Recently, at a post-holiday lunch in snowy New York City, I was struck by a certain sparkle on my friend’s wrist. My gaze quickly zeroed in on a pretty rose gold bracelet. But wait, there’s more. That same innocent-looking wrist candy later alerted my friend that she had eaten 700 calories during our lunch, counted the steps she had taken throughout the day, and chimed a reminder of her 7:30 p.m. cycling class.
Say hello to the fashion accessories of the 21st century. There, draped stylishly on my friend’s wrist, was the FuelBand, Nike’s answer to a conundrum that has increasingly dominated boardroom discussions across several industries: What happens when fashion meets technology? Or more specifically, how can tech- savvy, functional objects be made pretty and emotionally enticing?
Key players on both sides of the fashion/tech divide have weighed in with headline-making responses. Apple caused a stir with its recent hire of Angela Ahrendts, formerly of Burberry, to head its retail sector. The fashion industry has Google Glass fever, with legendary designer Diane von Furstenberg incorporating the hi-tech eyewear into her Spring/Summer 2013 show. The world watched as Sarah Jessica Parker sat front row, apparently delighted by her new specs. Only two weeks ago, the Business of Fashion reported that Intel, the world’s largest maker of computer processors, was to pair up with Opening Ceremony, Barneys New York, and the CFDA to develop a smart bracelet.
Accessories embedded with sensors and displays, or “wearables” as they are referred to in the industry, are among the most talked-about accoutrements in the fashion and technology realms, due to their groundbreaking message that, well, technology can be (gasp!) stylish. Moreover, they are considered one of the most lucrative and previously underexplored areas of the retail industry, garnering attention from the financial services sector as well.
I can’t help but imagine a high school cafeteria where the tech geeks, popular crowd, and math club are all sitting at one table and strumming their guitars to Kumbaya. Which I suppose makes sense, given the profound democratizing effect of technology and its capacity to draw people together from all corners of society to enjoy a viral meme or moving YouTube video.
From Google to Gucci to Goldman, it would appear to be in everyone’s best interest to continue working together to unlock the explosive potential of wearables. And if we can’t figure it out, well, maybe we should just ask Siri what she thinks.