Photo by Polo Ralph Lauren

Why Smart Clothing is About to Go Mainstream

Light Reading


Over the past years we have seen the business of wearable technology (also referred to as wearables, fashionable technology, wearable devices, tech togs, or fashion electronics) expand quickly. The trend is not about to disappear, but for natural reasons there is a limit to how many smart wristbands and watches a person can wear. This might be the reason to why we now see the rising of a new trend and area to smarten up – the clothes we wear.

According to Gartner’s predictions, smart garment sales will surpass both the sales of smart wristbands and watches the coming years, reaching a level of 26 million units by 2016.

One of the most established players on the market is Clothing+ (read the interview with the founder Mikko Malmivaara here) a Finnish company that already in 1998 created the world’s first heart rate sensing shirt. Today, with a turnover of 10 million Euros, they are mass-producing, developing and manufacturing wearable sensor solutions for the medical and health industry. Mikko Malmivaara, market&sales at Clothing+, confirms the growing trend:

“As the wearable technology market grows there is an increasing demand for products that interface the human body and we stand in exactly the right place with our unique expertise on comfortable textile-integrated electronics. We practically own the soft electronics segment. Now we just need to make the right moves to grow fast but right, and the future’s looking really good for Clothing+.”

But is this trend only interesting for tech related companies or will the fashion industry be part of it? Well, a good example of the potential of the wearable trend is Polo Ralph Lauren. They’ve made special shirts for US Open ball boys with sensors that measure breathing, heart rate and level of stress and energy of the wearer. The smart shirt collects the biometric data and sends it to an iPhone app for real-time analysis that can be received by for example the coach or the medical staff. The design is in line with the typical Polo Ralph Lauren shirt so it is only if you look really close the smart technology can be discovered, knitted into the fabric placed under the chest. The Polo Tech shirt hits the market any day now and as Lauren says;

“This is just the start”, we could work this into the Polo shirt one day.”

This possibility of making the technology invisible, incorporated into the fabric itself, is probably one of the reasons for its potential. Because who else than tech nerds wants to look like a walking display for smart technology? Another big advantage is the accuracy – compared to watches and wristbands the sensors in clothes can get closer to the skin, resulting in more reliable data.

So will your average pair of blue jeans be smart in the future? And in that case, what will they tell you? We are not sure, but one thing we know: this will definitely be one of the most important trends the coming years and we are excited to see its development.