SXSWORLD November 2014


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S X S W. C O M | N O V E M B E R 2 0 1 4 | S X S W o r l d 2 9 ntil only a few months ago, the universe of wearable tech- nologies revolved around variations of Fitbit and Jawbone — wellness and fitness devices for capturing one's personal data. New devices invariably came from the top players in the sports apparel industry or entrepreneurs chasing dreams at Kickstarter and Indiegogo. All of this has changed. Today's consumers have seen a flurry of personal accessories with embedded sensors, displays and smart watches, which highlights what analysts believe to be the next major technology battleground and a $10 billion industry by 2016. What was the catalyst of it all? One word: Fashion. Fitbit announced a partnership with designer Tory Burch, who transformed its fitness trackers into beautiful hinged bracelets and pendant necklaces. Another hot smart jewelry collaboration came from handbag queen Rebecca Minkoff. At New York Fashion Week in September, she debuted a new line of techie jewelry, which includes a gold bracelet that pairs with a smartphone, and a lightning cable that doubles as a bracelet. Also part of the collection were a compact mobile charger and iPhone cases, designed in partnership with Case-Mate. Rebecca Minkoff already sells a line of "functional fashion" that includes the Olivia Tech Wallet, designed for cash, cards and phone, and the Stellé Audio Clutch, a Bluetooth-enabled por- table speaker. "Our girl wants to wear bracelets and jewelry, and she has this rela- tionship with technology, but for us, we're adding function into very fashionable items she would choose to buy, whether they were tech- enabled or not," CEO Uri Minkoff told Women's Wear Daily. On the apparel front, luxury brand Ralph Lauren unveiled the Polo Tech shirt on opening day of the U.S. Open. Not available until next year, the shirt, created with OM Signals, includes sensors knitted into the fabric to track movement and gauge performance. For the fashion industry, the tech revolution started with Google reaching out to Diane Von Furstenberg to launch a new, and better- looking, version of Glass to consumers this summer. The redesign ramped up the desirability of the product, and most importantly, raised its profile exponentially with the global press. Apple quickly followed with a poaching spree focused on trans- planting many big names from the fashion world to the tech arena: Burberry and Yves Saint Laurent's CEOs, Tag Hauer's Sales VP, and Levi's SVP of Retail are among the newest members of Apple's fashion league. As all of this begun to unfold, tech companies — from startups to big corporations — quickly got the message. Most wearables at the moment were part of the ugly tech family, with faux leather or rubber straps and thick masculine design that made any geek with a strong sense of style think twice about wearing them. So what is the new strategy? First, it became clear that the chances of widespread adoption of a wearable device is directly related to design. Function without beauty can be deemed irrelevant. Second, and perhaps most important, fashion emerged as the world's most powerful public relations platform for a wearable product. Collaboration between tech companies and designers has the power to propel a piece of hardware to Fashion Week catwalks and the cover of Vogue magazine in a matter of weeks. As a result, this proliferation of fashion and hardware collabora- tions will continue to accelerate. After all, it has been a win-win for both sides: designer brands align with innovation, and tech compa- nies attract fresh attention and a whole new category of consumers. Intel knows the drill. The company announced its move into the wearables market this past January by unveiling plans about a new wearable device — a luxury bracelet designed by fashion house Opening Ceremony — to be sold at luxury retailer Barneys New York. "It is exciting to be part of an elite group of brands to bring the reality of smart fashion to life," said Daniella Vitale, COO of Barneys New York. The bracelet, called MICA (for My Intelligent Communication Accessory), comes in two styles: black snakeskin and pearls, and white snakeskin and obsidian. Both are beautiful acces- sories with a curved sapphire screen and built-in wireless radios. "We tech companies inherently think of things more for func- tionality — we are so used to building things that exist on their own," Ayse Ildeniz, vice president of Intel's New Devices Group, the team behind the MICA bracelet, recently told The New York Times. "Putting something on a person's body is a very different paradigm." She added, "We need to create accessories that people are proud to put on their body." Where do we go from here? Conceptual scientist and fashion tech entrepreneur Sabine Seymour said she is impressed with the advancements of function this year, but not really excited about any specific device: "The future of wearables will be created by hybrid companies. I'm talking about something that is different than Apple's talent acquisition strategy. The future of this space will be created by minds from different disciplines building a company together: pat- tern makers, physical computing, and chemical engineers. Together, they will use their understanding of design and chemical processes to make beautiful things that make sense." by liz bacelar U Th e M I C A b r a cele t s C O U R T E S Y O F R E B E C C A M I N K O F F C O L L I E R S C H O R R / C O U R T E S Y O F I N T E L Top Designers Lead Wearables Into High Fashion Future

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