News & Runway

The Future of Fashion Tech: Are Wearables the Next ‘It’ Accessory?

Google Glass at Diane Von Furstenberg

Google Glass at Diane Von Furstenberg Spring 2013 / via Getty

Analysts from Credit Suisse, the same group which issued a report this week to WWD about the decline of mall-based apparel sales, are calling wearable technology "the next big thing." 

"Wearables" are in the spotlight right now primarily due to the upcoming launch of Google Glass, the high-tech eyewear currently in beta testing. Also fueling curiosity about the next wave of personal electronics, Apple is rumored to be developing a new gadget for our dainty wrists, the iWatch. And this April at SXSW, Nike introduced the Nike+FuelBand, an electronic band which connects your sneaker to your smart phone to track calories and deliver personalized fitness information.

According to the Credit Suisse report, the market for wearables, currently estimated at about $3-5 billion, is set to grow astronomically. In as little as 3 to 5 years, the market is projected to reach $30-50 billion. 

What's even grosser than a certain future where the vast majority of our human contact is mediated through Google-produced smart glasses? The fashion industry is jealous. Some are concerned that tech is coming to invade the, as one writer put it, "highly lucrative real estate on the emerging battleground of the human body." Mmmmm, mixing metaphors while plotting the techno-corporate takeover of my flesh, makes me want to go into credit card debt

It's worth noting that the fashion industry does have reason to be worried: the accessories market is crucial to the broader retail scene. In the US, luxury accessory sales (which would would presumably compete on price with high-tech wearables) are projected to hit $17.4 billion by 2017. Meanwhile, a report from consulting firm Bain & Co shows that Asia's booming luxury goods market is expected to slow and so we're likely to see companies ramp up their efforts in Europe and Asia. (Armani, for example, is planning to open a new flagship in Rome, as a "sign of confidence in Italy's recovery.")

Despite fashion's fondness for Apple products and Google's efforts to secure support for its Glass gadget by partnering with Diane Von Furstenberg for her Spring 2013 runway show, more ambitious efforts to embrace tech (such as Vivienne Tam's line of HP netbooks) haven't seen much success. Not surprising: advances in digital printing aside, designers and fashion companies are not in the business of producing innovative technologies, and will likely never be. But I'd love to see them try.