For Many Designers, Wearable Technology Remains Something of a Mystery

Wednesday morning at Bryant Park's Andaz Hotel, CFDA members participated in a round table discussion with execs from Intel -- the microchip company that's currently making a play for wearables -- about the future of the market.
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Wednesday morning at Bryant Park's Andaz Hotel, CFDA members participated in a round table discussion with execs from Intel -- the microchip company that's currently making a play for wearables -- about the future of the market.
Photo: Nike

Photo: Nike

It's widely believed that the market for wearable devices will surpass $30 billion by 2018. (Some estimate that number to be closer to $50 billion.) But what that market will look like is still very unclear. Is it a watch? A band? A chip embedded into your t-shirt? More than likely, it's something we haven't even thought of yet.

The question was top of mind Wednesday morning at Bryant Park's Andaz Hotel, where CFDA members participated in a round table discussion with execs from Intel -- the microchip company that's currently making a play for wearables -- about the future of the market.

"Analysts predict that there will be 50 billion smart things by the year 2020," said Ayse Ildeniz, who leads business development for Intel's New Devices Group. "In order to get to that number, we need creators and innovators." (Intel, which in January teamed up with Opening Ceremony and Barneys New York on a bracelet that will hit stores this fall, is certainly looking for its next collaborator.)

Designers offered their thoughts on the current wearables market. "Wearing tech is not that cool," said jewelry designer Pamela Love. "It needs to be something completely invisible. Something that's seamless." Love said the consumer data she could cull from a "smart" piece of jewelry is just as valuable -- if not more so -- as the benefits it affords her client. "To be able to see how frequently a woman wears one of our pieces, how long it sits on the table for, that's the kind of data that could help me," she said. "Right now, I can only see what the buyers buy."

Sam Shipley, co-designer of contemporary menswear label Shipley & Halmos, emphasized that for a small fashion company, experimenting with wearable tech is not extremely high on the priority list. "What we spend our money on is so important and dear," Shipley said. "We didn't start a fashion company to start a wearable tech company."

But despite frustration -- creative people want to solve problems creatively, and right now there's not a clear answer -- designers had plenty of strong suggestions. Shipley mentioned using wearable tech to make textiles smarter, and others were excited about the anti-counterfeiting applications. (Imagine scanning a chip-embedded Chanel bag for authenticity instead of relying on a paper card.) Lisa Salzer, the jewelry designer behind Lulu Frost, loved the idea of using wearable tech to tell the personal story of the heirloom pieces she designs. "I'm hoping to create jewelry that's passed down from grandmother to mother to granddaughter," she said. "How great would it be if we could track where one piece has been over 40 years? It's like a time capsule."

To be sure, no one has a clue how the market will get to $30 billion in such a short time. But at least the CFDA is working to help its designers build relationships with behemoths like Intel. While a one-off partnership with the company might not be financially significant for a designer in 2014, it could very well be 10 years from now. Getting the conversation going in the present is the only way to establish a strong foundation for the future.