Luxury fashion takes on fitness technology



Luxury fashion is making inroads in wearable tech as more designers try their hands at developing smart, stylish accessories and clothing aimed at tracking performance and health, or simply making connected lives easier to manage.

“We actually think the fashion industry should be in the driver’s seat,” Ayse Ildeniz, vice president of business development and strategy for Intel’s new devices group, said at a 2014 January event in Las Vegas.

Designers are listening.

Luxury brand Ralph Lauren unveiled its high-performance smart compression shirt, the Polo Tech, at the start of the U.S. Open last year. The company took in feedback from players and ball boys during practice sessions and plans to begin selling the shirt in spring, said David Lauren, an executive vice president of his father’s namesake company.

Hewlett-Packard Co. called on designer Michael Bastian and online retailer Gilt to develop a high-design smart watch that is Android and iOS compatible, allowing a user to take in notifications for email, text and calls, and to manage music and apps. It hit the market last fall.

And Tory Burch partnered with Fitbit for accessories she designed exclusively for use with the fitness brand’s Flex, including a brass pendant and bracelet, and patterned silicone wristbands.

Does the geek side of the equation need the luxury fashion side?

It’s the hope of Lauren that Polo Tech, featuring sensors knitted in to read heartbeat, respiration and other biometrics, will resonate with the fit and the trying-to-get-fit.

Data collected by the shirt is stored by a “black box,” which also is enabled with ways to capture movement and direction. The black box transmits data, including stress levels and energy output, into the cloud for display on a tablet or smartphones.

“What Ralph Lauren is hoping to do is take the technology and to look at opportunities that we believe, and that our customers believe, would help them to live happier and healthier lives,” Lauren said. “Our goal is to introduce this technology into a variety of different kinds of shirts over the next year,”

Fashion also has Intel’s ear.

Ildeniz said at the winter Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas that the chip company is collaborating with the design cooperative Opening Ceremony, the Council of Fashion Designers of America and luxury retailer Barneys to find new ways for technology developers and fashion designers to work more closely on wearables.

“Through this relationship, we have truly pushed boundaries of wearable technology by converging fashion and tech,” he said in an email.

According to the NPD Group, the digital fitness category has grown to more than $330 million, a market large enough to accommodate consumers ranging from serious athletes to hobbyists, NPD analyst Ben Arnold said.

A recent NPD study showed that 52 percent of consumers say they’ve heard of wearable technology devices, including smart glasses, bracelets, watches and fitness tracking devices, and one-in-three say they’re likely to buy one.

Adam Roth, the CFDA’s director of strategic partnerships, is the fashion trade group’s point person on the Intel collaboration. He also helped with a recent roundtable where Intel designers sat down with about 70 fashion designers to exchange ideas.

“There are so many wearable products coming out,” Roth said. “Not every one is useful but may look beautiful. Not every one is beautiful but is really useful. We’re getting to the sweet spot, where it’s both.”