The Emerging Smart Clothing Market

The Emerging Smart Clothing Market

In 1984, Adidas introduced the Micropacer, the first shoe to feature a computer. In the 1980s, having wearable technology was a big deal. Back then commercially available personal computers were only starting to emerge, so having your running shoes equipped with technology was extraordinary. A lot has changed since then — technology has made a previously unthinkable leap, and smart clothing is rapidly evolving.

Wearables are all around us today; however, having technology integrated with everyday apparel is still uncommon.  Integrating digital health sensors into clothing has many purported benefits. One assertion is sensors closer to the skin measure heart rate more accurately than wrist trackers. Another belief is that digital health technology will get more widely adopted when it’s not an ancillary purchase but rather a feature of items that are already commonly purchased.

Smart Clothes for Better Training

Athos, one of the world’s first smart clothes options, gives you the ability to look at what is happening inside your body while you train. Equipped with various sensors, Athos measures the electrical activity in the user’s muscles in real time and connects with an app that gives them constant feedback. Using electromyography (EMG), this ground-breaking wearable detects how much effort an individual muscle is putting into the workout.

Not only does this let the users know which muscles they are activating, it also tells them if they are exercising hard enough to achieve their training goals. Moreover, users can easily establish if they are using the right muscle or muscle group and become more self-aware as well. The feedback empowers users to improve and adjust their effort to maximize their progress.

In addition to monitoring muscle activity, Athos also features heart rate sensors and breathing sensors, so the data captured during physical activity and exertion is extensive.

At the moment, smart clothing is still not universally affordable, so it is predominantly used by professional athletes and weekend warriors with discretionary income. However, as is common with most tech, the price of smart apparel is expected to fall, which will likely fuel adoption. Work is also being done on the aesthetic and practical components of the garments, for example making the garments easy to clean without ruining the tech inside.

High Fashion Meets Health Technology

Some big names in the fashion industry are also adding smart technology into their products. For instance, Ralph Lauren is launching the Ralph Lauren Polo Tech Shirt. The elite shirt offers biometric readings (breathing, heart rate, calories burnt, steps taken) as well as providing information on the need to adjust your workout. The shirt has biosensing silver fibers incorporated into the fabric and it works with an iPhone or an iPod. A purported additional feature of this snug shirt is that the fabric itself helps with blood circulation and muscle recovery.

Smart Clothing Beyond Fitness Applications

There are a growing amount of clothing modalities that can improve health and well-being. Different smart bras are another example of integrated digital health technology in clothing. The term means different things to different designers, ranging from acting as a wearable stress sensor to possibly having the potential to diagnose medical ailments. Microsoft’s smart bra includes an electrocardiogram (ECG) and an electrodermal activity sensor (EDA). By utilizing these two sensors, the garment is able to provide information on the user’s stress levels, after which a signal is sent to the accompanying smartphone app.

The bra has been marketed as a tool to prevent emotional overeating (the app coaxes the person into not eating when overstressed).

Efforts are also being made to develop a breast-cancer-detecting bra. Temperature sensors embedded into a bra might soon have the potential to work more efficiently than the traditional mammogram and could act as a reliable cancer screening tool. The iTBra uses early detection technology and has been shown to correlate with a verified diagnosis of breast cancer by up to 87 percent. The iTBra connects with a smartphone and uses no radiation to identify circadian temperature changes within breast cells. Since early detection is crucial for successful cancer treatment, this garment could pave the ways for other ways common garments can save lives in the future.

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