Recently, I wore the Jawbone UP band every day for about four months. It tracked the number of steps I was taking, my overall level of activity, and it synced with my Strava and LoseIt apps. The data it invisibly pulled from the routines were instantly interesting, and I felt that the information I got from the band made the fashion element less important until I decided to wear a new bracelet by Mabel Chong, one of my favorite local SF designers. Suddenly, it was very obvious that the chunky, athletic UP and my new bracelet were not meant to co-exist and interesting didn’t necessarily translate to meaningful.
In the end, two things made me put the Up band in a drawer. First, despite all of the data the band provided, the information was more of a curiosity than behavior-changing utility. There was limited actionable advice associated with the data, so the band didn’t motivate me to wear it every day. Secondly, it didn’t integrate with my other accessories and interfered with my personal style, which requires a device to be more flexible and work with my range of fashion choices. As Sonny Vu, the founder and CEO of Misfit said, “If we’re going to get people to wear sensors, they either have to be gorgeous or invisible.”
That’s why the next wave of wearable design is so exciting. It partners fashion designers with major tech brands: Tory Burch and her much-anticipated collaboration with Fitbit Flex; the launch of Diane Von Furstenberg’s Google Glass; and Misfit’s Shine and Bloom, to name just a few who are experimenting in the space.
With these recent partnerships, the exciting unknowns are unfolding and will determine if fashion and technology can truly converge. Both industries are fueled by innovation and the ever-changing needs of society, but have different influencers and drivers. The designers in both sectors are tireless in their efforts to create a piece de resistance that everyone will want and need. Working together, they’re essentially in search of fashion’s killer app. Because as Coco Chanel once said, “Before you leave the house, look in the mirror and remove one accessory.” If we take her advice (which I would recommend we all do), how do we ensure that the piece we keep on is the one that will improve our lives and still be the fashionable accessory that works with each of our own unique personalities?
The discussion of fashion and technology is shifting to style and experience, and the most critical questions left to solve are:
1) When, who and how will all of the various wearable experiences merge? I don’t really want to have 10 different things I wear driving 10 different, disconnected experiences. Do a notification necklace, a TV controlling ring, and a relaxation headband also need me to master three different apps? Today, the answer is yes, and that’s a mess. The new devices must address experience fragmentation.
2) Can wearables, which have been largely “one-size-fits-all” to date, accommodate the functional wants and emotional needs of increasingly diverse consumers? To succeed, they will need to work for a broad range of continuously changing aesthetic tastes, human sizes and shapes, and functional requirements.
3) And finally, fashion and jewelry designers will need to understand that form follows function follows experience. Their designs are going to be part of an eco-system beyond what they have to consider for today’s market. While I do believe there will still be a ‘need’ for 4” heels with red soles as single-purpose luxuries; it is possible that the iconic fashion products of the future, no matter how beautiful and stylish, will be just as memorable if they have experiential benefits and impact on our lives.