people are trying to be designers,” she says.
Janine Just, owner of Janine Just Inc., a public relations firm, has been working with wearable technology companies for a little over four years. She also created the NYC-based TechStyle event series, which is an event that brings fashion and technology together to introduce the growing concept of wearable tech to attendees.
“We felt we needed to fill a void for these fashion and beauty tech brands to get their message out there in a creative and results-driven avenue,” says Just.
As a public relations firm Just still faces challenges in trying to get press coverage for some of her clients.
“With technology it’s great to pitch these media relationships and get a pitch in their inbox, however a lot of times they don’t understand the concept. They don’t understand why it’s a higher price point, the technology behind it, the convenience it’s providing,” says Just.
Though some people in the fashion industry may not be sold on the concept or think wearable technology is a passing trend, but Just disagrees.
“I feel like it’s going to be a part of our everyday life and we’re not going to realize it,” she says. “But we’re just going to be wearing smart clothing and it’s happening and it’s already transitioning and you have these big companies, like Google partnering up with Levi’s and Adidas making smart tracker… I think it’s only going to get more relevant in the next couple of years.”